Pubs are everywhere in the UK. Everyone needs a break from hanging on in quiet desperation. There are good ones and bad ones, but aside from the lack of pumpkin beer, pubs are pretty cool. This cornerstone of British life is usually some combination of bar, cafe, family restaurant, concert venue, darts tournament location, and community meeting place, but each one has its own special thing. I could go on and on, but for this post I’m restricting myself to the most basic pub knowledge, the stuff I wish I’d known when I first moved here.
Pubs are either supplied by a particular brewer (like Greene King, Fuller’s, etc., if this is the case their logo will be all over the outside and they’ll only sell beers made by that brewer) or free houses (which means they can serve any beer from any brewer). There is an organization called CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), and they have a pub guide that’s a huge help if you’re looking for a place to drink the good stuff.
Beer that’s on tap can be ordered by the pint (self-explanatory) or the half pint (just say “half”). There’s also a selection of bottled beers, wines, alcopops (sugary stuff with low alcohol content like Smirnoff Ice, disgusting), sodas, and juices. There will always be at least one cider on tap, like Strongbow or Aspall. In the UK, cider is a clear alcoholic drink made from fermented fruit juice, usually apple but pear and other fruits are popular too. There is no other kind of cider. Don’t bother asking. Also in the UK, lemonade is a carbonated soft drink. American-style lemonade is called ‘cloudy lemonade.’ I know, it’s ridiculous.
If the pub is busy and you’re with other people, stake your claim to a table before getting the drinks. Unless there’s a big sign that says ‘Please Wait to be Seated’ next to a hostess station, you should sit anywhere that appears free. This isn’t a Denny’s, and nobody’s gonna come around to check on you and take your drink order. Drinks and food are ordered from the lady or gentleman behind the bar. Be nice to them; they have much knowledge of beer, and they may let you try samples if you can’t make up your mind.
Once you’ve chosen a table, look at it. Somewhere on the surface of this table, usually in a corner, you’ll see a circular medallion with a number on it. Know this number. You will need it if you want to order food. If there is a food menu on the table, read it and make sure food is still being served. Most pub kitchens close at 10:30pm, but it varies. If you’re only kinda hungry, there will usually be snacks (like peanuts or potato chips) for sale also.
When you go to the bar to order, it’s a good idea to leave someone behind so nobody else tries to steal your chairs. That much-stereotyped British politeness only goes so far on a Friday night after work.
If you’re with a group of people, someone is going to buy you a drink. You should buy them one too. In a group where people take turns to buy drinks for the table, this concept is known as a ’round,’ and it’s necessary so people don’t think you’re a dick who only drinks for free. If you’re going to the bar, you’d better make sure nobody else wants anything. It’s common courtesy. It’s also practical: if you all get your drinks at the same time, and you all drink them at the same time, you’ll all be able to leave at the same time. This isn’t as easy as it seems; even if someone says they’re “only staying for one,” be prepared to be in that pub for six hours. Brits take forever to get to the point of actually saying goodbye for real and leaving, and besides, you’re already in a pub. You might as well have another drink.
There are about a billion more things to say about pubs, but that’s the super basic stuff. Go forth and drink with confidence!