Ultimate German Language Learner’s Guide to Ordering Food in a Restaurant Part II

Sep 28, 2020 | Restaurant

Figure 1: Photo by Fraser Cottrell on Unsplash

Hello there! Hopefully you enjoyed the first part of our article about ordering food in a restaurant where we covered reservations and reading the menu. If you haven’t, we really encourage you to start there. This is the second of a two-part series giving you a genuine look into a German restaurant experience while teaching you the vocabulary and grammar you’ll need to enjoy German cuisine! In this article we’re discussing how to place an order, mention extra wishes, leave your waitstaff a fine compliment and pay your bill.

One tip before we move on. Because each article in this series is presented as an experience you will likely have in Germany (eg., eating at a Restuarant), they are best used as a practice resource. We suggest reading aloud or conversing with a German speaker using the sentences and grammar introduced below as a guide. If you don’t have a German speaker to practice with or you are looking for a structured study plan with Native German teachers, contact us to discuss a FREE lesson. With enough practice you will hear the sentences below while traveling in Germany and have well constructed responses in ready on the tip of your tongue in fluent German, just like a native speaker!

So, without further adieu … los geht’s!

3. Ordering food

In our first article we spoke about two forms of speaking: formal and informal. When you order food in a restaurant, keep it simple: use formal speech, by default. As you sit there, browsing the menu, the waitress comes to your table and says, “Möchten Sie schon bestellen?“ (“Would you like to order already?“) or “Wissen Sie es schon?“ (“Do you know already?“). Other waitstaff may ask you, “Was möchten Sie?“ (“What would you like?“), “Was hätten Sie gern?“ (“What would you like to have?“), “Sie wünschen?“ (“What do you wish?“) or they simply say “Bitte.“ (“Please“).

If you don’t know yet you could say, for example “Ich brauche noch einen Moment.“ (“I need one more moment.“), “Einen Moment noch, bitte.“ (“One more moment please.“) or “Ich überlege noch, einen Moment noch bitte.“ (“I’m still thinking, one more moment please “).

You decided finally what you want. Now you have different ways to respond, for example “Ich nehme…“ (“I’ll take“), “Für mich …. bitte“ (“For me … please“), or a more polite form which would be “Ich hätte gern…“ (“I’d like to have“). So what about the “…“ here? In the gap filled by the ellipse, you state the food you’d like to eat.  Simple as that!

However, to mention the food you must understand some German grammar to answer in the proper form. In the German language we have four cases. Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ and Genitiv. Before you run for the hills, English is actually similar. In English, there is the subject, the direct object and the indirect object. Perhaps you never really thought about direct or indirect objects so let’s review quickly. 

The subject in a sentence is normally the person or thing which is acting. If you want to find the subject, ask “Who or what is acting?” The subject is in the Nominative-case.

A simple German sentence can be built with a subject, a verb, and an adjective for example.

Subjects can be nouns, for example “Das Essen“ (food), “Die Nudeln“ (noodles) or pronouns, e.g. “Er“ (He), “Sie“ (She), “Wir“ (We). Nouns have a gender. Perhaps you already know that German has three genders: Masculine, Feminine and Neuter:

Der – masculine

Die – feminine

Das – neuter

(Die – Plural)

An article is used with a noun and shows the gender of the noun. German has three genders: Masculine, Feminine and Neuter. The article for masculine nouns is “Der“, for feminine nouns is “Die“ and for Neuter nouns is “Das“. For Plural nouns, “Die“ is also used.

Some examples:

Der Schweinebraten (masculine) – roast pork

Die Wiener Wurst (feminine) – thin parboiled type of sausage

Das Essen (neuter) – food

Die Nudeln (Plural) – noodles

Pro Tip: Always learn the nouns with their gender! It will make it a lot easier to speak and write in the correct way from now on and until you’re a proficient speaker.

So how do you pinpoint the subject in a sentence? Remember this: the subject is a noun and normally acting. Let’s take a look at the following sentences. Can you pick out the the subject?

Der Schweinebraten ist lecker. – The roast pork is delicious.

Die Wiener Wurst ist warm. – The “Wiener Wurst“ is warm.

Das Essen ist kalt. – The food is cold.

Die Nudeln sind hart. – The noodles are hard.

