Food in United Kingdom
Despite its unjustly negative reputation, British food is in fact very good and has improved greatly in recent decades, and many Britons are proud of their national dishes. Mid-range and upmarket restaurants and supermarkets are still of a high standard and the choice of international dishes is among the best in Europe. Unlike their continental neighbours, many Brits still eat to live rather than live to eat, and therefore the quality of food varies according to budget. As the UK is a culturally diverse nation, there are many different types of food due to the influence of immigration.
The UK can be an expensive place to eat compared to, for example, southern European countries, but relatively cheap compared to countries like Switzerland and Norway.
Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive than those in the suburbs, and country pubs tend to be a little more expensive, but generally a three-course meal without drinks costs between £10 and £25. Chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes considered the most popular dish in the UK, although roast beef is a more traditional national dish.
If all else fails, decent picnic food such as sandwiches, cakes, crisps, fresh fruit, cheese and drinks are readily available in supermarkets. Street markets are a good place to buy fresh fruit and local cheese at reasonable prices. Bakeries (e.g. Greggs) and supermarkets (e.g. Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons and Asda) usually sell a good range of pre-packed sandwiches, pastries and cakes, as well as a range of soft drinks, fruit juices and mineral water. In addition, most pharmacies and kiosks have a basic range of pre-packed sandwiches and bottled drinks.
Many department stores, especially department stores, have a café or restaurant.
Smoking is now prohibited in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs – there are no exceptions. However, some establishments have designated ‘smoking areas’ and smoking is permitted in gardens/terraces outside pubs and restaurants unless otherwise stated.
Fish and chips
Fried, breaded fish (usually cod or haddock, but in some areas there is a wider choice) with fairly thick chips, which are always made from real potato pieces rather than thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. Fish and chips are often served with rosewater peas (in England) and seasoned with salt and malt vinegar (or “gravy” in some parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland). The “real” fish and chips (authentic, for the masses) can only be bought in a “chippy” on the street, or in a restaurant specialising in fish and chips (the latter are usually by the sea, although there is a national chain, Harry Ramsden’s, which does good fish and chips, but at “tourist prices”; Mr Ramsden’s original shop, near Leeds, was a legend). However, a “real chippy” (a “fish and chip shop” or simply a “chip shop”) is the best place to buy fish and chips. In the north, you can also add peas to your order. These are rarer in the south of the country. In Scotland, especially in Glasgow, some fish and chip shops deep-fry almost everything they sell, including meat pies, pizzas and even breaded Mars or Snickers. In Northern Ireland, you can also order a pastie (not to be confused with a Cornish pasty). This is minced meat with onions, potatoes and spices, which is then breaded and fried. It can be served in a bap (a soft bread), on its own or with chips. In Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland, anything served with chips is called a “supper”, for example “a fish supper” or “a dough supper”.
The best are specialists who may serve some alternatives such as a selection of pies or sausages. They are usually located near residential buildings, but good ones, such as “sit-down” pies, can also be found in city centres. They can be recognised by the illuminated sign, which usually has a picture of a fish and a name: either puns and pools, like “Codroephenia” and “The Codfather”, or bogeymen and hosts, “Fred’s Chippy”, or even both, as in “Jack’s Golden Plaice”. In general, the fact that many people are eating or waiting is an indication of good food.
A sit down chippy is a chippy with a separate dining area. Although no real one is exactly like it, although most of the elements are present, a stereotypical sit down chippie is lit and decorated in a nautical theme with yellow or blue tables with ant wood tops. Usually a waitress will take your order for a dish of cod, haddock, plaice or some other dish, and within five minutes your meal will be served: a huge fish, a mountain of chips and rosewater peas. The posh places serve a bag of remoulade, a slice of lemon, a big plate of bread and butter and a cup of tea. Some have a separate pot of hot water, either to dilute the tea if it is too strong for your taste, or to “top up” the tea in the pot when you have poured your first cup. On the table is a large salt shaker and a plastic bottle or flask of brown malt vinegar, which most Brits put on their fish and chips. There might even be a tomato-shaped plastic container for ketchup or a container of brown sauce. Fish and chips bought in a pub, hotel or non-specialist restaurant bear little resemblance to those of a chip shop.
