Pubs are a way of life in Britain. They have a rich history that goes back hundreds of years as places to socialise, relax and drink. Unlike other countries where pubs are just dark rooms to get drunk in, pubs in Britain contain a rich social strata.
Knowing how to navigate the complex rules of etiquette can make the difference between having a nice time and being punched, barred and sober. Fortunately, here are a few tips to help you drink like the locals.
Don’t jostle other drinkers
In Britain, you order drinks at the bar. It’s first come, first served and the next person in the queue is the next person the server chooses. But, before you get served, you have to get to the bar.
If it’s three rows deep at the bar, work your way in gradually. Don’t attempt to squeeze into non-existent gaps or reach out a territorial hand to the bar.
Instead, try going with the flow. Read the crowd and slide into gaps as they appear. Give the person in front of you enough space to turn around from the bar with their drinks. Do not jostle past them.
Don’t be a passive actor, though. The British “oh, no. After you, I insist!” attitude doesn’t kick in until you make it to the bar itself. So stay vigilant and jump into gaps when the opportunity appears. If you don’t someone else will.
Once at the bar, make your presence known to a staff member with a quick expectant raise of your eyebrows. Then we play the waiting game. Don’t shout or gesticulate. Definitely do not wave a tenner at the bar staff.
If a staff member comes to you and it isn’t your turn to be served, point to whoever is next. People will do the same for you when it’s your turn, so it’s important to pay it forward.
Order slower drinks first
If you’re ordering a round, ask for your drinks in the following order:
- Spirits & Mixers
- Bottled drinks
Guinness needs time to settle before being finished, so ordering it first allows the bar staff to prepare your other drinks while it settles.
Cocktails and coffee take much longer, but they require all of the bar staff’s attention to create. By ordering them early, the staff member can make a judgement call on whether to call in backup or advise you to go to your seat so they can bring the drinks over to your table.
Wine, spirits and anything else on tap should be quick. But, when they run out, the staff will have to switch up a bottle or change a barrel. If there is a problem, the staff will tell you so don’t worry.
Stand your round
Drinking in rounds is an ancient custom. Sometimes it’s implied that you’re drinking in rounds, but if you’re unsure, ask. If you’ve only come out with £10, don’t get into a round you can’t afford. It’s bad form to spend all evening drinking rounds and not standing your round when it’s your turn.
When drinking in rounds do not:
- disappear to the toilet at last orders;
- order crazily expensive drinks on other people’s rounds;
- leave before standing your round;
- pressure people into drinking things they don’t want to.
It’s okay to not get involved in drinking rounds if you don’t want to. If you do, you’ll find it much more financially sound and social. When it’s your round, ask each person in your round for their order and make sure everyone gets what they ask for.
Writing all the orders in your phone is perfectly okay!
A glass with a beer mat on top is the universal sign that the person at that empty table has nipped out for a smoke or to the toilet. Do not sit there.
Keep your phone quiet
People making phone calls, texting and tweeting in the pub is to be expected, but be mindful of the volume. You’re out in public, so be respectful.
Sit where you like
Regulars might tell you that you’re sitting in someone’s seat. Ignore those people. Unless the space is obviously occupied by someone (look for a drink, newspaper, dog etc.), you can sit anywhere you like in a pub in Britain. Just don’t go in and expect table service.
Don’t try too hard to make friends
Lone drinkers are rarely looking for conversation, or they tend to start one. That woman reading a book? She wants to be left alone. Do not interrupt conversations at nearby tables, either – much less sit yourself down, uninvited.
Don’t steal the glasses
It is not unheard of for pubs to lose £2,000 a year in glasses that go walkabout. Glasses belong in pubs. If you have to go, finish your drink first. Stealing glasses isn’t just costly, it’s dangerous. Police take a dim view of people walking around with a glass in hand.
Be nice to the staff
Treat bar staff with respect. No flirting across the bar and no cheering when someone smashes a glass. Tip regularly with your change, or offer to add a drink for them on your order.
Finally, take your empty glasses back to the bar. You’re going anyway and you will earn the everlasting gratitude of busy pub staff.
5 Most Instagrammable Historic Pubs in Britain
So, now you’re fully kitted out with correct pub etiquette, where do you go drinking? Your local pub of course. But, if you fancy going somewhere a little more stylish, check out these fabulously Instagrammable British pubs…
The Churchill Arms, Kensington
The Chruchill Arms is most probably the most Insta worthy pub in the UK. It’s snapped constantly due to its eye-catching exterior, and even more so at Christmas when they fill the WHOLE of the outside of the pub with Christmas trees.
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Ty Coch Inn, Wales
This pub has incredible views across the Irish sea and has been voted in the top ten beach bars in the world. If you’re visiting Britain or staying as a student, it’s well worth the trip out.
Powder Keg Diplomacy, Clapham
The Powder Keg Diplomacy is just oozing with style and flair. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but having a drink in the Keg is an experience you’ll never forget.
Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem (oldest pub in England), Nottingham
Reputed to be the most ancient inn in England, this is the pub that started it all. Built into stone caves with a charming, wonky interior, enjoy the resident ghosts and great food.
Old Bank of England
You’ll find expansive interiors with high, ornate ceilings in this grand old London boozer. The pub is housed in the former Bank of England’s Law Courts.
Following its recent refurbishment, it is one of the most glamorous places to enjoy a beer in London. A must-visit for Instagram-loving pub fans in the capital.
The article was produced in collaboration with TVC Leisure, a leading supplier of gaming and amusement machines for pubs and social clubs.