How to Order Food in German: What You Need to Know to Get Fed Right

One of the most exciting things about adventuring around a new country is getting to taste all the great regional specialties that you might never have even heard of.

In Germany, that includes a lot of hearty meat dishes and regional variations on comfort food classics.

Even if you aren’t jetting off to Germany anytime soon, learning how to order food is still a really necessary part of language to have. 

So, with all that in mind, here’s our guide to ordering food in Germany.


Arriving at the Restaurant

If the restaurant is popular, it may be a good idea to call ahead or pop in beforehand to reserve a spot.

  • Kann ich einen Tisch reservieren, bitte? (Can I please reserve a table?)
  • Haben Sie Platz für zwei/drei/vier? (Do you have room for two/three/four?)
  • Wir sind zu zweit/dritt/viert. (There are two/three/four of us.) — In German, when you’re saying how many people you are, you need to use a different form of the number.

Reading the German Menu

Once you’re all sat down, it’s time to open the menu. Here’s the vocab you’ll want to know:

  • die Speisekarte (menu)
  • das Menü (set meal) — This is one can really baffle native English speakers who at first think the Menü option means ordering the entire menu! It’s actually a set meal. You’ll see this mainly in fast food takeouts—there’ll be a set price for ordering a meal plus a drink and/or side.
  • das Essen (food) — The word for “food” is exactly the same as the verb “to eat.” Just remember it needs a capital letter because it’s a noun.
  • das Hauptgericht (main course)
  • die Vorspeise (starter)
  • der Nachtisc(dessert) — Literally, “after table.”
  • das Frühstück (breakfast)
  • das Mittagessen (lunch)
  • das Abendessen (dinner)
  • vegetarisch (vegetarian)
  • Zum mitnehmen, bitte. (To take away, please.) — Almost all restaurants will offer their dishes to take out.

das Fleisch (Meat)

  • das Rindfleisch (beef)
  • das Schweinefleisch (pork)
  • das Lamm (lamb)
  • das Hähnchen (chicken)
  • die Pute (turkey)
  • das Wildfleisch (game)
  • der Fisch (fish)

das Obst (Fruit)

  • der Apfel (apple)
  • die Banane (banana)
  • die Orange (orange)
  • die Erdbeeren (strawberries)
  • die Trauben (grapes)

das Gemüse (Vegetables)

  • die Kartoffel (potato)
  • die Karotte / die Möhre (carrot)
  • der Pilz / der Champignon (mushroom)
  • der Kohl / das Kraut (cabbage)
  • die Bohnen (beans)
  • die Erbsen (peas)

das Getränk (drink)

  • das Wasser (water)
  • die Milch (milk)
  • das Bier (beer)
  • der Tee (tea)
  • Der Kaffee (coffee)
  • das Cola (Coca-Cola)
  • die Limo (lemonade)

German Specialties

If you aren’t so familiar with famous German dishes, this list will keep you right.

  • die Bratwurst — A grilled sausage, often served in a crispy bread bun with a dollop of Senf.
  • der Senf — A German-style mustard. You can also get Süßsenf (sweet mustard) which is traditionally eaten with Weißwurst (white sausage) and Bretzeln (pretzels).
  • die Kohlroulade — Cabbage roll. Cooked cabbage leaves are rolled around different fillings. Popular fillings include beef or pork.
  • das Schnitzel — Technically an Austrian specialty rather than German, but this is still widely eaten across Germany. It’s a thin slice of meat (traditionally veal but usually pork) that is covered in breadcrumbs and fried. You can usually have it as it is or with a sauce.
  • die Bratkartoffeln — A side dish of fried potatoes, often served with bacon and onions.
  • das Sauerkraut — Fermented cabbage, another very popular side dish.
  • die Schweinshaxe — Grilled knuckle of pork. If you also see Eisbein on the menu, it’s also a knuckle of pork but boiled instead of grilled.
  • die Käsespätzle — A popular vegetarian dish, especially in southern Germany—handmade noodles topped with cheese.

How to Order in German

The conditional tense is used in language to explain that something might happen. If there is a possibility something will occur, and we want to get that across, then we use the conditional.

In English we generally do this by using the verb “would.” This is also the case in German, and the verb is würden

Ich würde den Rock kaufen. (I would buy the skirt.)

Er würde nach Mexiko. (He would go to Mexico.)

We need this tense when ordering food because we want to say we would like something. However, we don’t use würden because there are two set phrases for “would like.”

Ich möchte (I would like)

Ich hätte gern (I would like)

It’s super easy to construct sentences using these phrases. You simply start your sentence off with either of these phrases. Here are a few (food related!) examples.

