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How does one idiomatically order water at no charge at restaurants in Germany?

In at least US and France, an order of water, qualified if necessary to clarify as just water or regular water, will usually produce glasses of water and/or a pitcher of tap water that the customer is not charged for. In US English and in French, idiomatically, it is not usually necessary for the customer to specify that they want tap water or that they want water at no charge, and it may even be considered somewhat improper to make such an explicit clarification.

The naïve translation of these expressions into German (e.g. nur Wasser or normales Wasser) has not worked for me in practice (waiters invariably bring bottles that they charge for).

What is the idiomatic way to express, in German, that one would like no-charge water service for the table? Or is that something that restaurants in general do not provide?

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    This would also (or better?) fit on Travel SE. See for example: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/98163/… – Carsten S Sep 3 '17 at 20:11
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    "Or is that something that restaurants in general do not provide, in which case is it ok to bring your own thermos of cold water?" - it is something that restaurants in Germany do not provide in general (or at least are not used to being asked for) and it is not ok to bring your own thermos of cold water. If you want to eat in a restaurant, pay them for the food, and if you want to drink there, pay them for the drink. – O. R. Mapper Sep 3 '17 at 20:21
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    This is one of the unpleasant sides of German "hostility" (i.e. gastronomy). They are not used to serving the (anyway high quality) tab water, or are offended or irritated when asked. Therefore there is a common habit especially of families in Germany (with more than one child) to fill up their children with water at home before going to eating out, so to keep the bill in reasonable dimensions.- If Germany needs to be punished for anything, then for this extremely unfriendly and thoughtless kind of "hospitality". – Christian Geiselmann Sep 3 '17 at 21:02
  • Water has a 1000% added value (well, at least). So … if the restaurant gives out water for free, the lost value has to be placed on the meals. That doesn't seem right. – Janka Sep 3 '17 at 22:06
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    Ok, I edited qobas headline, because it wasn't visible in the review section, that it was his own editing, I was working on. So I rolled it back, after seeing, the change was made in his sense. – user unknown Sep 5 '17 at 1:14
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If you want to make yourself understood, ask for Leitungswasser (tap water). However, this is not customary in restaurants in Germany.

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The problem is that restaurants in Germany are not used to serving tap water, partly because often they generate more income from selling drinks than from selling food. Selling cheap liquids such as bottled water, beer, lemonade etc. is their main source of income [1].

Of course, if you are a brave person, you can try and ask for tap water. But make sure they understand what you are asking for:

Gast: ... und dazu bitte eine Karaffe mit Leitungswasser.

Kellnerin: Eine Flasche Wasser, ja.

Gast: Leitungswasser bitte. Aus dem Wasserhahn! Bringen Sie einfach einen Krug voll, oder eine Karaffe, und zwei Gläser dazu.

Kellnerin: Leitungswasser haben wir nicht.

Gast: [Tries to be very nice and charming; of course they have tap water, and claming they haven't is so absurd that the waitress even does not understand how absurd it is; now, if the guest is a true master of charm and seduction, the waitress may finally accept the order, if not, he will end up with a bottle of expensive bottled water anyway. If the waitress accepts the order, she will be sure that the guest leaves a tip larger than the amount of money he saved by ordering tap water instead of bottled water.]


[1] Money laundering not included.

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  • I think you mean tap water – PiedPiper Sep 4 '17 at 21:49
  • Thanks, very helpful. However, making a high profit or even all the profit on beverage is commonplace in at least the US and France restaurant business, and these two countries still do provide no-charge water service as a matter of course. So it is still possible to have both beverages-provided margin and no-charge water service, but you're right that this situation makes it for individual restaurants to change their practice. I love the Leitungswasser haben wir nicht, maybe I will hear this on my next try! – qoba Sep 5 '17 at 0:44
  • @PiedPiper You can just edit the question yourself when you find such minor mistakes, – Matthias Sep 5 '17 at 7:23
  • @PiedPiper - Thank you mentioning. I corrected (and memorized) the correct spelling now. – Christian Geiselmann Sep 5 '17 at 7:51
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    Is this a regional thing? I have been visiting restaurants all over the north west of Germany and had never had any problems with it, except maybe for an occasional raised eyebrow. – Philipp Flenker Sep 5 '17 at 17:02
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One possible reason why you may not easily be able to order tap water (Leitungswasser) in a German restaurant are quite strict tenancy contracts with breweries that own many restaurants. These contracts often include a minimum amount of beverages per month/year that exclusively has to be ordered from the proprietary.

Therefore the tenant has a vital interest in selling beverages to their guests. These often include (sparkling) water and lemonades that are being sold by the breweries as well.

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  • Thanks for the additional background. I believe that these kinds of contracts are commonplace worldwide though, including in countries that do provide no-charge water service as a matter of course, which make them insufficient to provide a direct explanation, but I suppose they (as well as the margins) are an important factor in restaurants' inability to offer no-charge water service even if they wanted to. – qoba Sep 5 '17 at 0:40

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