Once you’ve made it into the world of work in Germany, business negotiations and formal business meals await you. In this section, we will show you which rules of behaviour and procedures to follow to ensure that you always act appropriately and professionally.
In Germany, business negotiations often take place according to a rather formal procedure. Dress to look as business-like as possible for the appointment, because here too, first impressions are very important. Be punctual. If you can’t make it in time, notify your business partners immediately and apologise.
This is why it is better to avoid any extraneous topics of conversation. As a general rule, all the results are summarised again at the end and a few days later you receive an overview of the most important decisions. German agreements are typically extremely detailed, and binding. Once a decision has been made or a contract signed, you can safely assume that all those involved will adhere to it.
A business meal is a kind of informal business negotiation. In Germany, you meet for a business meal either when a contract is about to be signed or is to be celebrated, or when you want to get to know new business partners. Such occasions are all about “networking”. If you are making an appointment for lunch, this will usually take place between 11:30am and 1:30pm; an evening meal will take place between 6:00pm and 8:00pm.
Regardless of the occasion, the best thing to do is to treat it as you would a business negotiation. Make sure you arrive punctually and dress appropriately. Here again, you cannot go wrong by adopting the business look. However, a casual business look is often enough. If you don't know one another very well yet, personal topics are usually best avoided at the table. But again, there are wide differences from company to company. It is best to simply wait and see how familiar your superiors get. If you feel unsure of yourself, continue with informal small talk.
How to behave at the table
In Germany, table manners are important. It is wise to watch how your colleagues behave. You start to eat after your host has said a few words. When the meal is served, wait until everyone at the table has got their food, then everyone begins eating together.
If the business meal is in the evening, alcohol is permitted but is by no means obligatory. But make sure you do not drink too much – it is a business meal, after all. Once everything has been discussed, unlike in formal business negotiations contracts are rarely signed. Agreements are simply sealed with a handshake. However, this kind of a handshake should be taken just as seriously.
Ending the meal
Once the evening has come to a successful close, the only remaining question is who pays the bill. If you were explicitly invited, you do not need to pay for anything. If all the guests pay their own bill, you should leave a tip for the restaurant staff. Simply add five to ten percent to the amount of your bill.
Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community