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Britain / Food / Pubs
British pubs and drinks
  Other alcoholic drinks
  Soft drinks
  Bar food
  Typical expressions
  Pub etiquette
  Pub names
  Further information
Related pages:
Meals (British eating habits)
  Products (types of British food)  


Bass Museum (c) Heart of England
Bass Museum, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire
Country pub (c)
Country pub

Pubs are where many British people meet to talk and have a drink. This page explains pub vocabulary and customs.

The Good Beer Guide 2007
Editor: Roger Protz
Publisher: CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale) Books
Date: September 2006
The Good Pub Guide 2007
Editor: Alisdair Aird, Fiona Stapley
Publisher: Ebury Press
Date: September 2006
"Time Out" London Bars, Clubs and Pubs 2006/7
Publisher: Time Out Magazine
Date: April 2006
2007/8 edition (published May 2007)
Pubs and Inns of England and Wales
Editor: David Hancock
Publisher: Alastair Sawday Publishing
Date: April 2005

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Pint of bitter (c)
Pint of English bitter
Bitter is traditional British beer (also known as ale). It is quite strong and leaves a bitter taste in your mouth after drinking. It is usually served at room temperature.. Light ales (or mild brews), contain fewer hops and are less alcoholic; these are popular in central and north-eastern England. Strong ales have a high alcoholic content and a strong flavour. Real ale is a term used for a beer which brewed from natural ingredients (hops, malted barley, yeast and pure water) and stored in a wooden barrel (a cask) until it is served. For more information, see the website of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale):

Stout is dark brown (almost black) and tastes a little bitter. The most popular example is the Irish drink called Guinness. You may need to wait some time for this drink. Do not be surprised if the barman starts serving someone else before finishing pouring your drink.

Lager is a lighter-coloured type of imported beer, and is normally served cold. Examples are Fosters Ice, Stella Artois or Becks.

When you order a drink, don't just ask for a glass of beer: ask for bitter, stout or lager, or ask for a particular brand name.
State if you want a pint or a half pint (if you don't say, it will be assumed that you want a pint). A pint is about half a litre.
There may be a choice between bottled beer or draught beer (served by tap from a barrel).

Shandy is a mixture of beer and lemonade - you should ask either a lager shandy or a bitter shandy.

Root beer
is an American drink which is not usually served in the UK.
Ginger beer and ginger ale are the names of soft drinks - they aren't beers.

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Cider (c) Heart of England
Herefordshire Cider
Wine is an increasingly popular drink in the UK and can be bought in pubs as well as in wine bars, although the choice in pubs may be limited. The most common option is to ask for a glass of the house wine (red or white).

Cider is a traditional English alcoholic drink made from apples. It is also known as scrumpy. It may be sweet or dry. You normally order a pint or half pint of cider.

is a strong drink produced in Scotland and in Ireland. It can be served on the rocks (with ice). You normally order a shot of whisky in England and Wales, or a dram in Scotland (US measures such as a jigger or gill are not used in the UK). The volume of whisky used for this measure can vary from one place to another, but must be shown on a sign in the pub (it is normally a multiple of 5ml).

Alcopops are bottled drinks which may taste of lemonade but are actually alcoholic. Examples are a Smirnoff Ice or a Bacardi Breezer.

Drinks are often mixed (known as a cocktail). For example, common mixed drinks are:
Gin and tonic; Whisky and coke; Rum and coke; Vodka and orange; Vodka and tonic; Bloody Mary (this is vodka and tomato juice)

In summertime a popular drink is Pimms and lemonade. This is a traditional cocktail of either Pimms Number 1 (based on gin) or Pimms Number 6 (based on vodka) together with ice, citrus fruits (lemon/orange/lime) and lemonade/ginger ale.

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Non-alcholic drinks are known as soft drinks.
Soft drinks may be still (not fizzy) or sparkling (fizzy or carbonated).
Popular still drinks include still mineral water and fruit juices (especially apple, orange or pineapple juice).
Tomato juice is sometimes served with tobasco sauce or Worcester sauce.

The most popular sparkling drinks is Coke or Diet Coke (you may get either Coke or Pepsi when you ask for this).
If you ask for lemonade in a pub you will get the fizzy drink (in the US, lemonade is still and pop is fizzy).
Bitter lemon is a similar drink that you can order which is served from a small bottle.
Ginger beer (eg Canada Dry) or ginger ale are not alcoholic, despite the sound of the names.
Other sparkling fruit drinks include Appletize or Orangina.
Sparkling mineral water (eg Perrier) or a tonic water (eg Schweppes) are also available.

Most pubs can serve a hot drink such as tea or coffee. They don't usually offer many different types.

Sometimes people who are with you may try to encourage you to drink alcohol, to have more or stronger drinks than you want.
Try not to feel pressure to follow others - your friends and colleagues should respect your right to make your own choices.

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Walkers crisps (c)
Cheese & onion crisps
It is common to ask for snacks to eat with your drink. Common snacks are crisps (known as potato chips or chips in American English), peanuts and pork scratchings. The most common flavours of crisps are ready salted (plain), cheese and onion and salt and vinegar. Other flavours include smoky bacon and beef & mustard. Peanuts may be dry roasted or ready salted.

