Here are a few tips on eating out or what to do when invited for a meal. Customs may vary depending on the age of the people you are with and possibly even the region of Germany you are in at the time. Mostly just following the lead of your hosts and using common sense will get you far.
Invitation to a home
When invited to someone's home for a meal, bring flowers (an odd number), a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates for the host/hostess. This isn't always necessary but it is a nice gesture. Also, never forget the importance of the German handshake when introducing yourself and meeting new people. When asking where the bathroom is, make sure to ask for the WC or toilet (Wo ist die Toilette, bitte?) as the "bathroom" is generally where the shower/bath is and dosn't always have a toilet. Another important part of bathroom etiquette is to make sure you close the door after you use it, it is quite taboo to leave it open.
When eating keep your hands on the table (even if you are eating soup), it is rude to place them on your lap or under the table. In your left hand you hold the fork and the knife in your right. Keep utensils on opposite sides of the plate face down when pausing, but when finished you should place them together on the right side. When you are done with the meal make sure to tell the host/hostess (Das hat geschmeckt! / Das war sehr lecker!), letting them know you enjoyed the meal.
In Germany, you generally seat yourself unless you see a host/hostess. When looking for a table obviously pick an empty one but it isn't uncommon especially in cafes to sit with a stranger when there is no free table. Naturally you would ask the person whose table you wish to sit at if the seat is empty ( Ist hier noch frei?)
Most restaurants, by law, provide a portion of the menu posted outside. This isn't always the full menu but it gives you a good idea of the pricing. To find out if the kitchen is serving hot meals all day long look for the sign stating durchgegehend warme Küche. When ordering one can use the old- fashioned method to call "Her Ober!" or "Fräulein!" to get the waiter/ waitress' attention. These days Fräulein isn't always looked upon kindly as a way to refer to a woman. A nod or just waiting for the server to return works as well. You can say Wir möchten bestellen when you are ready to order. image © Spotlight Germany Unlike in North America, food in a restaurant is served when it is ready and not kept on a warming place until the entire tables food is ready to serve.
Then again most "good" restaurants will attempt to serve the party all at once. When one person's food arrives you should say Guten Appetit or Mahlzeit - indicating that it is ok for them to start without you. Don't wait for others to be served. If wine is being served or any other beverage, wait until the entire table is served. Then raise your glasses together and say Prost! Also its considered impolite not to look the person(s) you are tosting in the eye. In a resturaunt you can let your server know you are done by requesting to zahlen, bitte! (to pay). In most places you pay at the table as your server carries a large black wallet where change is kept. Don't leave a tip on the table as the price of service has been included in the price of the meal*. You are welcome to leave extra money, this is called Trinkgeld. Just let your server know how much money you want back when they give you your change. Also, before ordering ask about which credit cards are accepted as not all stores/resuraunts accept credit cards as much as in North America. *Its important to point out that in the past decade the custom of tipping has changed: even though a menu will say "alle Preise inklusive Bedienung und 16% Mehrwertsteuer," note that many people in this profession work two jobs, the 16% is a tax that goes to the government, and consider the quality of the service - especially if it was a large group.