British pub etiquette

How do the Brits behave at the pub?


The Great British pub


The Brits are known to uphold their pub culture.


Pubs in Britain are not just a place to get your alcohol fix. It is the social centre and very often the focus of community life in villages, towns and cities throughout the nation.


In smaller cities and villages it is often referred to as the neighbourhood’s living room.


The British pub is actually Italian


Old British pub, credit to Wikimedia A British pub in the 18th century
Wikimedia Commons / Léonard Defrance


The pub is short for public house. It was the house that was open for the public to hang out in.


This concept was introduced in Britain more than 2000 years ago as the Italian wine bar.


The invading Romans brought over their “pubs” known then as tabernae.

Taberbae were shops that sold wine and were built along the Roman roads and usually in the city centre.


Gradually the name tabernae became tavern, and then it became the public house, which became the pub as we know it.


Nine things to consider when at a British pub


British pub grub Pub grub is a good way to get a hearty meal for a fairly reasonable price


1. There is no table service in the British pubs


Order and pay at the bar. The barman/woman is usually aware whose turn is next. Holding money in your hand shows your readiness to order. You will be waited upon in turn.


2. Friends waiting upon friends


It is customary for one or two people to make the trip to the bar on behalf of the entire table. It is usually the one who is buying for the table.


3. Food at the bar?


Food, if available, is ordered and paid for at the bar. The barman or barmaid, will bring food to your table. Just leave your glasses and plates on the table when you are ready to leave.


4. A pub is not a restaurant


Pubs rarely offer evening meals. Some , however, do offer 'pub grub'. This can range from soup-of-the-day and a sandwich at some pubs, to one or two meal selections for the day, to a full menu at other pubs.


Pub grub is a good way to get a hearty meal at a fairly reasonable price.


British pub beer Nobody just orders 'beer'. Make sure to specify which one


5. You can have a soda


Since a pub is the neighbourhood’s living room, there is no obligation to order anything alcoholic. Your order for coffee or a Coke will be filled cheerfully and without batting an eyelid.


6. It is not a cocktail bar


Mixed drinks such as margaritas and daiquiris are virtually unheard of at the pub.


If you wish forsomething with alcohol, you will either be drinking distilled spirits (whiskey, gin, vodka, rum) with water or a mixer, or you will be drinking beer.


7. It is automatically a pint


A request for ale or lager or bitter or stout will get you a full pint unless you specifically ask for a half pint.


8. Bell ringing


The barman/woman rings the bell twice. First time, it means “last call.” Second time, it means the bar is closed.


English law allows a twenty-minute “drinking up time” for patrons to finish drinks purchased at last call.


9. Don't tip


There is usually no tipping at a pub. To offer a tip is to display your unfamiliarity with pub etiquette.


Tipping the Barman/woman


British money, tipping Show me the money... Not in Britain


The social structure of the pub is egalitarian: those serving behind the bar are in no way inferior to the customers.


To give them a tip would be a reminder of their ‘service’ role, whereas to offer a drink is to treat them as equals.


The correct etiquette for offering a drink to bar staff is to say "and one for yourself?", or "and will you have one yourself?" at the end of your order. 


It is a question, not an instruction, and do not bellow it out as though you're determined the entire pub should be aware of your generosity.


Avoid using the word ‘buy’. To say "Can I buy you a drink?" suggest that money is involved. The Brits  are quite aware that money is involved, but prefer not to draw attention to the fact.


The ancient tribal ritual of round-buying


Round-buying is the reciprocal exchange of drinks.


In Britain, as elsewhere, drinking is essentially a social activity. In all cultures around the world, the ritual practices and etiquettes associated with drinking are designed to promote friendly social interaction.


The British male is usually afraid of intimacy, finds it difficult to express friendly interest in other males, and can be somewhat aggressive in his manner.


Round-buying, according to anthropologist Kate Fox, is a highly effective antidote to these "verbal fisticuffs".


The first thing to remember when drinking with a group of Brits is that round buying is sacred. Not ‘buying your round’, explains Fox, is more than just a breach of pub etiquette: it is heresy.



Header image: Flickr / Eric Huybrechts


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