Doing stuff in Innsbruck and Austria - one of a series of pages for Americans abroad:

Eating out

     Three generalizations should be noted: (1) Most small places at which to eat, and even some larger ones, will have only one person waiting tables, so you may need to be patient. (2) Persons waiting tables commonly leave customers alone unless summoned, especially once the meal is served. They would consider it rude to interrupt your meal, and so you will need to make eye contact with them or motion to them if you need something (another drink, for example) while eating. (3) Courtesy is good, so offer a "Danke schön" whenever you're brought something.

     Bear in mind that you'll rarely find dinner served before 6:00 pm. If you're looking for an early dinner or late lunch, "Durchgehende warm Küche" is a sign for which you should be looking. In the afternoons, small menus for ice cream, rather than large menus for real food, are a indicator (but not an infallible indicator) that a restaurant's kitchen is closed between meals.

     Having found a restaurant, find yourself a place to sit, hopefully not a table with seats for many more than in your party, and sit down. Americans are used to the odd convention of being told where to sit in a restaurant, but that's usually not the case here. In the summer, many restaurants have outdoor seating that is far more comfortable than inside. If there are more seats at your table, it will be reasonable for someone to ask to sit at those places later if seating becomes scarce. You're of course at liberty to ask the same favour if all the tables are full.

     You may have to ask for a menu (eine speisekarte). You're likely to be asked if you want something to drink. If you want a beer, most dining places have the light beer (not lite beer) of one brand on tap, and so your only remaining decision is between a small beer (ein kleines bier) or a large one (ein grosses bier).

      After you've made your choice of food, close your menu, and the serving person will usually come over as available to take your order. After they take your order, they may ask you if you want bread with your meal. If you say you want bread, you will be brought a basket, probably of various breads and rolls, and you will be charged by the piece for what you eat.

      At this juncture, you may want to use the restroom. Most dining places will have restrooms, and if you're eating outside you go inside to find the restrooms. The way will be marked with "WC" signs, but keep your eyes open, because the route will probably be circuitous and involve going up or down stairs. If you're completely befuddled, "Wo sind die Toiletten?" is the appropriate question.

      After you've ordered, your food should eventually arrive, and (as in any culture) it's polite to thank the server. The server may leave you by saying "Mahlzeit" or "Guten Apetit", both of which are encouragements to enjoy your meal. As noted above, at this point you'll be left alone, and you shouldn't expect the server to ask in a few minutes if everything is OK. If you need service, you'll need to ask for it, and it will be given gladly.

      When you finish your meal, the server will probably come collect your dishes, but you may need to ask them to do so. They'll probably ask if the meal was good; "Das schmeckt" or "Das war gut" are possible affirmative responses. If you don't want dessert ("nachspeisen"), you should ask for the bill by asking "Die Rechnung, bitte". If you don't, your server will assume you want to sit and relax, and may not bring your bill for hours.

      The old-fashioned way for the server to calculate the bill is to review what was ordered with you and total the bill by hand. They'll say the amount and probably show it to you, ostensibly so you can check their math but also so you can see the total rather than having to understand the words. Remember that European "1"s have long swooping leaders so that they look like "7"s to Americans. The modern option is for the server to bring you a printed statement, and likewise to show it to you.

      Service is usually included with the bill in Austrian restaurants. However, it's customary to round up in making payment to the server, and to let the server keep the change by saying "Stimmt so" (something akin to "That's fine as it is"). If a bill is something over seventeen euros, for example, it will would be graceful to just give the server a twenty and say "Stimmt so".

      At this point, the server says his or her goodbyes, and you leave. One does not linger after the check is paid, as one might in America; instead, paying the check is the act concluding your use of the table, and the server probably begins cleaning the table while you and they say "Wiedersehen" or "Wiederschauen".  

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