Business meals in Germany are quite common but they often don’t take place until the most important part of negotiation has been concluded. Business partners meet on a professional basis and too private topics are mostly excluded. However, it is not unusual to talk about hobbies or spare
time activities, e.g. holiday destinations or sports. Topics to be avoided during small talk with Germans are religion and politics as well as direct questions regarding marital status or children. Still, if you and your conversational partners happen to come across such topics as for example what kind of school is best for children feel free to talk about your family life – it might even be an opportunity to create a somewhat personal link to your business partners.
As private life and work-life are normally separated in Germany, there are hardly any after work activities linked to work as this life sphere is preserved to privacy.
In Germany, seating arrangements aren’t of any great importance. The team leader or senior manager being the highest in the hierarchy always sits at the head of the table. Maybe the second person in the hierarchy will sit next to the most senior. The rest of the invitees can sit wherever they like. Otherwise, you would find nametags on the table.
In general, small talk is not very important in Germany. Good small talk topics are the arrival, the hotel, traditional food or touristic topics. However, you will find, that small talk in Germany tends to be rather short and not too personal. If you have met already several times or if you are having dinner together with your business partners, it is quite common to talk about hobbies or spare time activities, e.g. holiday destinations or sports.
Bill and tip
German etiquette says that the person making the invitation should pay the bill. A fight for the bill will not be considered generous or polite. On the contrary, a strong persistence could either result in an offence or be accepted as an invitation immediately.
When colleagues go out for a business lunch it often happens that they just split the bill. For restaurants and taxis, a tip of 10 % or slightly less is sufficient. Tips in restaurants are not left on the table after the payment but are included in the sum you give to the waiter directly. If you don’t have the right amount ready tell the waiter the amount you would like to pay when handing him over your money.
Business meals in Germany will end with an expression of thanks, brief summary and an outlook on the next steps. A formal handshake symbolises the end of the meeting.
Most of the time you will receive a written summary of the meeting after the event.
There is a clear distinction between work and private life in Germany. Therefore, after-work activities are not normally linked with work or business as they are part of German leisure time.
Exceptions are teambuilding activities, corporate summer festivals or Christmas events. However, German employees consider such events to be extended working time. It may happen that colleagues will go out and have a beer together after work. Still, this is not common and should therefore not be expected.
Due to the separation of work and leisure, private invitations are rather uncommon in the German business world. The German saying: ›Dienst ist Dienst und Schnaps ist Schnaps‹ (Work is work and schnapps is schnapps) shows the clear division of life spheres.
Cultural and entertainment programmes
Your German business partners will arrange a cultural and entertainment programme according to tourist aspects. You are likely to do some sightseeing and visit a restaurant with local specialities.
Private leisure activities are unlikely to be on the agenda in a business context. When hosting German guests, make sure that they always have some spare time at their disposal.