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Pub Eating/Drinking Protocol

On our upcoming travel to London (this is our fourth), we"d like to make more of an effort to visit a few pubs, perhaps even engage in conversations at the bar if we don't come across to obviously as pusjy Americans. Although we ate one fish and chip lunch in a pub about 12 years old, we've forgotten the drill about ordering our food snd beversge. I do know that we should order at least the beverage at the bar, pay and either stand at the bar to drink the beverage or carry it to a table for consumption. If we order both food and drink should we do that at the bar? If we wish to eat at a table and, I guess, pass up any opportunity to socialize with anybody but ourselvrs, do we place our food and drink ordet at the bar, pay and travel to the table and wait for a notice to be called out that the food is ready and then pick up the food dishes outselves at the bar or will a pub person deliver our food to the table? We're trying not to be ugly Americans.

Posted by
31433 posts

Jim, As I recall, both food and drinks are ordered at the Bar and will then be delivered to your table. If you sit at the Bar, you'll likely be engaged in conversation, but if you sit at a table that may be less likely. I'd just "play it by ear" as some Pubs may have a slightly different routine. Since I often travel solo, I usually sit at the Bar. However, if it's really crowded (ie: there's a match on), I'll just sit wherever I can find room and that often involves conversing with those around me. It's been a few years, so this post is a reminder that it's time to get back to the U.K. for a pint! Cheers!

Posted by
1831 posts

We order our beer at the bar and take the glasses to a table. If we want to eat we ask the bartender for a menu. Some one will usually take our order either at the bar or the table. The bartender will let you know the house's custom.

Posted by
3580 posts

I had beer and a meal at the Swan pub in London a few months ago. Their system was smooth. People lined up (queued) at the bar, perused the menu on the wall, then ordered in turn. I ordered and paid, got my beer and went to a table; my hot food was brought to me a few minutes later. The place was busy; some people ate/drank outside. I plan to go back to the Swan next time I'm in London. At another pub, we ordered then picked up our food at the bar when we were notified. In other pubs I've been in there were people standing at the bar, drinking and talking. If you want a conversation, look for a pub with people standing at the bar. For women, this can be a friendly atmosphere. The "pick-up" atmosphere often found in American bars seemed to be lacking. To be a welcome traveler and not an "ugly American," for conversation, act interested in what is happening in the neighborhood or in London. If you talk about the weather, try to do it without complaining. The understated British way of speaking of hurricanes is "it's a bit brisk!" If you are asked about your home, try not to brag that it's better than wherever this pub is. It pays to know a little about soccer (football) or rugby. Refer to what we have here as "American Football." It saves confusion.

Posted by
48 posts

If you have Rick Steve's UK travel book everything is explained. Order at the bar-food and drinks-pay then. The bartender will ask you what table you will be sitting and the food will be delivered there. When you place your order bring your drinks to the table.
We were in a Pub recently and a guy got really mad with the staff cause they didn't take his order from the table and he was waiting a long time. I almost laughed, cause I remember Ricks book telling us how it's done.

Posted by
5772 posts

Buying a round for folks that you saw on the walking track during the day is certainly one way to open up dialog. The danger to this "ice breaker" is that your fellow travelers will likely buy you a round and you could end up consuming more pints than wise.

Posted by
149 posts

Edgar, What's the "walking track?" An English expression? Could it be other touristd we may have passed on the street and somehow recognized hours later in the pub?

Posted by
149 posts

Edgar, Thanks for introducing us to an entirely new term (for us); it's not one we've run into while watching Morse, Inspector Lewis, MI-5 (Spooks), George Gently, Judge John Deed, Trial and Retribution, Broadchurch, Scott and Bailey, Midsommer Murders, Vera and many other British television police procedurals, or reading John Harvey and Val McDermid. However, these fictions are oriented generally more to urban areas or small towns than to the countryside. Unfortunately, we're quite uncomfortable about driving in England and will travel by rail as usual so we'll not get very close to the countryside with our base in a London flat and side trips planned just for Canterbury and Brighton in our limited time in England.

Posted by
837 posts

It varies by the pub. Our two favorites, the Hereford Arms and the Grenedier, operate like restaurants: you sit at your table and your order is taken there, including beverage, with food delivered to the table. Of course, you could order a drink at the bar prior to sitting. In this situation, you are expected to tip. Many other pubs operate as described above: you order at the bar. Most deliver the food to your table and a few call out the number of your order and you pick it up at the bar. In cases where you order at the bar, tips are not expected.

Posted by
5772 posts

Jim, By "walking tracks" (or paths) I'm referring to walking trails in the English country side. The local pub (singular in many of the small rural villages) is the gathering spot at the end of a day's walk, not just for social contact, but often because the pub is the only place in the village for travelers to get a meal. On our first English walking holiday we were introduced to fellow travelers socializing and engaging in conversation at the local pub and introduced to the English protocol of buying a round. Adding the Wikipedia definition of a "trail":
"A trail (also track, byway) is a path with a rough beaten or dirt/stone surface used for travel. Trails may be for use only by walkers and in some places are the main access route to remote settlements." English walking tracks in my limited experience seem to match animal, I.e. sheep or goat, tracks more than the trails I have experiences in the western North America. The English tracks seem to go straight up or down, unlike the switchback trails in north America. Hence referal to tracks.

