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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Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) this summer.

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

Overnight on Tuesday, June 28th, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

Reports on Wednesday morning said the villages of Treffen am Ossiacher See and Arriach (Villach-Land district) were still metres under water and several people had been rescued from the deluge.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

According to ORF, emergency services were still struggling to reach some areas and there were unconfirmed reports of missing people.

A Tweet from Unwetter-Freaks said: “Bad pictures from #Arriach in #Kärnten , which was hit by several storm cells last night. According to ORF, the place is currently cut off from the outside world and cannot be reached by the emergency services.”

Earlier this week, rural areas in Upper Austria were also hit by storms (overnight, June 27th) bringing torrential rain and hail the size of golf balls, which caused extensive damage to crops and grassland in the key agricultural state.

READ ALSO: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

The Klaus reservoir had to be drained of 200 cubic metres of water to avoid flooding and trees were brought down across the province by wind gusts – some up to 91 km/h.

The Kronen Zeitung reports the storm caused damage to around 16,000 hectares of agriculture land, with insurers estimating the cost to be up to €6.5 million.

One Tweet showed the size of the hail on Monday night and read: “In the night we had ‘light’ hail.”

Storms then hit the region again on Tuesday night leading to a lightning strike on a hay barn in the Mühlviertel and the flooding of an underground car park in Linz.

With the summer season far from over and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s how to stay safe during storms in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.