A ‘take-away’ is either a shop offering prepared meals for consumption elsewhere, or the meal itself. The fish and chip shop is a very British take-away; the sandwich shop is a popular choice at lunchtime; pies and cakes are also often sold there. In addition, there is a choice of fast food chains in most towns and on many main roads. Almost every city has different types of takeaway food, from fish and chips to ‘Indian’, often run by non-Indians such as Bangladeshis, and Chinese shops. Thai and Indonesian takeaways are becoming more common, and many others in the larger cities. The standard of takeaway food is generally good, but the best guide, as always, is to observe what the locals are doing.
In the cities, these places tend to open late (sometimes until about 01:00 at night) to meet the needs of the so-called “after-the-pub” clientele. They tend to be very busy and noisy at this time. To avoid queues, the best time for takeaway food is perhaps 19:00-23:00: after the tea rush, but before the dinner rush. In large city centres, takeaways can stay open for up to 3 to 4 hours for people coming out of the nightclubs; these are usually independent kebabs and chippies, as well as some fast food chains like Domino’s and Subway. This is not to be expected outside the big cities.
Eating in pubs
Pubs are generally places where you can enjoy British food. There are no British restaurants as such, so these establishments are your next chance; even if you are against drinking alcohol, you will find a more traditional and complete menu there than in a café or chip shop.
Almost all pubs (see below) offer food, although not during all operating hours. Prices for all these types vary enormously and you should seek local advice if you have any special requirements or standards. Do not sit at a table in a pub and wait for a waiter to take your food or drink order: Pubs almost always operate on the principle of “queue for drinks at the bar, order for food at the bar”. You go to the bar to ask for and pay for drinks and food. To avoid upsetting the customers behind them, groups usually order at once and “settle up” with each other later (see elsewhere for “buying rounds”). Normally you order your “entrances” and “exits” together (in catering establishments there are numbers screwed onto the tables that you can give, or they give you a number to take to your table). Etiquette dictates that if you see another customer at the bar, you ask them to order first. You then wait for your drinks and bring them to the table. When your food is ready, it is brought to you or, less frequently, you are told it is ready for collection. The person clearing your main course may ask you what dessert you would like, or you may need to re-order from the bar.
In the larger towns there are a number of restaurants to satisfy most tastes and you will find a very wide range of cuisines including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French and Italian. Waiters usually expect a 10% tip (but too often they don’t get it from the locals) and in some places this is automatically added to your bill. However, if you are not happy with the service in any way, you are not obliged to pay the service charge. The British are generally not big tippers. As a visitor, the 10% rule is more than generous and should be respected. Visitors from the United States and Canada are considered very generous tippers and even a little too gentle for some.
The usual fast food places (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway and the local Wimpy chain) are very common in big cities, but not very common in small towns. They are usually located in large commercial areas, in or near major railway stations, in retail parks outside the city and at motorway service areas and airports (the latter two are usually more expensive). Prices are average – a hamburger, fries and a drink cost around £4-5. Most are open from 7am to about 10pm, but in larger cities some are open 24 hours a day. Fast food outlets outside the cities offer drive-through service. Delivery service is widely available.
One of the most popular types of restaurants in the UK is the Indian restaurant. They can be found in all and most towns and cities, large or small. There are now more and more quality Indian restaurants in major city centres. Indian restaurants serve a cuisine known to their customers by the generic term “curry”. The most common dishes in Indian restaurants are chicken tikka masala, biryani shrimp and the incredibly spicy vindaloo. A popular variation of curry is known as balti, probably after the metal bowl in which the food is cooked and served. Balti cuisine, as well as a number of other commonly served dishes such as the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, originated in Britain, although they are clearly based on food from the Indian subcontinent. Birmingham, in the Midlands, is considered the Baltic capital of the UK, as this is where the dish was developed. The Curry Mile in Manchester is definitely worth a visit when you are in town.