To order a meal in a pub (known as a pub lunch or a bar meal), you usually have to find a table, go to the bar (sometimes there is a separate counter for ordering meals), and to tell them where you are sitting (if there is a number on the table you need to give this).

Sometimes they will give you a numbered ticket instead; in this case you have to go to this counter to collect your food when they call out your number.
Many pubs do not serve meals late at night, so check what time they stop.

After leaving the pub, some people like to go out to eat a curry or kebab or other meal at a late-opening restaurant.

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Below are some examples of some typical expressions which you might hear or want to say when you go to a pub.

Asking someone to go out for a drink with you:
"Would you like to come out for a beer?" or "Shall we go for a drink after class/after work?"

Asking if you can buy a drink for someone:
"Do you want a drink?" or "What would you like to drink?" (quite formal)
"What are you having?" or "What can I get you?" (less formal)
"Would you like another drink?" (if the person has already finished a drink)

Replying to someone's offer to buy you a drink:
"Can I have the same again, please?" (if the person who is offering knows what you have been drinking)
"A pint of lager, please" or "Could you get me a vodka and orange?" (specifying a particular drink)
"I'm fine, thank you" (this means you don't want another drink)
"I'm fine at the moment, thank you" (this means that you not want another drink until later)

What the barman or barmaid might say to you:
"What can I get you?" or "Ice and lemon?" or "Anything else?"

What you may ask the barman or barmaid:
"Hello. Two pints of lager, a Tetley's Bitter and a packet of cheese and onion crisps, please"

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Pub entrance (c)
Pub entrance
You have to be 18 years old to order a drink in a pub. Some pubs will allow people over 14 years old to go inside if they are with someone who is over 18, but they are not allowed to go to the bar or to have an alcoholic drink (16 and 17 year olds can sometimes order an alcoholic drink with a table-meal). Family pubs welcome people with children and have facilities for them. Avoid using rough language in a family pub.

Normally people go to a pub with other people, and it is common for one person to offer to buy drinks for the others, especially at the beginning. This is known as buying a round of drinks. You should always offer to return the favour, either by paying for a round of drinks yourself, or by offering to buy a drink for the person who paid for your drink. Sometimes people each pay money (for example: 10 pounds) to one member of the group at the beginning of the evening and use this pot or kitty to pay for drinks when wanted, until the money is finished.

It is not common to offer a tip to the person at the bar. If you want, you can tell a member of the bar staff to "have a drink on me", meaning that you will pay for the drink that he/she chooses (if you are offered a drink on the house, the pub pays for it).

Bans on smoking in enclosed public places (including pubs, bars and restaurants) were introduced throughout the UK in 2006/2007. You must go outside the building (for example to the pub garden, if it has one) if you want to smoke.

If you bump into someone and they spill their drink, you should offer to buy them another one.

Opening times depend on the conditions of the pub's licence. Standard opening times are between 11am and 11pm (10:30pm on Sundays or on public holidays; Scottish pubs generally do not open on Sunday afternoons). Since 24 November 2005 pubs can apply to extend these hours (opening earlier or closing later), so check the times when you arrive. Many places with extended hours open an hour earlier or close an hour later (eg at midnight): only a few places are open all night.

About 10 minutes before closing time (at about 10:50pm), the landlord will ring a bell and will tell people to order their last drinks (usually saying "Last drinks at the bar" or "Time, gentlemen, please"). The pub is not allowed to serve drinks after closing time. You must stop drinking 20 minutes after closing time; if you have not left by this time, the pub landlord may ask you to leave.

Do not drive after you have drunk alcohol. For information about how to call a taxi, see Travel/Transport/Taxi.
Please remember that people live near the pubs, so avoid making noise late at night.

For a detailed guide to British pub etiquette, see:

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The names given to pubs often have some historical or local significance. The picture shown on the pub sign which is hung outside may help you to understand the meaning, but if not you can always try asking someone inside.

The most common pub names in Britain are:
(1) The Crown – represents the king or queen. Many pubs are named after individual kings and queens (see examples below).
(2) The Red Lion – the pub name became popular after James the First ordered a red lion to be displayed outside all public places.
(3) Royal Oak – the king Charles the Second escaped the Roundheads (at the time of the English Civil War) by hiding in the branches of an oak tree.
(4) Swan – a heraldic symbol, used in the "coat of arms" of powerful families.
(5) White Hart – the white hart (stag) was the heraldic symbol of the king Richard the Second

Recently an increasing number of pubs have been taken over by large companies who have changed the names to a modern brand name, but you can still find many pubs which have kept a more traditional name. You may find it helpful to read a brief overview of British history; see: Britain/History.

The Red Lion

King Henry the Eighth

Queen Elizabeth the First

Queen Victoria

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The City Pub Life website ( can help you to find somewhere to go for a drink in London. It has information on pubs/bars, listed according to several different useful categories, for example:
- by type of pub/bar (eg: sports pubs, Irish pubs)
- by type of event celebrated (eg: celebration of national days such as Australia Day or St Patrick's Day)
- by type of entertainment offered (eg: quiz nights, karaoke)

The Knowledge of London website includes a page of information about the origins of the names of some of London's historic pubs:

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British food: Britain/Food
Tea-time: Britain/Food/Teatime
Great British Beer Festival: Ideas/Events/August

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