Remember, the question to ask for the subject is “Who or what is acting?“ In our examples there is no real action but you could ask for the first sentence “What is delicious?“ “Der Schweinebraten“. What is warm? Right. “Die Wiener Wurst.“ What is cold? “Das Essen“ What is hard? „Die Nudeln“. So, the subjects of the sentences are “Der Schweinebraten“, “Die Wiener Wurst“, “Das Essen“, and “Die Nudeln“. Did you get them right?

As it was mentioned a subject can be also a pronoun. Let’s have a look at the following sentences:

Er ist alt. – He is old.

Sie ist jung. She is young.

Wir sind groß. We are tall.

Sie sind klein. They are small.

Who is old? He. Who is young? She. Who is tall? We. Who is small? They. So, in these sentences the subject would be “Er“, “Sie“, “Wir“, and “Sie“.

We used the verb “sein” (“to be”) in the previous sentences. Do you remember discussing “sein”? If not, check out this article that covers different situations using sein. Here the conjugation of “sein“ again:

Ich bin – I am

Du bist – You are

Er/Sie/Es ist – He/She/It is

Wir sind – We are

Ihr seid – You (all) are

Sie sind – They are Now, let’s make a sentence with a subject, a verb and an object. Keep in mind that the verb determines the sentence structure.

You can imagine the verb as the “king“ of the sentence who is ruling over the sentence. That means that the verb is normally in the second position (at least in a main tense with one verb) in a sentence. Even though there are some positions which can be taken of different word classes, the second position is really always taken of the verb and it is responsible for the other positions in the sentence. The verb also requires very often a certain case

Figure 2: The verb is like a king of the sentence; Photo by skeeze on Pixabay

The Akkusativ is a quite easy case in German. We promise to dive into all the cases soon, but for now let’s make simple German sentence examples using this structure and the Akkusativ case: Subject – Verb – Object.  

Most verbs in the German language need the Akkusativ. Exceptions are the verbs “sein“ (to be), which we already mentioned, “werden“ (to become) and “bleiben“ (to stay). These three require the Nominativ-case. The other exception are the verbs which require the Dativ-case, which are more or less 50, and a few verbs which require Genitiv-case.

“Ich nehme das Wiener Schnitzel.“ – “I’ll take the Wiener Schnitzel“

„Ich hätte gern die Currywurst.“ – “I’d like to have the Currywurst.“

Let’s analyze these sentences. The subject you can find with the question „“Who or what is acting?“. Here the question would be “Who takes the Wiener Schnitzel?“, and “Who would like to have the Currywurst?“. In both questions the answer would be “Ich“. What would be the object now? Right. “Das Wiener Schnitzel“ and „Die Currywurst“.

Until this point there is actually nothing strange. So how would you say now? “I’ll take the fried fish.“? You probably would say: “Ich nehme der Backfisch.“ Now we have to tell you that this answer would not be right. The reason is, that our object is in the Akkusativ case. Most verbs in the German language require Akkusativ. We have other cases that we’ll discuss later, but let’s concentrate for today on Akkusativ. The correct sentence for our example would be:

“Ich nehme den Backfisch.“

We know, the difference to the sentence is very minimal. However, when spoken aloud it will be obviously wrong and completely noticeable to the German with whom you’re conversing.

So let’s analyze our sentence “Ich nehme den Backfisch.“

“Ich“ is the subject of the sentence, “nehme“ is the conjugated verb (Infinitive “nehmen”) which requires the Akkusativ. Remember that the verb is the king of the sentence and it wants an Akkusativ object here, which is in this sentence “den Backfisch“. We already said that the case here is Akkusativ. What does that mean for the sentence?

In English, the Akkusativobjekt is known as the direct object. Sometimes you can ask for the Akkusativ-Object with the question “Who or what is being “verbed“?“, for example what is eaten.

Remember, there are three Genders in German. Masculine, feminine and neutral. I’ll give you some more examples:

Der Tomatensalat (masculine)

Das Käsebrot (neutral)

Die Frikadelle (feminine)

Die Maultaschen (plural)

Akkusativ is quite an easy case and all what’s changed is the masculine article. So in Akkusativ the article changes the following way:

Der -> Den

Das -> Das

Die -> Die

Die (Plural) -> Die

What is the bare minimum you must know about the Akkusativ case for now? First, most German verbs require Akkusativ, such as “nehmen“ (“to take“), “kaufen“ (“to buy“), “bestellen“ (“to order“), “möchten“ (“to would like“) , “haben“ (“to have“), “mögen“ (“to like“), “lieben“ (“to love“), “essen“ (“to eat“), “trinken“ (“to drink“), “fragen“ (“to ask“), “zahlen“ (“to pay“), “suchen“ (“to look for“), “lesen“ (“to read“) etc. And second, the articles are changed in it’s original form (by the way, the noun rarely too).