Motorway service areas
Motorway service areas in the UK vary in quality, although most of them (like those directly on motorways and some major roads) are required by law to provide certain services 24 hours a day. Some service areas have a notoriously expensive reputation. Most contain fast food outlets and all have (free) toilets. Some services may be limited at night, such as the availability of hot and cold food, but most have a selection of these available. With few exceptions, rest stops are not necessarily the place to find food that is cheap or does not match the chain shops. For more choice, the traveller can usually find better options within a few kilometres of a junction.
Vegetarianism has become widespread in Britain in recent decades. If you are invited into a British home, it would be polite to inform your host in advance of your dietary requirements, but this is not considered rude or even particularly unusual. If you are staying in a B&B, inform the owner when you arrive and you will often find that they will prepare a special vegetarian breakfast for you.
Remember that even if you call yourself a vegetarian, some people will assume you eat fish, so tell them if you don’t. These days it is rare to find a pub or restaurant without vegetarian options.
If you are vegan, be prepared to explain exactly what you are doing and don’t eat often enough. Outside of speciality restaurants, most places are unlikely to have a vegan main course. So be prepared to hunt, order small plates or settle for the ubiquitous bowl of crisps and tomato ketchup in a pub, and even then it would be wise to check whether the chips were prepared in animal fat, a practice that is fast going out of fashion.
In general, the best places to eat vegetarian and vegan are pubs and restaurants specialising in vegetarian cuisine, as well as Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants. Most major cities have at least one. Upscale restaurants may have fewer or no vegetarian options. If you are lucky enough to dine in one, it may be worth ringing ahead.
Children are not necessarily allowed in all pubs and restaurants unless there is a lounge area, and high chairs are not always available. Most pubs that serve food accept children and it is usually easy to tell which ones do. As a general rule, children are not allowed to sit or stand in the area where drinks are served, so if the pub only has a small room. Children are allowed in most pubs that only serve drinks, especially those with a garden, but again, they are not allowed near the bar. To be sure, ask a member of staff or call the location in advance.
- Black Pudding – a sausage made from frozen pig’s blood or, in the Western Isles of Scotland, sheep’s blood, rusk and sage or spices, cooked in a gut. Available throughout the UK but a speciality of the northern half of the country, particularly Bury, the Black Country, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In fact, it tastes much better than it looks.
- Cheese – Although the British are not as famous or as proud of their cheese as their French neighbours, a wide variety of cheeses are produced, usually bearing the name of a particular region. According to the British Cheese Board, there are over 700 types of cheese in Britain. Well-known examples include Caerphilly; Cheddar, named after the village of Cheddar in Somerset; Cheshire; Lancashire, which can be “creamy” or “crumbly”; Stilton (named after Stilton but now produced elsewhere) – a blue cheese that rivals Roquefort or Gorgonzola; and Wensleydale, named after a valley in North Yorkshire. For a more complete list of regional cheeses, see an interesting map . The quality of the cheese varies enormously depending on where it is bought; the best place is probably a local market – so you should buy your Lancashire cheese in Lancashire. Supermarkets offer a wide range of cheeses but they are often of inferior quality.
- Cornish Pastry – Beef and vegetables cooked in a folded pastry shell. Originally a Cornish speciality, it is now available throughout the UK. Generally very good in Devon and Cornwall but can be of variable quality elsewhere. The variety sold in plastic packaging in places such as petrol stations and motorways should be avoided. Cornish Pasties may only be called “Cornish” if they are made in Cornwall.
- Deep fried Mars bar – Originally from Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, but now available in other parts of Scotland and sometimes on request in fish & chip shops elsewhere in the UK. It is generally not available in the South East of England where it is sometimes thought to be an urban myth.
