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When dinner becomes the last supper

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By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, March 27 2004

Friends from Paris, Madrid or New York often ask me: “Why are German waiters so brilliant?” It’s hard to explain such an obvious fact of life.  Why do fish swim?  But with every visitor asking me the same question I decided to try and list the reasons why German waiters are the best.

Many parts of Berlin are pretty cool – Photo RP

Reason 1: they don’t crowd you.  Don’t you hate it when you enter a restaurant and a maitre d’ comes fussing up to steer you into a table?  No risk in Germany.  In the best establishments you can stand around enjoying the entrance area indefinitely while the waiters keep out of your way.  If you sit down at a table, they won’t thrust menus at you and offer you drinks.  Instead, they’ll  busy themselves with tasks elsewhere for as long as it takes you to make yourself comfortable.   Usually, longer.

Reason 2: they don’t rush you.  German waiters know the difference between restaurants and fast food.  That’s why they give you time to settle down before bringing you a menu – or encourage you to get up and get one yourself.  Want a chance to chat and relax before the drinks come?   You’ll have all the time in the world.  Between courses, too, the waiters make sure you get a chance to sharpen up your appetite and work up a thirst.  Best of all, there’s no rushing to give you the bill when the meal’s over: in the best places, it sometimes feels like you can wait all night to pay.  Whether or not you want to.

Reason 3: they don’t fawn over you.  In some countries, waiters are supposed to “serve” customers.  That subservient relationship has no place in a German restaurant.  Waiters know they’re worth more than any customer and make sure you know it.  Best of all, there’s none of that “customer is always right” attitude.  If you’ve done something wrong or made an unreasonable request, like trying to send back a bottle of wine, they’ll tell you straight out.  A refreshing change from the pandering, faux-friendly, what-can-I-do-to-help approach of waiters in other countries.

Sadly, German waiting standards have slipped over the years.  Many restaurants in Berlin and elsewhere employ students and foreigners without the skills professional German waiters learn in years of training.  But there are still establishments that employ waiters providing the standard of service which has made German restaurants justly famous.  Enjoy!

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