So how to use these nouns of before now in a complete sentence? How to say “I’ll take the tomato salad “, “I’ll take the cheese bread.“, “I’ll take the meatball.“ or “I’ll take the Maultaschen.“? Try.

Ich nehme den Tomatensalat.

Ich nehme das Käsebrot.

Ich nehme die Frikadelle.

Ich nehme die Maultaschen.

If you did it right, Congratulations! If you not, you get plenty more chances. We mentioned earlier some additional expressions you can use to order food. Can you remember? One of these was “Ich hätte gern…“ (“I’d like to have“). So try to order with this expression “Ich hätte gern“, an onion soup (“Die Zwiebelsuppe“) and „Der Schweinebraten mit Knödel“. Here the answer:

Ich hätte gern die Zwiebelsuppe und (“and“) den Schweinebraten mit Knödel.

In our example “Die Zwiebelsuppe“, and “der Schweinebraten“ are Singular (just one) and “Die Maultaschen“ are Plural (More than one).

“Der“, “Die“, “Das“ are called definite articles. They’re used to point out something, if the noun was already introduced, the meaning of the noun is clear because of the context, or it’s part of the general knowledge. More about that in a future article.  

So now let’s take this concept one step further. As we discussed, you can always order food using the way that was explained above. However, you should use an indefinite article ordering drinks. Can you guess what an indefinite article is? Despite the name, it’s actually a very simple idea. In English you could say “The pizza.“ but you could also say “A pizza.“ Right? Same thing in German. You have the two options.

Besides definite articles there are also indefinite articles. This is a fairly similar concept as in English. If you want to point out something specific, the noun was already introduced, the meaning of the noun is clear because of the context, or it’s part of the general knowledge, use the definite article.

The German indefinite articles are:

Ein (Masculine)

Ein (Neutral)

Eine (Feminine)

Here’s an example:

Ich hätte gern ein Bier, eine Tomatensuppe und ein Wiener Schnitzel mit Bratkartoffeln.

or

Ich hätte gern einen Wein, einen Gurkensalat und eine Rinderroulade mit Kartoffeln.

Perhaps you observed that we said “einen Gurkensalat“ and not “ein Gurkensalat“. The reason is that we have Akkusativ here. So how do the indefinite articles change in Akkusativ?

Ein (Masculine) -> Einen

Ein (Neutral) -> Ein

Eine (Feminine) -> Eine

Note: There is no idefinite article in German for plural. Ordering “Käsespätzle“ (German variation of cheese noodles) which is in Plural you would just say: “Ich hätte gern Käsespätzle.“

So, you heard about the definite and the indefinite article. Which should you use?

Although this may sound funny, but there are contexts or situations where you use the definite article more and others where the indefinite article is used more frequently. To simplify this a little bit, we try to give you some guidelines. When you order a drink you normally use the indefinite article, for example “Ich nehme ein stilles Wasser.“ (“I’ll take a water without gas.“) When you order a soup or a salad you can use the indefinite article, but you can also use the definite article for example “Ich nehme eine Tomatensuppe und einen gemischten Salat.“ (“I’ll take a tomato soup and a mixed salad.“) or “Ich nehme die Tomatensuppe und den gemischten Salat.“ (“I’ll take the tomato soup and the mixed salad.“) Using the definite article sounds a little bit more formal.

Pro Tip: You want to sound like a native when you order food? Then you should use the indefinite article (eine etc.) for drinks and the definite article (“die” etc.) for food. For a soup or a salad you can use also the indefinite article. Sometimes using the definite article can sound a little bit more formal.

