What A Dictionary Can’t Tell You About Ordering Politely in German

 

We want to talk about how to order at a bar, pub or restaurant with courtesy. Being polite is as important in Germany as it is in any other country, but Germans do have some mannerisms you need to be aware of.

In another blog post we talked about how to request something politely when speaking German. Since we’ve learnt the basics, we can specialise today.

Don’t commit a blunder and get kicked out of your favourite venue by following these simple tricks:

  • Don’t literally translate: I will have … and …
  • Instead, use correct German

First of all, we’ll talk about why it’s better to not put your translation skills to work, and after that we’ll show you how to order your food or drink with correct spoken German.

 

Table service is common in Germany

order-in-german-melbourne

First thing to know:

At restaurants or pubs, there will most likely be table service. So just show up, check to see where the waiter/waitress is, confirm you have their attention by nodding, pick a table and take a seat.

If you are unsure, just wait by the entrance, someone will come over to take you to your seat, or otherwise signal to you to take a seat wherever you like.

After a couple of minutes, the waiter will rush to your table to hand you the menu and leave it with you. Closing the menu will let him or her know you are ready to order.

 

Literal translation into German

how-to-order-in-german-melbourne (2)

And off we go. We’re ready to order:

“I will have the chicken schnitzel with the chips and the side salad.”

Let’s make it a German sentence:

“Ich werde das Hähnchenschnitzel mit den Pommes (or Fritten) und dem Beilagensalat haben.”

This sentence looks promising since we are using the dative after the preposition mit and have consequently changed die Pommes into mit den Pommes and der Salat into (mit) dem Salat. Well done.

But that’s a literal translation and Germans are unlikely to order their schnitzel in this way. They are unlikely to order in this way because we are using the future tense: Ich werde das Schnitzel haben. (= I will have the schnitel.)

Germans usually use the present tense instead as in Ich fahre nächste Woche nach Deutschland. (Lit.: I drive to Germany next week.)

 

Please don’t threaten the waiter

Since the future tense is rarely used by Germans, it must be a special occasion when it finally finds its way into a sentence. In fact, using the future tense means not just stressing that something is going to happen; it is saying that it is going to happen inevitably.

When you order your schnitzel and say:

Ich werde das Schnitzel haben.

You probably think you are saying:

I will have the schnitzel, thank you.

But you are actually saying:

I am going to have this schnitzel, no matter what. I don’t care if it’s not even on the menu. You’d better have schnitzel here in the next few minutes, because otherwise…!

That’s a straight-up threat to Germans.

How to politely order in German

I’ll show you how to order instead.

We will order politely by using the present tense or subjunctive of nehmen or the subjunctive of sein (to be) or haben (to have).

Using the present tense of nehmen:

Ich nehme das Hähnchenschnitzel. (Lit.: I take the chicken schnitzel.)

Using the subjunctive of nehmen:

Ich würde das Hähnchenschnitzel nehmen (Lit.: I would take the chicken schnitzel.)

Using the subjunctive of haben:

Ich hätte gerne das Hähnchenschnitzel. (Lit.: I would have/would like to have the chicken schnitzel.)

Ich wäre soweit. Ich hätte gerne das Hähnchenschnitzel. (Lit.: I would be/was ready. I would like to have the chicken schnitzel.

Or simply use möchten:

Ich möchte auch gerne einen Gartensalat. (=I would like also like the ‘Gartensalat’.)

That’s it. Well done! Bear these little tricks in mind and you’ll be fine (having an accent will most likely help you out of any cultural trouble anyway).

 

In short, here is what you want to remember

When ordering in a German speaking country, say

  •         Ich nehme … or
  •         Ich hätte gerne … or
  •         Ich würde … nehmen.

 

I wonder if you have ever threatened the waiter at your favourite German café or restaurant without knowing about it? Let me know in the comments.

4 replies on “What A Dictionary Can’t Tell You About Ordering Politely in German

  • Héctor

    Die Bedeutung von “Ich werde das Schnitzel haben” hat mir zum Lachen gebracht.

    I’m now willing to say “Ich werde das Schnitzel haben” to a German waiter/waitress and take a picture of his/her face.

    Reply
  • E

    I’m often tempted to say “could I please have” – phrasing it as a question/permission is considered slightly more polite than stating what you would like to have where I’m from. but I suspect if I were to say “kann ich bitte … haben?” that would be like I’m asking them if it is physically possible for me to have this thing… is there a question-way to ask permission for an item while ordering? would it be with ,,darf ich”? or is a statement simply better?

    also, I note a lot of people in coffeeshops here (I live in Berlin) say simply what they’ll have (in akkusativ ofc) followed by bitte. Is that considered rude, or just expedient? Is it “okay for Berlin” but would be considered rude elsewhere? Or still rude?

    i’m so sorry for so many questions! I just don’t like offending my waiters/coffeeshop folk. I used to wait tables too, I know how rude people can be.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Yes you can just mention the plain object, maybe with a bitte like this: Das Schnitzel, bitte./Den Fitnesssalat, bitte, not only in Berlin but in other places all across Germany too.

      And yes, Kann ich bitte das Schnitzel haben? (Can I please have…) is also a polite way to order in German. You could also use the subjunctive which will make it sound even more polite: Könnte ich (bitte) das Schnitzel haben. Same with Darf ich das Schnitzel haben? (May I have the schnitzel?) which is also correct.

      The only thing is that back in the 80s/90s/2000s, there was this dad joke like response floating about which went like this: Kann? Ich weiß nicht, ob Sie können, aber ja, wir haben es. (Can? I don’t know if you can/are able to, but yes, we have it.) Darf ich… is even worse – but correct: Darf? Keine Ahnung ob Sie dürfen, aber Sie können jedenfalls. (May/Allowed to? Not sure if you’re allowed to, but you can have it.) You can’t win!

      I think it all left me traumatised, so much I’ve been trying to avoid können and dürfen all together. But yes, either is correct. Just get ready for the hur hur hur 🙂

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.