Window on UK Culture
We're Going Down the Pub!


"There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn" Samuel Johnson

A public house, usually known as a pub, is a drinking establishment found mainly in Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other countries influenced by an English cultural heritage. A pub which offers accommodation may be called an inn or hostelry. Colloquialisms for the public house include boozer and the local.

In 1393 King Richard II compelled all pubs to erect signs outside their premises as pictures were more useful than words as many of the patrons were illiterate. Many pubs today still have very decorative signs hanging outside depicting the name of the pub, including images of real objects or animals, a famous person or their “coat of arms”.

Who owns the pubs in Britain?


Originally pubs where either owned by the landlord, the person who ran the pub or by the brewery. Pubs owned by the landlord are known as Free Houses as they sell many different beers whereas brewery owned pubs sell mainly only the beers that they produce.

In addition to free houses and brewery owned pubs, many are now owned by leisure groups such as J.D Wetherspoon, This group specializes in converting old buildings such as cinemas and bus stations into pubs.

How many pubs are there in the UK?


In the United Kingdom there are approximately 52,000 pubs, though sadly this number has been declining for several years. It is estimated that two pubs close every week, due largely to the sale of the very cheap beer in the supermarkets and the non-smoking laws that have recently been introduced. 

What drink is on offer in a British pub?


The most widely sold drink in a British pub is, believe it or not, beer, though this is not as straight forward as it sounds. What people in most countries around the world call beer, the British refer to as Lager, just one type of beer available in a British pub. Here are some types of beer available in British pubs;

Bitter  -  A Pale Ale, served on draught or in a bottle.

Mild – A dark beer, served on draught.

Real Ale – Traditional ale made by micro-breweries, served on draught from wooden casks

Stout – Dark beer such as Guinness served from kegs or in bottles

Lager – Light coloured beer served chilled on draught. Originally imported from Europe but now widely produced in the UK as well.

Pale Ale  - Served in bottles, low alcohol by volume (ABV) .

Cider – Made from apples and very popular in the West Country, which can be served from kegs, casks or bottles.

Contrary to popular belief, the British do not like warm beer. They drink it at cellar temperature. This means that the beer is served cool but not chilled the way lager is served.

Then there is what is referred to as the Top Shelf or the spirits such as Whiskey, Gin, Vodka and Brandy etc. Only girls tend to drink wine in a pub.

If you are not a drinker you can still enjoy a visit to the pub, maybe just to eat or for a soft drink.

What food do pubs serve?


Most pubs serve mainly traditional British food such as Fish and Chips, Meat Pies, Ploughman's lunch and on Sundays, roast beef dinners. The quality varies as some owner operated pubs serve excellent food but the quality of food in "gastro" pubs, operated by large leisure groups, tends to be lower. Some country pubs have actually been awarded Michelin stars for the excellent quality of their food.

Can I do anything in a pub besides eating and drinking?


You will be able to play darts and or pool in most British pubs and if you become a regular drinker in the local pub you may be invited to join the darts or pool team, if you are any good. In the more traditional pubs you may see people playing card games such as Crib and Euchre. Pub quizzes are very popular in local pubs with teams of 4 or 5 people competing against each other on general knowledge questions.

Some of the more modern, trendy pubs have karaoke machines and the city centre pubs get packed at the weekends with people going for a few drinks before hitting the night clubs.

Most pubs have big screen TVs that broadcast all the major sporting events, particularly football and rugby matches. Pubs are also great places to just sit and relax with friends.

How do I order in a pub?

Here are a few things to remember when going to the bar in a British pub.

  1. British pubs are different to US style bars in that they don’t have waiter service. You have to go to the bar to order your drinks and then take them back to your table yourself.
  2. British people drink in "rounds" which means if there are four people, each person will take turns in ordering drinks for everyone in the group. You will often hear the words "Whose round is it?" or more commonly "It's your round!"
  3. Only one person goes to the bar to order the round, not the whole group.
  4. Pubs tend not to have drinks menus so when you go to the bar have a good idea of what you want before ordering.
  5. There is no visible queue at the bar but the bar staff know who is next to be served as they keep an eye on who has been waiting the longest.
  6. DON'T try and jump this invisible queue by waving money around and shouting out you order. The bar staff will know you are pushing in and will probably serve you last.
  7. Don't wave your empty glass around or bang it on the bar, just holding it in your hand will let the barman know you want serving.
  8. If you are worried about being missed in a busy pub you can attract the barman's attention by raising your eyebrows and jerking your chin up
  9. Bar staff are usually on friendly terms with the customers, especially with the regulars and not to be treated as servants.
  10. Be polite and if you want to buy the barman a drink say "And one for yourself?" as opposed to "Can I buy you a drink?" He may not drink it right away if busy but later during a quiet time. Then he will attract your attention and raise his glass as a sign of thanks.