One of the most easily spotted cultural differences between America and all of the European Countries we visited was our experiences in restaurants. This distinction was especially noticeable when we got meals on our own rather than with the group, and the reservations and accommodations that came with that.
The first thing we observed upon arrival at a restaurant was there was typically no host or hostess waiting to seat people, and instead we were expected to seat ourselves at an open table. The next unusual thing was the lack of water on the table. Water was almost never included with the meal, and cost about as much as a beer or soft drink. We also had to be careful to remember to ask for still water or the waiter would bring out carbonated water by default. And whether it’s water or a soft drink we had to make it last because there wouldn’t be any free refills when we’re done. Another thing we noticed as the meals went on is that the service was often significantly slower than we were used to. It was very common to wait a while after sitting down even to place our drink orders. Once we had finally ordered and gotten our food, we would regularly see that the portions, while almost always enough, were definitely smaller than a restaurant meal in the United States.
At the end of the meal, the last unusual thing for us was the payment system. Even after clearing everything off our tables, the waiters wouldn’t bring the check to the table unless we asked for it. And once we got the checks, waiters were typically visibly annoyed by our requests for separate checks, payments by card, or even cash payments that required too much change. Lastly, there was not near as much of an expectation of a tip at European restaurants, and we would usually just round our bill up a little.