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Going to the pub to drink a pint of beer is a quintessentially British thing to do.
The pub in the UK is part of the social fabric of towns and villages up and down the country and if you’re travelling to the UK, the chances are you will go to a pub at some point for food or drink. But for foreigners, it can be hard to know how to order a beer in a British pub. It seems to have unique traditions that aren’t like any other country in the world.
Whenever I return to the UK, it’s almost a tradition that I will go to my local pub and get a pint of London Pride to truly feel like I’ve returned!
After travelling to many countries and having the same issues, I thought it would be time to help others that travel to my own country that may be confused as to how to order a pint of beer in the UK. This guide will explain the basics, the different types of pubs and drinking establishments that are found.
The different types of pubs in the UK
Ordering a beer in an English pub may have a different take depending on what type of pub you go to. There are now a variety of different styles of pubs and bars in the UK that all very slightly and will have a different need depending on what you’re trying to see.
The traditional drinking house in the UK has changed over years, from a traditional inn from years past to modern bars and cocktail lounges. Now there are many different types of pubs that you might go into.
The traditional British pub
These pubs are brick buildings in towns and cities up and down the country. When you walk in, they are likely to have beer taps on the bar in front of you serving both lager and real ales. A lot of these have a similar feel, with dark patterned carpet, wooden tables and dimmer lighting. These pubs often sell food and will have snacks such as crisps and peanuts available to purchase.
The country pub
These old stand alone buildings are a staple of village communities in more rural areas. These pubs have a friendlier local feel compared to other pubs. Country pubs are often in very old buildings that have been around since when the village was founded. I once worked in a country pub that was built in the 1500s! Being in the countryside, most of these pubs welcome dogs and dog walkers and may even have a bowl and treats for your furry friend!
These are more destination pubs that are known for their food instead of drinks. Instead of traditional pub food, these will serve high quality meals using local ingredients with a price tag to match. These pubs will normally have an extensive wine list to be paired with the food you’re eating. Having a meal in a gastropub is one of the only times you can expect table service whilst in a pub, but you may still have to go to the bar if you’re only ordering drinks.
The modern bar
Unlike a traditional pub that has hand pulled beer and wooden furniture, modern bars found in city centres will have modern furnishings with lagers and craft beers coming out of chrome taps. These are more popular with a younger generations, especially millennial working in city centres. The price of the beer in these pubs may be slightly more expensive but you’ll find yourself in much a more comfortable setting and atmosphere.
Wine bar/ cocktail bar
These are unlikely to serve many beers on tap, if any at all. Bottled beers may be available but unsurprisngly they will focus on having a wide variety of wines and spirits. Cocktails will be made in front of you from the large selection of spirits that will be behind the barman. Unless you’re at the fanciest of cocktail bars, table service isn’t usually issued.
How to order a beer in a British pub
Ordering a beer in traditional, modern and country pubs will be the same no matter where you go. Only cocktail bars and gastropubs may differ slightly.
When you walk into a pub in Britain, the bar will normally be straight in front of you or along one side. All of the drinks they sell will be on display with the beers on tap being on the bar itself. There may also be bottles of beer, wine and bottles of soft drinks in a fridge the other side of the bar, behind the barman/ barmaid. Spirits will be on shelves on the back wall behind the staff as well.
With everything on display, its easy to see whats available and to ask the staff what you’d like to drink. If it isn’t busy, the bar staff will notice you looking at the drinks and will often ask “what can I get for you?”, a very British way of asking what you would like.
Sometimes the bar may be busy but its perfectly normal to stand behind other patrons waiting for their drinks until the bar staff are free. If the bar is busy, it makes it easier for everyone to know what you want.
When the bar staff have your attention, ask politely for the drinks, ordering everything that you want at once. This makes it so much easier for the staff to get all of the drinks in a time efficient manner as some drinks may take longer to prepare than others (a Guinness for example).
Have payment ready as once the drinks are served to you, it’s time to pay. Most pubs take cash or card however there are an increasing number of pubs, especially in London, that now only take card as a method of payment.
After paying, take your drinks and sit at one of the many tables in the pub to enjoy your well earned pint of beer!
