If you are traveling from the United States to Germany for the first time this summer, I suggest you get comfortable with the idea that in most German restaurants and especially in Biergartens and other outdoor eateries, you will dining with strangers if there are open seats at your table.
Unless you have reserved a table in a restaurant in advance, tables are not considered private. If seating space is limited, wait staff and patrons will try to utilize every available chair. So if you are seated at a table for 6 and you are only occupying two chairs, don’t be surprised if someone asks you politely if the chairs are taken or if they are available fully expecting to hear an equally polite “Please have a seat!” if you indeed have no need for these empty chairs. In most cases the joining party will carry on their own conversations and while one is expected to share the table, one is not expected to share the conversation – in fact that would be considered slightly strange if not rude if you were to butt in on the other party’s conversation.
What do you suppose German and American Public Dining Customs might tell you about the respective Cultural Values?