The pub, short for ‘public house’, is an integral part of British life. In Britain, a pub can be a meeting place, an entertainment centre, the focal point of a community. As a visitor, popping into one or two pubs will help you to understand what the country and its people are like, beyond the usual tourist images of castles, royals and Shakespeare. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) estimates that 80% of adults consider themselves ‘pub goers’, and over 15 million – nearly a third of the adult population – drink in a pub at least once a week.
Whether you want to sample the atmosphere, meet the locals, try the beer or just quench a thirst, here are some facts and tips to help you get the best out of a trip to a British boozer.
What is a pub?
Most pubs are tied houses, owned and operated by breweries. A tied house must sell the beer provided by the brewery that owns it, but can usually sell an additional guest beer. Chain pubs are owned by companies which don’t actually brew their own beer, although some of them are former breweries. And finally you have free houses which are fully independent, and can sell any brand of beer.
Which pub to go to: village pub or city pub
Pubs come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, from the traditional country pub (my favourites) with open fire, the farmer and his sheep dog to the bustling city-centre noisiest hotspot with loud music. Many city pubs are taken over by large chain corporation., losing some of its personal character. The atmosphere in in country pubs can be really friendly. Choose your pub, walk in and if you do not like it walk out to the next one!
The pub etiquette
Don’t expect getting service if you are sitting at the table… Don’t raise your hand, don’t whistle at the bar staff….No one will come to take your order. Brits with a sadistic sense of humour might leave you waiting for long. After having laughed at you but very discretely, they will tell you to stand up and go to the bar. Even if you are willing to eat you have to order from the bar.
While waiting for our order to be taken stay patient. Try eye contact it can be a bit long but your drinks will be even nicer. Be polite, do not shout your order – bar staff don’t appreciate being treated like servants. Drinks must be paid when served, By the way tipping is not necessary in pubs. Now then, if you are staying at the same place for quite à while, when you are ordering your drink(s) you can say “….and one for yourself!”
What to drink
Last but not least, never go to the pub and say “a beer please”, you will be openly laughed at. They are so many kinds of beer that you have to be more precise. Ask for a specific type or a brand name. You have the bitter, the lager (pronounced the Lahhgeur), the stout, the mild. Draught are served in pints or half pints or if you want a bottle then ask for “a bottle of…”. But of course spirits, cider (especially in the south west of England), and a limited range of white or red wines are widely served in pubs. A popular alternative is shandy, a mix of draught beer and lemonade (lager shandy or bitter shandy). Soft drinks are also available such as fruit juices, mineral water, coffee tea obviously and the usual well-know sodas.
Traditional pub food
Some just offer sandwiches, while others have simple “pub grub” – meat pies, sausages with mashed potatoes, fish and chips. By the way if you want des chips ask for crisps, chips are des frites. Many larger pubs have specific areas reserved for eating, and offer more variety and quality. At the top end of the scale is the recent phenomenon of the gastropub, where the food is more sophisticated and cosmopolitan. I like to repeat myself, you can get excellent pub food, stop listening to your old cousin who spent two days in the UK and only experienced a greasy cold meal, it happens everywhere!
For a good pub selection click here.