Ordering the main dish it’s more common to use the definite article, for example: “Ich nehme das Wiener Schnitzel mit Pommes“ („I’ll take the Wiener Schnitzel with French fries“) or “Ich nehme die Forelle mit Salzkartoffeln.“ (“I’ll take the trout with boiled potatoes.“) Last but not least the desert. You can use the definite article here for example “Ich nehme den Apfelstrudel.“ Ordering a cake you can also use the definite article “Ich nehme den Apfelkuchen.“ (“I’ll take the apple cake.“) People will understand using logic and experience that you don’t want “den ganzen Kuchen“ (“the whole cake“). It’s also common to say “Ich nehme ein Stück Apfelkuchen.“ („I’ll take a piece of apple cake.“)

Pro Tip: Ordering for a group of persons you can also use the expression “Mal“ for example “Zwei Mal die Tomatensuppe“ (“The tomato soup twice“) , “Dreimal das Wiener Schnitzel“ (“The Wiener Schnitzel three times.“)

4.) Bring on the Extras!

Sometimes you see a meal on the menu that looks great but contains something you don’t like. In this example you’d like to have something changed. Let’s say you’d like “Pommes“ (French fries) instead of Knödel(“dumplings“). How to do that? Well, actually there is a very useful word for this. It’s “statt“. “Statt“ means “instead“. So back to our example. How to say “I’d like to have French Fries instead of dumplings.“? Here the answer:

“Ich hätte gern Pommes statt Knödel.“ – I’d like to have French fries instead of dumplings.

To ask if it’s possible to make a change, you can add: “Ist das möglich?“ (“Is that possible?“) In most places it won’t be a big deal but in some places they may say no, forcing you to choose something else on the menu. In some German locales they may charge extra if you make a menu change.

Another important word to make a menu change is “ohne“ which means “without“ and can be very useful when you’d like to place an order but need to remove a sauce or some specific ingredient. For example, onions in a salad. Some examples:

Ich hätte gern den gemischten Salat ohne Zwiebeln. – I’d like to have the mixed salad without onions.

Ich hätte gerne den Käsekuchen ohne Sahne. – I’d like to have the cheese cake without cream.


Figure 3: Photo by moerschy on Pixabay

Another situation which can happen in a restaurant is that you need salt (“Das Salz“), pepper (“Der Pfeffer“) or olive oil (“Das Olivenöl“) but you don’t have it on your table. So how might you ask for these condiments? 

You could simply say „“Entschuldigung“ for „sorry“ and then mentioning what you need.

Entschuldigung, ich brauche Salz. – Sorry, I need salt.

Entschuldigung, ich brauche Pfeffer. – Sorry, I need pepper

Entschuldigung, ich brauche Olivenöl. – Sorry I need olive oil.

In a more formal way you should say:

Entschuldigung, ich bräuchte Salz, bitte. – Excuse me, I would need salt, please.

Feel free to replace the object in the sentences above with other nouns and make the sentences work.

5.) Did you like it?

Perhaps the waiter will ask if you are finished before taking your plates, asking “Sind Sie fertig?“ (“Have you finished?“). This is commonly followed by how did you like the meal. Perhaps they will ask “Hat es Ihnen geschmeckt?“ (“Did you like it?“) or “Sind Sie mit dem Essen zufrieden?“ (“Are you happy with the food?“). So how do you say that the food was delicious?

You could simply say “Das Essen war (sehr) lecker.“ (The food was (very) delicious.) or “Es hat (sehr) gut geschmeckt.“ (“I liked the food (a lot).“)

Hopefully it won’t happen but in case you didn’t like the food you should also know to say it. Some useful phrases include:

Es war nicht gut. – It wasn’t good.

Das Essen war leider nicht gut. – Unfortunately the food wasn’t good.

Es hat nicht geschmeckt. – I didn’t like the food.

Shew! That was a HUGE Grammar lesson. We think the Akkusativ case provides you with the foundation to explore and practice. But don’t worry! We will definitely talk more about the structure of the given sentences in future articles.

6.) Paying

Hopefully you enjoyed our multi-part restaurant series and that you’re prepared to stat enjoying delicious German meals. Now, it is time to pay. Do you know how to say that you would like to pay?

Simplest answer is to say, “Zahlen bitte.“ (“I’d like to pay please.“) or “Die Rechnung bitte.“ (“The bill please.“) or in a more polite form “Ich würde gerne zahlen.“ (“I’d like to pay please.“)

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and that you learned a lot. Let’s quickly recap: through this article series you learned to ask for a table, read and comprehend the menu, order food, request minor modifications, talk about whether you liked the food or not and, finally, ask for the bill. Even more importantly, you learned about the Akkusative case, which is a foundational element of the German language (good job!!). You also learned about German articles (definite and indefinite), which change based on the case. All these Grammar topics will help you as you progress through your German language learning journey. If you’d like to amplify that journey with a personalized lesson plan and one-on-one online instruction, then you’ve come to the right spot! To see if our approach will help you surpass your German language goals quickly, sign up for a FREE trial lesson here.