- Eccles cake – a popular leafy cake with sultanas from the small Lancashire town of the same name.
- Haggis – a mixture of mutton tripe, minced meat and oatmeal cooked in a sheep’s stomach. Available everywhere, but a speciality from Scotland. Also available in many supermarkets where apparently many sheep have plastic stomachs – although the contents are often quite passable – sometimes slightly spicy. Usually cut with mashed yellow turnips “neeps” and mashed potatoes “tatties”, but you can also buy it fried with chips in Scottish fish and chip shops.
- Lancashire Hotpot – a hearty stew with vegetables and meat. A Lancashire speciality, but available throughout the UK. In Lancashire it is often accompanied by pickled red cabbage or pickled beetroot.
- Laverbread (Welsh: bara lafwr or bara lawr) – Seaweed puree rolled in oatmeal, lightly fried and usually served with slices of bacon, although it can also be prepared as a vegetarian dish. Available in Swansea and West Wales.
- Oatcakes – this Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire and Derbyshire speciality is a large, soft, oat-based pancake that can be eaten warm, in place of bread for breakfast or with a savoury topping. Not to be confused with Scottish oatcake, a type of sponge cake.
- The pasty specific to Northern Ireland should not be confused with the type of pasty associated with Cornwall and common throughout Britain. Recipes vary, but generally a pasty is made from minced pork with onions, potatoes and spices, in the form of a thick slice that is coated in batter and fried. Pasties are unique to Northern Ireland and are worth trying in a fish shop or chip shop.
- Pork Pie – a pie made from pork, with an outer crust made from a particularly crispy type of dough. Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire is their spiritual home, but they can be found all over the country. They are served cold or at room temperature as part of a cold meal.
- Potato bread – a mixture of potatoes, salt, butter and flour. A speciality of Northern Ireland, it is one of the main ingredients of an Ulster Fry, along with soda bread. Potato cakes sold in England and Tattie Scones in Scotland are similar, but not quite the same, as potato bread.
- Sausages – Europeans will be surprised to find that the filling contains breadcrumbs, rusks or other fillers in addition to meat (the British think of frankfurters and firm meat sausages, similar to those from Germany or France). Generic sausages are nothing special and are a “mystery meat” experience. But not all sausages are made with pork; many are now mixed with beef, game, turkey or even soy. Recipes for regional specialities such as Lincolnshire and Cumberland Ring are worth trying in a pub. Some markets and butchers still serve archaic family recipes, such as in Oxford, where the sausage is skinless and looks more like a beef patty. Remember to get your money’s worth. Bargain” 2 or 3 pence firecrackers like Walls don’t taste very good.
- Sunday Supper/Roast – this is a common meal throughout the UK. Traditionally eaten on Sundays, the meal consists of roast meat (e.g. whole roast chicken, leg of lamb, pork shoulder, etc.), roast potatoes and steamed vegetables. ), fried potatoes and steamed vegetables. Everything is served with a gravy (thick or thin, depending on the meat, prepared with the meat juices and stock). Yorkshire pudding (a pancake batter baked in a very hot oven) is traditionally served with roast beef, although some people enjoy it with any roast.
- Smoked fish – protected as a regional dish in the greater Grimsby area. Haddock is generally the most popular type of smoked fish in this particular way. In Scotland it is traditional to eat smoked kipper or even porridge for breakfast.
- Welsh Cakes – scone-shaped cakes, sprinkled with sultanas and topped with sugar. Available in bakeries across Wales and served warm on the grill at Swansea Market.
- Yorkshire pudding – a delicious side dish made from unsweetened batter. Traditionally, a plate-sized pudding and gravy was served before the main course to encourage the economical consumption of expensive meat. Slim and round in shape – often served with a roast dinner (consisting of roast potatoes, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding). Originally a speciality of the old industrial towns in Yorkshire, it is now a staple of a beef dinner throughout the UK.
