Dining etiquette in Germany is pretty straightforward. If you go out to a restaurant, you usually will not have to wait to be seated unless it is explicitly sign-posted to do so. If a restaurant is busy, it is also perfectly okay to take a place next to strangers, as long as you ask their permission before you sit down. It’s a pretty free and easy culture like that.
Much like you would at home, use “bitte” (please) and “danke” (thank you) as much as possible when talking to waiting staff.
In a nice restaurant, it is also considered polite to receive menus, pour drinks and place your order in order from the oldest woman through to the youngest man. This is a dated principle, but depending on the company you are keeping, it is worth knowing it.
Wait until everybody is seated at the table before you start eating. Keep your elbows off the table, and before you begin to eat, wait until everyone has been served, or until someone says “Guten Appetit”.
On special occasions such as a birthday or a wedding, it’s considered rude to start drinking your drink until a toast has been made, too. The most common toasts are Zum Wohl! (with wine) and Prost! (with beer) – in both cases, generally a wish for good health. Maintain direct eye contact from the moment the glass is raised to the moment it is placed back down on the table. If many people are being toasted, go around the table and make eye contact with each individual as you make the toast. This becomes even more important as you move west to east through Germany.
Germans tend to eat with a knife and fork, unless you are eating food that is designed to be eaten with your hands, like a burger. Otherwise, use your cutlery and try to keep both of them in your hands throughout the meal. Hold the fork in your left hand, the knife in your right hand.
It is more common for people to eat just two courses – usually a starter and a main – but it is not unusual to have all three, or a dessert instead of a starter. If you are hungry, just keep eating! It is also polite to stay seated until the last person has finished their meal.
You will also find that Germans like to order a Schnapps after their main meal. It is a small glass of alcohol and could be anything from a whiskey or rum through to a Jägermeister or a limoncello.