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How to Visit an Amsterdam Cafe

DutchAmsterdam.nl — Tourists who at home frequent fast-food establishments — such as McDonald’s and Del Taco, diners like Denny’s and IHOP, and coffee vendors from Starbucks to their local mom-and-pop oufit — are often nonplussed when they visit a Dutch café or coffee house. Inside, the pace of life — and of service — is much slower than they are used to.

The Dutch use cafés and their outdoor terraces like an extension of their living room. They’re comfortable places where you can relax, shoot the breeze, read, write, or do nothing at all.


In Dutch cafés it is customary to take a seat and wait for service. ‘Wait’ is the operative term here — as the service in these type of establishments usually is slow.

Cafe Kalkhoven, Westermarkt, Amsterdam

Café Kalkhoven, Westermarkt, Amsterdam

Mind you, your initial order may be taken and delivered soon enough, but after that you’re pretty much left alone.

It is not that you are being ignored. The assumption is simply that you are there to relax without constantly being interrupted by an overly solicitous waitress.

For the same reason, in many such cafés your empty cup or glass is not removed, as doing so might be misinterpreted as a hint that it is time for you to leave.

Should you desire an additional drink or consumption, try to catch the waiter’s attention by raising a hand or index finger. Don’t beckon by wagging one crooked finger in the classic ‘come here’ gesture, as doing so is considered rude.

Do as the locals do

Of course, there are also plenty of places where you are indeed ‘expected’ to clear your spot as soon as you have finished your obligatory consumption.

Elsewhere it helps to be sensitive as well. For instance, if there is a lunch rush while no tables are free, you may want to either order something substantial yourself, or clear your spot for a (better-) paying customer.

To determine how to act, just observe the locals. If they’re not budging, relax.

That said, if you like the place well enough, it’s a good idea to express your satisfaction with a nice tip.

Running up a tab

In some places, and at many terraces you pay when each order arrives. If you’d rather run up a tab — to be paid when you are ready to leave — ask for it.

Tipping is not necessary in Holland, but in a café or pub rounding up the bill or leaving some change is appreciated.

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Last updated CET (Central European Time)

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