Drinks in United Kingdom
The legal age for buying alcohol or consuming it in a pub is 18, but many young people under 18 seem to have no problem buying alcohol in small pubs and without a licence. If you go out to eat in a restaurant, you must first be 16 to order alcohol. This also applies in a pub if you are having a sit-down meal, but remember that a packet of crisps does not count as a sit-down meal. Nevertheless, if you are over 18 but lucky enough to look younger, expect to be asked to prove your age when you buy alcohol (and in some places, if you are under 21 or 25, you will have to prove you are over 18, known as a ’21(25) challenge’), especially in popular places in town. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the drinking age is actually raised to 21 or 25 in these venues, it is just a ‘safety net’ to ensure that more young people are identified as over 18. Some venues require proof of age for all drinks after a certain time of the day, as the age of people allowed in these venues is restricted. The most reliable form of identification is a passport or driving licence that includes both your photo and date of birth. Identity cards can be accepted (as long as they are accompanied by a photograph) and there are proof of age cards that must be applied for by post and take several weeks to issue. Any other form of identification is not accepted. In private households, the minimum age for drinking is 5 years, although it is likely that if a 5 or 6 year old child etc. were drunk, the case would be brought to court as child neglect.
Getting drunk is acceptable and is often the purpose of a party, although the police often have a low opinion of those who cause alcohol-related problems. This applies to all levels of British society – it is worth remembering that former Prime Minister Tony Blair had to pick up his son Euan from a police station after he was found drunk celebrating the end of his GCSE exams at the age of 16. But the British have a great sense of humour and after a hangover all is forgotten, at least until the next time. Alcohol is an important part of British culture and although it is often complained about, it is still popular.
Although intoxication is not illegal per se, many pubs and retail outlets stop serving (or refuse to continue serving) people who show clear signs of intoxication. In the UK, the person serving the drinks has certain legal obligations as a condition of being allowed to operate the place or pub.
Urinating in public is illegal, anti-social and quite difficult to explain when applying for a visa. You should try to use the facilities where you drink.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and although (in 2016) the maximum limits are 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.05%) in Scotland and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.08%) in England and Wales, most opinions are that there is no ‘safe’ level. It is easier to take a taxi home than an ambulance!
It should also be noted that boaters under the influence of alcohol can also be prosecuted, although the old phrase “the drunk is responsible for the boat” no longer applies.
The pub (or public house) is the most popular place to have a drink in the UK, although the types of pubs can vary greatly. They range from ‘local’ pubs, usually quiet places with one or two rooms, to chain pubs like J.D. Wetherspoons, which are very large spaces that can hold hundreds of people. Even small villages often have a pub serving spirits, wine, beer, cider, ‘alcopops’ and soft drinks, accompanied by chips, nuts and pork chops. Many serve snacks or meals. The largest number of drinks served are various types of beer, mainly lagers, bitters and port/stout (e.g. Guinness). People who don’t want to drink real ale can choose a pub based on location and character, as most of the national ‘sweet’ bitters or lagers advertised on TV are available in any non-real pub; however, even non-real ale drinkers often find that they prefer pub types with a selection of real ales, as these tend to be more ‘traditional’, have a more individual character and are less focused on jukeboxes, slot machines, fruit machines and large crowds.
Smoking is now banned in pubs and restaurants across the UK, although many pubs have outdoor areas, often called ‘beer gardens’, where smoking is (usually but not always) allowed. However, if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be able to stay after the official closing time, this is called a “lock-in” and smoking is allowed if the pub owner permits it. This often happens after 11pm, and these lock-ins can last for any length of time. As they are considered private parties, they only happen in a few pubs, and often only in pubs with a more regular clientele, although this is not always the case. Once at a lock-in, you cannot leave and come back.
