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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How did the Wiener Schnitzel become an Austrian icon?

Despite being Austria's national dish, the origins of the Wiener Schnitzel lie further south. Here's the story of how the breaded meat dish came to popularity in Austria.

How did the Wiener Schnitzel become an Austrian icon?

The Wiener Schnitzel might be almost as famous at the city of Vienna itself; so much so the BBC says the Wiener Schnitzel “defines Vienna”. 

It turns out however that the dish was not invented in Austria at all. 

Even though there is Wiener (Viennese) in the title, the schnitzel actually originated from Milan in Italy as cotoletta alla Milanese, although the original recipe used a thicker cut of meat and was cooked with the bone in.

How did the Wiener Schnitzel become an Austrian icon?

As with many stories delving into Austrian history, the tale of the Wiener Schnitzel involves royalty, mythology and nobility. 

The story goes that Czech nobleman and Austrian Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky brought the recipe back to Vienna from Milan in 1857 after a trip there during the Habsburg rule.

READ MORE: Which Austrian cheeses are protected foods and why?

Radetzky described the dish as a “deliciously breaded veal cutlet” and the emperor requested the recipe. It was a huge success and the schnitzel quickly became popular across Vienna.

Today, the humble schnitzel is the country’s national dish and a key part of Austria’s culture.

You can even find it in cafes and bakeries as a sandwich version called Schnitzelsemmel, which is a schnitzel served in a bread roll.

What is a Wiener Schnitzel?

In case there are some readers out there that are unfamiliar with the Wiener Schnitzel, it is a piece of veal that is breaded and fried, then served with potatoes and a wedge of lemon. 

National Geographic describes the dish as “unassuming” but don’t let that fool you. The schnitzel dominates most menus in Austria and can even be found in restaurants specialising in international cuisine.

The schnitzel is also popular in households across the country, but outside of restaurants it is often cooked with pork instead of expensive veal.

READ ALSO: Caffeine, war and Freud: A history of Vienna’s iconic coffee houses

How to make Wiener Schnitzel

Impressing your Austrian friends with a homemade Wiener Schnitzel is easy.

Simply pound the meat (veal or pork) to an even thinness. Then dip it in flour, followed by egg and breadcrumbs. Fry the meat until it is golden brown. You want it to be crispy but not burnt.

Serve with boiled potatoes and a lemon wedge. A side of cranberry sauce is optional but recommended.