It’s perfectly normal in England to order “rounds”. This is when one person from your group will go to the bar to order and pay for the drinks for the entire group. When everyone has finished, another member of the group will order the next “round” or drinks for the table. This makes ordering and paying a lot easier for the bar staff and speeds up service.
Only in the very top gastropubs and fanciest cocktail bars are likely to have table service when it comes to drinks.
Tips for ordering a beer in a British pub
- If it’s busy think about what you want to drink before getting to the bar
- Order all of your drinks at once if ordering more than one
- Pay for your drinks before walking away and carry your own drinks to your table
- There is no need to tip the staff when ordering drinks
- Move away from the bar once you have your drinks to allow others to order next
Ordering food in a British pub
Ordering food is similar to ordering drinks when eating in pubs. Almost all pubs will make you go up to the bar to order your food.
Menu’s are occasionally kept on the bar or on the tables themselves. It’s also increasingly common to see QR codes on the tables to look at menu’s on your phone.
If you’re already sitting at a table, there is likely to be a table number written on the table somewhere. Remember this and head to the bar to order your food, telling the bar staff your table number or where you’re sitting. You’ll then pay for your food when you order.
Condiments and cutlery will normally be brought to your table, although in some places, you may have to collect them yourself. The staff will then bring the food to your table once it is ready and clear your plates for you when you’ve finished.
Types of beer and drinks available
Although beer is the most commonly drunk drink in British pubs, it isn’t as simple as having just one type or brand available! All beers are either sold in bottles, or if they are draught (served from the taps) they will be served in a pint (568ml) or half pint (285ml) glass.
Lagers are probably the most common types of beers found around the world. They have a slight fizz, an amber colour and are served cold at a temperature between 8-12 degrees. They normally have an alcohol percentage of around 4%ABV. The most common brands that are found would be Carlsberg, Carling, Amstel, Stella Artois and San Miguel.
Craft beers are becoming increasingly more popular, especially with the younger crowd. These draft beers like IPA’s often have a hoppier flavour and can be a bit darker than lagers or even cloudy. They are generally from smaller brewery’s and won’t be found internationally. Craft beers often have a slightly higher alcohol percentage ranging from 4-7%ABV. Popular beers you could find in the UK include Brewdog Punk IPA, Neckoil and Camden Hells.
Real ale is traditional British beer. It is hand pulled into pint glasses like it has done for hundreds of years. It is served slightly warmer than lagers and doesn’t have any fizz. It still has the yeast in the beer unlike in other styles of beer where it has been removed in the brewing process. A lot of real ales have a very distinct taste and sometimes more bitter. (They are sometimes called “bitters” when referring to them in pints). Their alcohol percentage can be anywhere from 3-5%. Commonly seen brand include Green King, Fullers London Pride, Hobgoblin and Doombar.
Stouts are dark, often black, beers that are served less commonly than the other types of beer mentioned here. The most common stout available is Guinness, with many pubs in the UK selling the Irish beer.
In smaller pubs that mostly cater to beer drinkers, the choice of wines may be limited to a couple of options of white wine and a couple of red wines. In larger establishments or where quality food is served, there may be a wine list of hundreds from all over the world.
Spirits include vodka, whisky, gin and rum amongst the many many other types of spirit found from around the world. The more upmarket the bar, the greater the variety, quantity and quality of spirits will be available. For example, a smaller budget conscious pub may only offer Gordons as a gin but larger pubs or gin bars are likely to offer a wider choice such as Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray or Monkey 47. Most spirits will be served with a mixer such as tonic water, coke or lemonade. They are served in 25ml servings (you’ll get a 50ml if you ask for a double or a large) with the mixer being poured over the top.
All pubs will served a selection of coca cola and lemonade, fruit juices such as orange and apple and often some bottles of flavoured drinks such as J2O. It is also becoming increasingly common to find non alcoholic beer available in pubs in the UK.
Now go and order your first beer in an English pub!
Now you know everything there is to know about ordering a beer in a British pub. Whilst most European countries have table service, the Brits make you work to go and get your beer by getting up to the bar and ordering it youself!
However, as any true Brit will tell you, there is no better feeling thatn going to a pub and taking that first sip of a cold beer on a hot summers day!
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.