Real British ales, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), are some of the best in the world – although people used to colder, fizzier beers may have to learn the taste. If you’re looking for real ale, you have to choose the right pubs, because although a lot of pubs serve one or two real ales, only a “real ale pub” will have much choice. British ale has a limited shelf life compared to most foreign beers, and as some pubs only have a “token” keg with low turnover, it is often long out of date and tastes strangely of vinegar. If you get a pint “off”, ask for a replacement at the bar, which is usually nearby.
The term “free house” was generally the most important indicator for those seeking a good beer selection, as it indicated that the pub was not owned by any particular brewery and served the beer that the owner thought would appeal to his customers. However, this factor is no longer important as most national pub chains are now owned by large conglomerates that negotiate centrally with brewers and offer the same consumer brands in all their pubs: These conglomerates (which are not breweries) can still call their pubs “free houses”.
The British generally follow a kind of unwritten code of conduct when they are in advertising. It is a form of self-regulation and mutual respect in an environment that can be very busy and chaotic, especially at weekends. The main points to consider:
- Do not sit down and wait for table service. In almost all cases there won’t be any. You order, pay and collect your drinks at the bar. Some restaurants offer table service, including drinks, but only if you also have a meal.
- Do not tap the bar surface with your money or shout to attract the bartender’s attention. All it takes is eye contact or a discreetly raised hand to let the bar staff know you are waiting.
- You must pay for your drinks when you take them; it is very rare for a pub to offer to hold an ‘account’ for you (and only if you hand over a credit or debit card, which is swiped when you leave the pub). Payment in cash is normal and expected. Most pubs accept cards, although traditionally it is considered unwise to use a card to pay for a single drink and a minimum number of purchases may be required to use the card. However, as contactless card payments become more widespread, their use, even for a single drink, is starting to become more common in pubs.
- Tipping is not a tradition in most pubs and you must take all your change with you. Regulars who have a relationship with the staff will offer to buy the owner or bar staff a drink. They may say something like, “A pint of Best, owner, and one for you”. Often the owner will keep the money rather than drink too much. But you don’t have to do it yourself. If you are short on change and feeling generous, there is often a charity collection box at the bar that you can use.
- Especially in a “local” pub, keep your voice down and avoid drawing attention to yourself.
- It is best to avoid heated debates on controversial topics in pubs and bars; if other people get involved, these debates can get out of control.
- If you need extra chairs, you can take one from another table. If there is already one person sitting (even if it is only one person at a table of six), you must ask if you can take the chair. (Usually it is enough to say: “Excuse me, is this chair free?”).
- In a bar, it is essential to wait patiently. Trespassing will not be tolerated and may lead to a confrontation. If someone beats you to it, don’t hesitate to complain – you should seek support from others around you. Remember that pubs are one of the few places in the UK where there is no official queue – you just crowd around the bar and when everyone who was there before you has been served, you can order. If a barman offers to serve you but the person next to you has been waiting longer, you may want to advise them to serve the person next to you, depending on the environment.
- Standing (or sitting on stools) at the bar to have a drink is fine, but be prepared for people to have to stand near you to order their own drinks. Do not stand or drink at the hatch used by the bar staff to access the main area of the pub from the back of the bar.
- If you are in a group (especially a large group in a busy pub), order your drinks together by taking turns to buy all the drinks or by each person paying an agreed amount into a single money jackpot. It is much easier and quicker for the bar staff to serve and settle a round than to order all the drinks individually. Each bar will provide you with a tray for multiple drinks if you wish.
- Returning empty glasses to the bar is not necessary but appreciated by the staff – it saves them a job.
- In men’s toilets, especially in large pubs or clubs, do not attempt to hold a conversation or make prolonged eye contact. British pub toilets are ‘in and out’ places – some drunk people can take a casual remark badly.
Pubs with a good selection of beers can feature almost any type of property:
- From a real brewery (in this case the pub will serve all the beers they have made themselves, and maybe only one “guest beer”).