Glossar:

Alt – old

Bestellen – To order

Bitte – please

Brauchen – to need

Das Essen ist kalt – The food is cold

Das Essen war (sehr) lecker – The food was (very) delicious

Das Essen war nicht gut. – The food wasn’t good.

Der Schweinebraten ist lecker. – The roast pork is delicious.

Die Nudeln sind hart. – The noodles are hard.

Die Rechnung bitte. – The bill please

Die Wiener Wurst ist warm – The Wiener Wurst is warm.

Dreimal das Wiener Schnitzel – The Wiener schnitzel three times

Du – You

Du bist – You are

Einen Moment noch, bitte – A moment, please.

Entschuldigung, ich brauche Olivenöl – Sorry, I need olive oil.

Entschuldigung, ich brauche Pfeffer. – Sorry, I need pepper.

Entschuldigung, ich brauche Salz. – Sorry, I need salt.

Er – He

Er ist alt – He is old

Er/Sie/Es ist – He/She/It is

Es – It

Es hat (sehr) gut geschmeckt. –  I liked the food (a lot).

Es hat nicht geschmeckt. – I didn’t like the food.

Es war nicht gut. – It wasn’t good.

Das Essen – food

Für – for

Für mich … bitte – For me…please

Groß – big, tall

Hart – hard

Hat es Ihnen geschmeckt? – Did you like it?

Ich – I

Ich bin – I am

Ich brauche noch einen Moment – I need one more moment.

Ich bräuchte Salz, bitte. – I would need salt please.

Ich hätte gern – I’d like to have

Ich hätte gern den gemischten Salat ohne Zwiebeln. – I’d like to have the mixed salad without onions.

Ich hätte gern die Currywurst – I’d like to have the Currywurst.

Ich hätte gern die Zwiebelsuppe und den Schweinebraten mit Knödel. – I’d like to have the onion soup  and the roast pork with dumplings.

Ich hätte gern Pommes statt Knödel. – I’d like to have French fries instead of dumplings

Ich hätte gerne den Käsekuchen ohne Sahne. – I’d like to have the cheese cake without cream

Ich nehme – I’ll take

Ich nehme das Wiener Schnitzel. – I’ll take the Wiener Schnitzel.

Ich nehme das Wiener Schnitzel mit Pommes. – I’ll take the Wiener Schnitzel with French Fries.

Ich nehme den Apfelkuchen. – I’ll take the apple cake.

Ich nehme den Apfelstrudel. – I’ll take the Apple strudel

Ich nehme den Backfisch. – I’ll take the fried fisch.

Ich nehme die Forelle mit Salzkartoffeln. – I’ll take the trout with boiled potatoes.

Ich nehme ein stilles Wasser. – I’ll take a water without gas.

Ich nehme ein Stück Apfelkuchen. – I’ll take a piece of apple cake.

Ich nehme eine Tomatensuppe und einen gemischten Salat – I’ll take a tomato soup and a mixed salad.

Ich überlege noch – I’m still thinking.

Ich würde gerne zahlen. – I’d like to pay.

Ihr – you (all)

Ihr seid – You (all) are

Ist das möglich? – Is that possible?

Jung – young

kalt – cold

Klein – small

lecker – delicious

Los geht’s – Let’s go

Möchten – to would like

Möchten Sie schon bestellen? – Would you like to order?

Der Moment – moment

nehmen – to take

Die Nudeln – noodles

ohne – without

Das Olivenöl – olive oil

Der Pfeffer – pepper

Die Rechnung – bill

Das Salz – salt

sein – to be

Sie ist jung. – She is young.

Sie sind klein. – They are small.

Sind Sie fertig? – Are you ready? (formal)

Sind Sie mit dem Essen zufrieden? –  Are you happy with the food?

Statt – instead

Überlegen – to think

Warm – warm

Was hätten Sie gern? – What would you like to have?

Was möchten Sie? – What would you like?

Wir – we

Wir sind – We are

Wir sind groß. – We are tall.

wissen – to know

Wissen Sie es schon? – Do you know already?

Wünschen – to wish

zahlen – to pay

Zahlen bitte. – I’d like to pay please.

Zwei Mal die Tomatensuppe – The tomato soup twice

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