What is British pub culture?

Pub culture is a big part of British culture.

Pub culture is an integral part of British life, especially student life. Pubs are a place to go to socialise, relax and have a drink. It is something you should experience if you want to learn about Brits and our culture,  even if you don’t drink alcohol.

Going to pubs is fun. However, having said that there are some social rules attached to visiting the pub and knowing them will make your experience more enjoyable.

What do pubs serve?

If you’re not a drinker or you’re the designated driver, then you can easily order a soft drink! If you’re a drinker, then the usual order at a pub consists of lager, ale, bitter and spirits. A request for lager, ale or bitter will usually get you a whole pint unless you specify you want half!

It is unlikely pubs will be able to serve you fancy cocktails. This is something that you would normally get in a bar.

Pub culture is a big part of British culture. British pubs often serve a wide range of beer.
Photo credit to Jorge Royan on Wikimedia Commons, shared under this Creative Commons Licence

How do you order drinks?

In almost all pubs you need to order your drink at the bar, so don’t wait around for someone to take your order from your table. The only exception to this is when you go to a “gastro pub”, aka a posh pub, for a meal. Then you will get table service.

Pubs are busy at peak times such as after work and the weekends. It’s advisable to edge your way to the front of the queue but strictly NO pushing in. You will not be popular. Once at the front, get the attention of the bar staff by having your money ready. They will most likely say “what will it be” or “what are you having” and you give them your order.

In some pubs they will ask if you want to start a tab, which means do you want to leave your debit or credit card behind the bar. In exchange they will give you a card with a number. Each time you place an order the staff will ask for that number and at the end they will present the bill to you.

Do you leave a tip?

You don’t normally tip bar staff in the UK. If you want to say thanks, then offer to buy them a drink. They can then choose to accept the drink or take the value of the drink in the form of a tip.

Which pub is the right one for you?

You will find that many pubs are the hub for their local community, which means they are a great way to meet people. Some are also known for a certain thing, such as a venue for a certain genre of music or their quiz night. There are pubs that are known for being a place where people gather to watch a certain sport or support a certain football team. It’s best to check out the vibe because it can be an uncomfortable experience if you support one team and everyone else is supporting the opposition.

You will also find certain pubs are known as a hangout for certain nationalities, such as “Aussies (Australians) and “Kiwis” (New Zealanders).

Is it normal to start a conversation with a stranger?

One of the great things about the pub culture in the UK is that you can strike up a conversation with a stranger and even make new friends. It might be a passing comment about the weather or the football scores. It could also be something weightier, such as something in the news or about politics. Whatever the topic is, join in! It’s fun! You may even get a drink bought for you, but remember to return the gesture.

What does ‘buying a round’ mean?

If you are with a group of friends and you are drinking, then ‘getting your round’ is an essential part of pub culture. If there’s a designated driver, they normally get their drinks paid for, as they don’t get to drink alcohol or at least not as much as everyone else. And the golden rule is to not leave the pub when it’s your round!

Why do Brits say “cheers” before they start their drink?

Holding up your drink and clinking your glass against everyone else’s whilst making eye contact and saying “cheers” is a must before you start drinking. The custom is about acknowledging friendships and the fact that you are all gathered to have a nice time.

The art of carrying drinks back to the table

If it is your round and you are in a big group, then it is common to ask someone to help you bring back the drinks without spilling them.

One tactic you can use to help you get the drinks back to the table without spillages is to shout out “mind your backs” as you negotiate your way back to the table.  It may not always work but you will find people tend to make way for you to pass through.

Popular snacks eaten in pubs

These days most pubs serve hot and cold food. Some pubs known as gastro pubs sell restaurant quality food. However, the traditional snacks eaten in pubs are crisps and nuts.

The social code is if you are feeling a bit peckish you’ll ask people in your group what flavour of crisps they like. You then share the snacks by ripping the bag open so the crisps are piled on the torn foil.

How to order food in a traditional pub?

A pub is unlike a restaurant – you have to go up to the bar to place your order. The signal to show that you are ready to order is holding your money in your hand, so that it is visible to the person behind the bar. Once you have placed your order you will be given a table number that you place on your table. The food will then be bought to the table.

What does it mean when the bar staff ring the bell?

Last orders are usually around 10.30pm or 11pm on a Sunday. Bar staff will ring the bell to signal it’s time to place your last orders. They will then ring it again to signal the bar is closing. No more orders can be placed after the second bell.