Ich hätte gern zwei Brötchen bitte. (I would like two bread buns please.)

Ich möchte einen Apfelsaft. (I would like an apple juice.)

Ich hätte gern 200 Gramm Käse. (I would like 200 grams of cheese.)

Ich möchte einen Tisch um 20 Uhr reservieren. (I would like to reserve a table at 8 p.m.)

Notice that, while these two phrases are almost interchangeable, hätte gern cannot be used with another verb. Thus you cannot say ich hätte gern einen Tisch reservieren (I’d like to have a table reserve), but you can say ich möchte einen Tisch or ich hätte gern einen Tisch (I’d like a table).

Making Special Requests in German

Here are some really useful German phrases if you have any special dietary requirements:

  • Ist das Gericht glutenfrei/nussfrei? (Is the dish gluten free/free from nuts?)
  • Gibt es etwas Veganes? (Is there a vegan option?) — Etwas is usually shortened to was and the entire phrase would usually be pronounced “Gibt’s was Veganes?”
  • Ich möchte es lieber ohne scharf. (I’d prefer it not too spicy.) — You might sometimes be asked mit scharf?” (Would you like it spicy?) This is actually not “proper” German, but you’ll hear it at fast food kiosks in Berlin, for example. If you prefer, you could use the more grammatical phrase nicht scharf at a restaurant.
  • Ist es möglich, das Gericht ohne das Spiegelei/die Pommes/die Bratensoße zu haben? (Is it possible to have the dish without the fried egg/french fries/gravy?)

German Phrases for During the Meal

In Germany, it’s usual to greet everyone at the beginning of a meal.

  • Guten Appetit! (Enjoy your meal!)
  • Mahlzeit! — This word literally means “mealtime” and comes from the archaic phrase gesegnete Mahlzeit (blessed mealtime). Nowadays it’s used as a salutation, so if you bump into someone around lunch or dinner—especially if you’re on a lunch break from work—then you would greet them by saying “Mahlzeit” rather than “hallo” or “guten Tag.”

To respond, you can either repeat “Mahlzeit” or just say “danke” (thank you). Mahlzeit can also be used as a negative term; if two people see something that might put them off from eating, they may sarcastically say “Mahlzeit!” to one another. In Northern Germany this salutation can be used even when there is no connection to food or mealtimes, however in Southern Germany and Austria it’s only ever used when there is an obvious connection to food.

  • Kannst du mir das Salz geben, bitte? (Can you please pass me the salt?)
  • Schmeckt es dir? (Do you like it?) — This can also be translated as “Is it tasty?”
  • Entschuldigung! (Excuse me!) — To be really formal you can also say “Entschuldigen Sie bitte” (Excuse me).
  • Können wir mehr Wasser haben, bitte? (Can we have more water, please?)

At the End of the Meal

When you’re all done, it’s time to wrap up.

  • die Rechnung (the check)
  • das Trinkgeld (the tip) — To tip in Germany, you just need to round up your bill to the nearest euro.
  • Ich möchte zahlen. (I’d like to pay.)

Useful Resources for Learning How to Order Food in German

Here are some additional websites that provide a lot of extra information about ordering food in German. Check them out and see how many of the above words and phrases you see!

  • YouTube. There are quite a few videos in which actors role-play a restaurant or cafe scenario. This one from “Get Germanized” offers a lot of great vocab and grammar tips.

  • FluentU. This language learning program uses authentic German videos like travel guides and recipe videos to teach you the language the way native speakers use it. The videos on FluentU can be searched and sorted by topic, letting you easily find content about food and restaurants. Alternatively, ou can search for a specific word to see all the videos where the word appears in that form.

    There are also themed flashcard sets that let you review key vocabulary about food and related topics. Make your own by adding words from videos to custom flashcard decks of your own making. Reviews consist of questions that you can answer through choosing, typing or speaking your respose.

  • WikiHow. This WikiHow on ordering food in Germany has handy pictures to help guide you through the steps.
  • Food blogs. German food blogs can inspire you to get into the kitchen. While you’re working through their wonderful recipes, you’ll also be picking up a lot of vocabulary you’ll be able to use when eating out.

If you want to practice ordering at home, one great idea would be to set up a scenario and role play with some friends or classmates. Role play is a great way to practice your speaking in real-life scenarios, while keeping it fun and laid back.

Now you can impress any German waiters you may come across on your travels! Is anyone else’s tummy rumbling? This post has got me hungry… time to pull out my best German cooking skills in the kitchen!

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