Posted by
237 posts

Agreeing with everyone here - mostly order at the bar but some places will come take your order if you're getting food. If I had to characterize it I would say that the size of the dining area could be a sign of how likely they are to have service, but it seems to come down to the management philosophy. But I would also mention that I wouldn't worry too much or over think it. Pubs are informal places and if you're ever in doubt just step up and ask. It's one of the benefits of traveling in a country where you speak the language. Your accent will let them know why you're unsure and they'll be happy to help you out. All you have to do to avoid being an 'ugly American' is to be open, considerate and good humored. There's nothing wrong with not knowing how a pub you've never been to works. But being offended that they don't do it the way you assumed they should makes you an 'ugly' anything anywhere. Have a great trip!
=Tod

Posted by
70 posts

On my recent trip it seems that Pubs frequented by U.S. tourists they are pretty flexible if they get a lot of money from food. Most came to our table and asked like in the U.S. It paid to be extra polite. Usually I had to go to the bar and pay. In all cases the pub food has greatly improved from 10 years ago.

Posted by
5766 posts

In many trips to the pub, my experience has been when you go in, look around, there will often be a bar area with tables, and in many larger pubs, seating areas either up stairs or separately in the back. The separate areas are often handled like a conventional restaurant, a host will seat you and someone will take your order. If you wish to sit in the bar area, fins a table, many times there will be a number someplace, go to the bar, order your drinks and food, let them know the table number for food, pay, they will usually bring the food to your table. Agree with others, at the bar you will likely find converstion, at tables privacy, except if there are communal tables, then the conversation opens up.

Posted by
5766 posts

I guess I have to add that in the last couple years I have heard, from Brits, some lament that the trditional pub is dying. Many are being bought up by chains, and that taxes and changes to drinking laws have limited hours and raised prices to the point that patrons are not a cross section of classes but mainly tourists and those that can afford to drink. I guess in my experience, there are still many old pubs, and even those run by the chains retain their charm. Probably one positive change that I have noticed is that compared to 10 years ago the beer is much better. Cask Ales have made a comeback and nearly every pub I went into a couple years ago had several on tap compared to one (if you were lucky) a while ago. British brewers are also starting to experiment as well, breaking out of the English Brown and Bitter mold. Not quite the hoppy microbrews we get here in America, but interesting none the less.

Posted by
1020 posts

Go to the bar. Order your drinks. Ask for a menu. If not obvious, inquire whether your order there or at the table. Pay for drinks. Take drinks to your table. Study menu. Order. Simple.

Posted by
4623 posts

Changes to licensing laws have greatly expanded hours rather than reducing them - but if there is no more trade it is spread thinner and the overheads go up with extra staff costs etc. The traditional British pub has been dying out for many years and many of the real old time features these days wouldn't have been found attractive; only food being a bag of soggy crisps and a roll that could have been made any time in the last week, ceiling decoration being 25 years of tar from cigarettes, and women only allowed in the snug ...

Posted by
9110 posts

The downside is that outfits like Wetherspoons have bought up the names and buildings of a thousand great pubs so you get the same crappy prepared-in-WestHellAndGone-and-shipped-to-the-local-microwave-for-your-dining-pleasure grub. You can order from the same plastic menu today in Buxton that you ordered from yesterday in Caernarfon. Fortunately there's enough rural pubs left where you have to squish through the kids and dogs to get to the bar that all is not entirely lost.

Posted by
4623 posts

Rural pubs were in some respects the first that had to re-invent themselves after drink driving laws - or go to the wall. Having pubs in chain or tied ownership is not really new but here are still plenty of uneconomic rural pubs in chain hands which sadly are often sold without the licence so they become private homes without the chance for someone independent to have a chance of a go at it.

Posted by
3656 posts

Complaints about the death of the English pub started around the time Elizabeth was crowned queen (1952). Or maybe when Queen Victoria died. While there certainly have been major unhappy commercial issues, England still depends on its pubs for shelter from the cares of everyday life. Forty years ago the Campaign for Real Ale (CARA) started to push back at the bland brews resulting from consolidation. Now traditional-style bitters, stouts and the rest can be found easily, and their pumps on the bar rail are a sure sign the pub is worth visiting. Their success is based on a premium price, one of the rules of all merchandising. As an outsider, you do not want to immediately break the ice. The English can sometimes mistake a hearty American greeting as intrusive. Sip your beer appreciatively, get a feel for the place, and then perhaps strike up a conversation. One sure-fire opener is to ask what the neighbour at your elbow is drinking or for a recommendation on the best bitters in the establishment. Now, as to tipping, my inclination (as an outsider too) is to tip for table service of food, but not a big amount. By the third pint at the bar, I might give a few coins to the barkeep at the end of the evening. For the landlord, if he has been engaging, the offer of a drink is more the old style but certainly not expected.
Don't fret about being seen as ugly Americans; there is plenty of competition in London from ugly Eastern Europeans, Middle Easterners etc. When all else fails, Londontown has had long practice getting irritated at the French (despite now playing host to a significant French population thanks to international commerce.)

Posted by
56 posts

chill out...your the customer do what you like.. although I sort of understand what you mean. Most pubs you find a table and then order at the bar noting your table number or pointing it out and pay in advance most country pubs will just run a tab or bill as you go and you pay before you leave. if you want to talk to brits then don't go to London go to the rest of the UK....if you really ant to talk to the most friendly brits go to the North East or Newcastle its almost the law to talk to everyone in the pub here in the north east..

Posted by
2 posts

Order whatever is on tap and ask about it if you don't recognize it. The Dog and Gun in Keswick was our first taste of Old Peculiar. Guy behind my husband in line assured him that a Yank would not like it. Started a conversation in the whole pub. Hubster said he had to have a pint of the OP because his wife was finishing off his first pint. Appreciate where you are and people respond. Some of our best memories are pubs.