Vienna’s coffeehouses are a world of their own, and in these charming old worlds there’s a certain etiquette to live by, and a couple of fascinating things you should know about them.
We’ve made a list of 10 things you should know about Vienna’s beloved coffeehouses.
This scarcely known piece of old world etiquette has survived since the Habsburg days. Unexpectedly, the face-down coffee spoon balancing over your glass of water carries a meaning – that your glass of water has been freshly filled up.
While cafes around the world are charging for water, Vienna has defiantly stuck to tradition and continues to accompany all coffees served with a glass of water. It’s essential, according to coffeehouse law as it cleanses the palate.
You can call your waiter this, no matter who it is – Herr Ober (besides waiter, Ober also means superior). Being a Viennese waiter is like being a samurai in Japan (sort of) – it carries great honour. Herr Ober is an affectionate and respectful term used to address waiters in Vienna’s coffeehouses… unless it’s a female. Then this is not so respectful.
While the invention of the selfie stick revolutionised how people take photos of themselves and led to an explosion in the number of selfies on the internet, the newspaper stick was a ingenius invention which revolutionised how people read newspapers in cafes. While now they may seem to have a more nostalgic purpose in the coffeehouse, they do make you look damn sophisticated when holding them. Coffeehouses are keeping the newspaper industry alive with deliveries everyday of the dailies, hung on newspaper sticks along with an array of magazines. Read them all, but be sure to put them back when you’re done to avoid newspaper stick sword fights breaking out. Ok, that’s not a thing, but it should be. Just like selfie stick sword fight should.
Viennese coffeehouses pay no attention to time, or the world outside. And their bohemian, romantic charm only grows as they get older – the wooden floorboards, the feeling like you’re sitting next to a poet or an artist, newspapers on wooden holders, hat racks, marble table tops and Thonet chairs. Coffeehouses are made for spending whole afternoons in them. You’ll never be bothered by a waiter, even if you only drink one coffee, so be sure to stay as long as you like.
If a local catches you eating a Frankfurter Würstel (sausage) with a knife and fork, they’ll slap those dirty civilised utensils out of your hands and most probably slap you in the face with the rubbery pink sausage. Ok, maybe the consequences won’t be that extreme, but it is a funny scenario to imagine. Do like the locals do, eat your Würstel with your fingers. Then try doing the same with your Gulasch and film the reactions of your neighbouring diners.
Prepare like you’re a Romanian gymnast heading to the Olympics… or just write a cheat list on the back of your hand of all the Viennese coffees that exist. The coffeehouse menu will probably list them, as well, but be sure to wander with your choices and make the most out of the vast range of coffees on offer in the Viennese coffeehouse (there are dozens). We’ve made a list for you, here.
That whole idea which applies to most of the world when it comes to customer service – the customer is king, ask and you shall receive – this doesn’t really apply in a Vienna coffeehouse. Forget everything you’ve learned about friendly service when going to a coffeehouse – like we said, these places are a world of their own. Asking your waiter for a fork may earn you a look like, ‘sure, I’ll be sure to deliver it right away… in your eye!’ from the waiter. So don’t ask for a fork… or for anything else for that matter. The waiter is God here. Bow and be gracious for everything they bring you. Oh, and be sure to tip generously.
It’s not uncommon to share your table with others if the coffeehouse is busy. It’s actually led to some of the most interesting conversations we’ve ever had in them.
We can hear all of you non-smokers doing your hating and throwing your ‘quit smoking’ self-help books at our windows, but the fact is, smoking is still allowed in most of the coffeehouses in Vienna. Some say it’s part of the charm, others say it makes them want to vomit and throw their vomit at all the people smoking – we’re going to stay out of this one and just say – coffee and cigarettes in Viennese coffeehouses is still a thing.