The etiquette of business dining in Germany

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While good dining etiquette in Germany does not differ greatly to that of many other western countries, there are a few small variations of which it can be useful to be aware. Business meals rarely slip into informality here, so greet with a firm handshake.

Seating arrangements

When attending a business meal, it’s good etiquette to remain standing until you are shown where to sit. It’s customary for either the host to sit at the head of the table, with their most important guest seated first to their left and then to the right. Alternatively, the most important guest may be seated at the centre of the table. Hosting couples will generally be seated one at each end of the table.

Table Manners

It’s important that you don’t start eating until your host signals to do so, this will often involve them saying “Guten Appetit” and where possible, you should try to eat everything on your plate to avoid causing offence. As with the majority of dining in Europe, the knife should be in the right hand, while the fork is in the left. In Germany you should only use your knife when absolutely necessary, using your fork to cut meat, fish and vegetables where possible, which is seen as compliment to the host, by showing how tender it is. You should also avoid cutting the lettuce in a salad, instead folding it with your knife and fork so that it can be picked up with your fork. If you do not want more food, leave a very small amount on your plate and when you have finished eating, your knife and fork should be placed side by side across the right side of the plate, turned slightly inwards so their handles sit at the five o’clock position. You hands should be in view above the table at all times, although it is considered bad manners to rest your elbows on the table.

If you are invited to a meal at a German associate’s home, an informal meal will be called the Abendbrot (evening bread), while a formal meal will be called the Abendessen (evening meal).

Dining invitations in Germany may include the term “c.t.”, which means “cum tempore“, or “with time”. This means you can arrive within around 15 minutes of the stated time without causing offence. If you are unsure, it’s best to arrive promptly at the time stated and this is especially important if the invitation states “s.t.”, which means “sine tempore”, or “without time”.

Business lunches and dinners are widespread in Germany and discussing business at the table is not uncommon, however, you should wait to see if your host brings it up and follow their lead.

Toasting and drinking

The most common toasts in Germany are “Zum Wohl!” a toast made with wine and “Prost!” made with beer, both of which are a toast to good health. It’s customary to maintain direct eye contact from the moment you lift your glass to the moment you put it back down on the table, going round the table to make eye contact with everyone present. While this is common practice across Germany, the tradition tends to be more rigidly upheld the further east you travel.

Do not refill your own glass. It will generally be refilled for you as soon as it is seen to be less than half full.

The bill

Its usual for whoever has invited you to dinner to pay the bill, although sometimes factors such as rank can determine who pays.

You may, however, want to contribute towards the tip, with the law in Germany requiring gratuity to be added to the bill, which is usually 10% to 15%. If you feel the service has been satisfactory or good, it’s standard to leave a little more.

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