Pub Rules

Here are some basic rules to follow when visiting English pubs, to ensure your visit is pleasurable and trouble free. Some rules are actually “the law”, while others are socially accepted practices which should generally keep you out of trouble with the publican and fellow drinkers.

If in doubt, watch how the locals behave and follow their lead.

Visiting a pub

All pubs are free to enter, unless they have a special event on. So you should never be charged admission simply to enter a pub – if you are, go to the next one.

Many pubs allow children with adults, especially if food is being served. If unsure, or if you don’t see other children in the bar, its best to check the policy. This is usually written on the entrance and if in doubt, simply ask one of the staff behind the bar.

Some pubs have “dress codes”, for example “no jeans”. It is up to the staff how strictly they apply these rules but if in doubt and you don’t meet the dress code, go to a pub that doesn’t have one.

After you enter a pub, you can either sit or stand – there is no difference in the price you pay for drinks. If a table is partially occupied, you can often share it but it is polite to ask the people seated at the table first.

Though pubs usually open at around 10 or 11 am, most locals typically visit them in late afternoons and evenings, unless for special occasions (such as to watch sporting events on pub tv) or to have lunch there.


It is not permitted to smoke inside any pub in England. That is the law and you will be asked to stop, or even asked to leave, if you attempt to smoke as the pub itself will be fined. Sometimes pubs provide smoking areas in outdoor beer gardens. If not, you are usually able to smoke outside “on the street”.

Buying drinks

Firstly, the publican and staff are allowed to refuse to serve you alcohol if you appear drunk. That is the law, and there’s no point arguing about it.

Assuming you aren’t drunk, the accepted way of buying a drink in a pub is to stand at the bar and wait for one of the staff to come to you. If there are a number of people waiting to be served or if people are also simply standing at the bar drinking, it is best to lean forward and attempt to make eye contact when facing the bar so that the staff know you are waiting to be served.

It is impolite to deliberately push in front of someone else who is waiting to be served – if it happens, its probably best to apologise as often this can lead to arguments, especially if the other customer is a little drunk.

There are some pubs that provide table service – if that is the case, the staff behind the bar will probably tell you this.

Buying a round

A common pub custom in English pubs is “buying a round”. This simply means buying everyone in your group a drink of their choice. Each person in the group takes their turn to buy a round so by the end of the evening, you’ve had as many drinks as there are people in your group.

If you are with English people, they will probably buy the first round and then expect you to buy the next one. It would be rude to drink in rounds with the group but then not to buy a round for the group when it is your turn. If you are simply with other visitors, you can do as you wish.

Selecting your drink type and size

Pubs typically sell beer, wine and spirits. Beer can be served either in bottles or “on tap”, which means it is poured for you by a member of staff.

When buying tap beer, if you don’t specify the size you require you will probably be served a pint of it. To buy a smaller glass, ask for a half pint (or “a half”.) So for example you might order “two pints of Fosters and a half of Stella”.

Beer comes in two main types: bitter and lager. Bitter beer is not normally intended to be ice cold, so don’t be dissappointed if it is room temperature when you receive it. Lager should be ice cold. Bitter doesn’t normally have a “head” on it, whereas lager might do – in some pubs, you can specify whether you want a head on it or not.

When buying wine, you usually just need to specify white or red, and say either “house” wine or the name of the wine you require (which might be shown on a wine list at the bar). House wine is normally the cheapest, and quite drinkable. If you ask for a glass of wine, you will sometimes be asked what size. Often, you will be shown glass sizes and asked to select.

You do not need to give a tip when buying a drink, though it is appreciated if you do.

Eating at Pubs

Not all pubs serve food. Some may only serve snacks such as crisps.

Those that do will normally have the menu displayed either on a board on the wall or on menus on tables and at the bar. Sometimes, food is only served during certain hours. If unsure and wanting to eat, simply ask a member of staff if they are “still serving food”.

When ordering food, sometimes you do so at the bar. (Not all pubs have separate dining rooms). You may be asked to pay when you order and to indicate where you are sitting. The food is then brought to your table. You do not need to tip when you are ordering “bar food”.

Last Orders

If you are still in a pub as it nears closing time, you might hear the staff shout “last orders”, ring a bell behind the bar or flash the lights in the pub.

This means you have around 15 minutes to buy any final drinks for the evening before the bar (and soon after, the pub) closes.