Cash and Schnapps: A guide to visiting pubs and cafes in Austria

There are some unspoken rules when visiting a bar or a cafe in Austria. Here’s what you need to know.

Cash and Schnapps: A guide to visiting pubs and cafes in Austria
Follow these unwritten rules when drinking out in Austria and it should be appreciated by serving staff. Photo: Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash

Austria’s towns and cities have a great selection of bars and cafes to explore but it can be hard to know how to act as a newcomer to the country.

Here’s a guide to visiting a bar or a cafe like a local.

Don’t order at the bar

Ordering at the bar like in a British pub is usually not the done thing in Austria (unless at an English or Irish bar).

Cafes and bars like to offer table service so the correct etiquette is to take a seat (unless there is a sign asking you to wait to be seated) and wait for the waiter or waitress to come over. 

In fact, wandering up to the bar when you should wait for table service is actually considered rude behaviour. Instead, embrace patience and wait to be served. 

READ MORE: How to drink coffee like an Austrian

Avoid “Reserviert’ tables

Tables that are reserved in a cafe or bar will usually have a sign saying “Reserviert” (reserved).

It’s wise to avoid these tables so that you don’t annoy the staff, but if it’s the only table left then the best approach is to ask what time it is reserved for.

In most cases, you will be able to sit at the table as long as you leave around 10 minutes before the booking.

Don’t be offended by grumpy or slow service

Austrian waiters and waitresses are renowned for being grumpy. There is even a special name for grumpiness in Vienna – the Wiener Grant – so don’t take it personally.

Similarly, waiting staff in Austria are not as hands-on as in other countries and prefer to leave their customers alone after ordering. So, if your waiter hasn’t arrived at your table for a while, simply raise your hand to get their attention.

Say yes to Schnapps

Drinking Schnapps in Austria might sound like a cliche but venture into any bar at the weekend and you will see customers doing a Prost (cheers) before downing a Schnapps.

It’s also not uncommon to be offered Schnapps by a stranger or a loose acquaintance – even in a restaurant and especially at an après ski bar.

The polite thing to do is to say yes, followed by Prost.

FOR MEMBERS: Ten destinations by direct night train from Austria

Reserve the pool table 

If there is a pool table in a pub and people are playing on it, don’t assume you can jump in when they are finished. If there is money sitting on the table then other people are already waiting for their turn.

To reserve your spot in the queue, leave a €1 coin on the table and pay attention to who else could be waiting.

This is an almost universal rule for playing pool and is similar to countries like the UK, New Zealand and Canada. The only difference is the currency.

Pay your tab at the end

In many cafes and bars, the waiting staff or bartender will run a tab for your drinks and you will pay at the end, rather than paying as you go at the bar.

This also offers customers a chance to tip for the service they have received (see tipping section below).

READ ALSO: Why is cash so important to Austrians?

Carry cash

German-speaking Europe remains keen on cash, unlike regions like Scandinavia, the Benelux countries, Ireland or the UK.

In fact, as recently as May 2021, prominent Austrian figures publicly pushed back against EU efforts to cap cash payments at €10,000. This is how much cash is still valued in the country.

For this reason, don’t expect to always be able to pay with a card in a bar or a cafe. And even if staff have a card machine, they might still be grumpy about using it.

If you must pay with a card, let your server know when you ask to pay the bill to save time. Waiting staff in Austria carry purses to allow customers to pay their bill with cash directly at the table, so paying with a card can be a source of annoyance for some.

Don’t forget to tip

In Austria, leaving a tip (known as Trinkgeld) is not as embedded in the culture like in the US and Canada, but it is still expected in pubs and cafes.

The unspoken rule is to tip around 10 percent of the bill, or simply round up if paying for just a coffee or glass or wine.

For example, if a drink costs €3.70 then pay €4. You can do this by saying “mach mal Vier, bitte” or even “Vier”, which means “make it 4” or simply “4”. 

Or, you can say “Stimmt so” when paying the bill, which basically means “keep the change”.

Find out more about the tipping culture in Austria with an explainer by The Local.

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‘Bad-tempered locals’: Vienna ranked the world’s ‘unfriendliest city’

Foreigners in Vienna say the city offers excellent health and transport benefits but has an exceptionally unfriendly population.

'Bad-tempered locals': Vienna ranked the world's 'unfriendliest city'

The Spanish port city of Valencia is the most popular city among international employees this year, followed by Dubai and Mexico City, according to the “Expat City Ranking 2022” by Internations, a network for people who live and work abroad.

The ranking is based on the annual Expat Insider study, in which almost 12,000 employees worldwide participated this year. The report offers insights into the quality of life, settling in, working, personal finances and the “Expat Basics” index, which covers digital infrastructure, administrative matters, housing and language.

Vienna ranks 27th out of 50 cities in this year’s ranking. Although it scores very well in terms of quality of life, many expats find it difficult to settle in and make friends in the Austrian capital.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The best and worst districts to live in Vienna (as voted for by you)

Vienna ranks last in the Ease of Settling In Index and also in the Local Friendliness Subcategory. 

Nearly half the respondents in the city (46 percent) say that people are unfriendly towards foreign residents (vs 18 percent globally), and 43 percent rate the general friendliness of the population negatively (vs 17 percent globally). 

An Australian immigrant told Internations they were unhappy with the seemingly “bad tempered locals”, while a survey respondent from the UK said they struggled to get along with the “conservative Austrians” in Vienna.

Unsurprisingly, more than half of the expats in Vienna (54 percent) find it challenging to make friends with the locals (vs 37 percent globally). Moreover, around one-third (32 percent) are unhappy with their social life (vs 26 percent globally), and 27 percent do not have a personal support system in Vienna (vs 24 percent globally). 

“I really dislike the grumpiness and the unfriendliness,” said an immigrant from Sweden.

READ ALSO: The downsides of Vienna you should be aware of before moving there

In the Quality of Life Index, Vienna snagged first place last year, but it reached only seventh place this year. In terms of administrative matters such as getting a visa for residence, Vienna is only 38th, and the federal capital also scores poorly for cashless payment options (42nd).

Where does Vienna shine?

The Austrian city ranked particularly well in categories including Travel and Transit (first place) and Health and Well-being (second place). International employees rated the availability, cost and quality of medical care as particularly good.

“I like how much you can do here and how easy it is to get around by public transport,” said an expat from the US. 

In addition, Vienna is not particularly expensive and ranks ninth worldwide in the personal finance index. 

READ ALSO: Five unwritten rules that explain how Austria works

Vienna ranks 26th out of 50 cities in the Working Abroad Index. Sixty-eight percent of expats rate their job as secure, and two-thirds rate their work-life balance positively – compared to 59 percent and 62 percent globally. However, 23 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with their career opportunities, and a third feel that the corporate culture in Vienna lacks creativity and unconventional thinking.

In the “Expat Basics” index, international employees consider housing in Vienna particularly affordable (9th). In addition, eight out of ten find it easy to open a local bank account (vs 64 percent worldwide).