Pub culture is a big part of the lifestyle here in London and the UK, which is worth exploring, even if you don’t like drinking. I bet you’ve been looking forward to visiting some pubs in London ever since you booked your trip. But I know what you’re wondering-
“Do I tip the bartender?”
“How do I order a drink?”
“Where do I order food?”
Not to worry. Here are some important things to know before you visit any pubs in London. Or if you prefer, you can watch this video:
When’s the best time to hit the pub in London?
On the weekdays, it’s best to visit the pubs between 5-6pm, when friends, and colleagues go to grab a pint to wind down and relax after a long day at work. The weekends however, are the busiest around lunchtime, especially on Sundays as people head down to the pubs for Sunday Roast.
The best place in the pub to have your pint
You have have a couple of options to choose from. If you can find a table that’s unreserved, grab it and enjoy.. If there are no tables available, you can stand at or near the bar. You might even strike up an interesting conversation with some Londoners or the bartender.
Sometimes, the pubs do tend to get so busy that there are no tables or any space available to even stand by the bar. So if this happens you could grab your drinks ]and socialize just outside the pub. You’ll notice that if it’s a nice day, most people opt for this option anyways.
How to order drinks at the bar
For most pubs in London, you’re going to order your drinks at the bar, pay there, and take your drinks to your seat or wherever you’re standing. The same thing goes for when you order pub food too, unless there is a separate restaurant section, then you’ll have table service. When in doubt, just ask.
Here’s s a tip if you’re standing patiently in the queue to order at the bar; once it’s your turn to order, make eye-contact with the bartender otherwise he or she will probably look right past you if you’re on your phone or not paying attention.
Do you tip the bartender at a London pub?
In London, there’s no need to tip bartenders in pubs, or really any bars. It’s not expected, but you can if you want to, by “buying the bartender a drink”. Cash is usually best for this, but many pubs will let you add the cost of their drink onto your bill that you pay with card. It’s then left on the bartender to decide if they want to take that cash home, or use it for a pint of beer. But again, tipping is not expected so don’t feel you need to do it.
You don’t have to go too far for a good pub in London
Pubs, especially in London, are such a local affair, that you will often find a couple of them lined up on the same street. So you truly do not need to travel far to find a good pub, no matter where you are in the city, and it would be very un-local to traipse across the city to go to one specific pub (Londoners only do that if a big group of friends has arranged a celebration or something similar). If you want to know about some of our favourite pubs all around London, make sure to check out this article, or our Casual Tourist Guides.
Order beer and cider by the pint
It’s customary to order your beer or cider by the pint. Just say “can I get a pint of [drink]”? To give you an idea of how big that is, a pint of beer is 20 oz. You can also ask for a half-pint if you want something smaller. Most bars will also have bottled beer and cider available too.
Say CHEERS before you drink
Saying CHEERS before you take the first sip of your drink is a huge cultural yes in the UK. So make sure you raise your glass and clink it with your mates’, say “cheers” to everyone while looking them in the eye before you have your first sip. It’s a sign of acknowledgement to your friends and the fact that you’re having a good time and are happy to see each other.
What it means when the bell rings in a London pub
If you’re in the pub later in the evening, you’ll hear a bell or two. The first ring usually signifies last call; typically around 10:30 PM. So if you want to get yourself a drink before the bell strikes, you better get yourself one quickly! The second ring means the bar is (sadly) closing for the day, and you can’t order any more drinks hereafter, but finish the ones you have before heading out.
You can dress casually
Most pubs in London, especially during the day, are pretty casual in terms of what you wear. The only exception is when it starts to get later in the evening. You might see people dressed up for a night out, as they’ve planned to head to a club after the pub.
Many pubs in London are family affairs and are kid- friendly
Most pubs in London are family-friendly during the day. In fact it’s very common for parents to take their kids (and dogs!) to the pub for a Saturday or Sunday lunch; some even have a kids’ menu. It feels more like a casual restaurant than a pub. If you really want to feel like a local, head to a pub with the whole family on the weekend.
If you want to make sure you’re heading to a pub that’s kid-friendly, we generally recommend avoiding central London pubs and instead going to local areas like Notting Hill and Hackney. We also mention which pubs are kid-friendly in our Casual Tourist Guides.
Ordering food at the pub
Most London pubs also serve some form of substantial lunch and dinner, here are couple of ways to order it. If you’re sitting in the restaurant section of the pub, someone will come over to take your order and serve you, just like it’s in any other restaurant. Or if you prefer tosit in the regular pub area, grab a menu from the bar, pick out what you want and order the food from the bartender, which will later be delivered to your table (you might need to know your table number, written on the table, before you go and order). Sometimes there’s a QR code which allows you to easily order and pay for your food and drinks from your phone.
Order drinks in rounds
When Londoners go to the pub together, they typically buy drinks in rounds, instead of everyone having to go up to the bar individually. If you’ve got a big group, you can see how it’d be easy to get drunk fairly quickly! You don’t have to do it this way, but it definitely makes it easier to get your drinks and reduces the time everyone has to spend queuing for service.
How to make friends at the pub
Londoners, are said to be more closed off and reserved when it comes to having conversations with strangers. However, it’s easy to have open, friendly conversations once they’ve had a pint or two! You could try to strike up a conversation while you’re in line to get a drink at the bar, or join a couple of people at a long table (with their permission of course), where you may end up starting up an interesting conversation with them. You never know, you might end up with some really good recommendations for pubs, restaurants, theater experiences and many other things, as Londoners love to give tourists a recommendation or two.
Not all pubs in London are equal
There are all different types of pubs in London, from nicer Gastro pubs, to cheaper ones like Wetherspoons (we’re not personally a fan TBH but they’re great for anyone on a tight budget). The quality of pub food will vary greatly, but you can’t really go wrong when it comes to ordering beer, wine and cider. Don’t stress too much about finding the perfect London pub to visit – just pop into one, have a drink, and you can always move on if you’re not into it. For some suggestions of pubs to visit in London, grab one of our London Itineraries or Casual Tourist Guides.
Want to hit some historic London pubs with a fun group and a knowledge Londoner leading the way? We’d recommend booking Tastes, Tales & Traditional Ales: Food Tour of London’s Historic Pubs.