- From a national or local pub chain that believes it is possible to serve a range of real ales at reasonable prices (their buying power can squeeze a brewery’s profit margins) in a pub that is also frequented by people who are not real fans.
- From an independent owner dedicated to offering real ale (usually those with the most special beers and the most demanding “real ale” type customers).
Many pubs are very old and have traditional names such as Red Lion or King’s Weapons; before widespread literacy, pubs were recognised by most customers only by their signs. More recently, there has been a highly controversial trend in some circles towards chain pubs such as Hogshead, Slug and Lettuce and those of JD Wetherspoon. Another recent trend is that of the gastro-pub, a fancier traditional pub with a selection of quality food (almost at restaurant prices).
In pubs, beer is served in pints and half-pints or bottles. A pint is a little more than half a litre (568 ml to be exact). Simply ordering a beer from the tap (“draught beer”) is interpreted as asking for a pint, e.g. “a lager, please”. Or “half a pint of lager, please” will give you half a pint. If you ask for “half a pint of lager” in a noisy pub, you will almost certainly get a pint, because no one asks for “half a pint” and the barman will have thought you said “a pint of lager, please”. Prices vary considerably depending on the city, pub and beer, but generally pints cost between £3 and £4. Note that bottled beers often cost almost the same, although they contain much less than a pint (330 ml is the norm).
Spirits and shorts are normally 25 ml; although some pubs use a standard measure of 35 ml, in England, Scotland and Wales this is clearly stated on the optics in all cases. In Northern Ireland, the standard measure is 35 ml. In Scotland, the dram was traditionally a quarter of the gill measure, which is now 25 ml.
In pubs, wine is usually available in 125 ml (small measures) or 175 ml (large measures), but unless the pub specialises in wine, it is often of poor quality.
Food in pubs can range from nothing but chips and nuts, to simple ‘pub food’ (usually with chips), to standard restaurant food and beyond (some pubs even have Michelin stars). Pubs that specialise in food often have a separate area reserved for catering. However, the catering service often ends long before the pub closes.
When applying for a licence, pubs can specify the opening hours they wish; this can be challenged by neighbours, etc. Closing times are usually “last order” times: The pub is allowed to sell drinks before these times, and customers must drink and leave the pub within 20 minutes of the licence opening times. Staff normally call 10 minutes before the last order and again when the bar is closed.
Until the recent change in licensing laws, the closing hours were 11pm and 10.30pm on Sundays, and this is still quite common. The most common weekend closing times in cities are between midnight and 1am. Some large pubs can apply for a licence for up to 2 hours and clubs for up to 3 or 4 hours. It is not uncommon for some bars to be licensed until the early hours of the morning (6am), although this is rare as those who go out until this time are likely to go to clubs and then return home. In theory, a pub can apply for a 24-hour licence, but few have done so.
In the cities there are more modern wine bars and café bars (often simply called bars) alongside the traditional pubs, although the changeable weather means there is not as much ‘street life’ as in other European cities. However, depending on the weather, there are always more street cafés in the UK. Some areas in London, Manchester and other booming cities are good examples of this change in the scene.
Prices in bars tend to be higher than in pubs, with less emphasis on beer and more on wine, spirits and cocktails. Customers are often younger than in traditional pubs, although there is a lot of overlap and some bars are more ‘pubby’ than others.
Clubs are popular in most major cities and many of them have world-class venues as well as many alternative venues. There are large clubs in London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Brighton, to name but a few places. Prices in clubs tend to be significantly higher than in pubs, and opening hours may not be as attractive as they used to be, as pubs can now open late into the night. Most clubs do not accept children under 18. ID may be required at the door, but ID checks in bars are less common. Dress codes are sometimes enforced by bouncers or doormen before entry, sometimes not too consistently. Common dress codes are simply to dress smartly and avoid wearing sportswear, including trainers. However, “fashionable” sneakers, especially in dark colours, are increasingly accepted as part of smart dress. That being said, some high-end clubs will still insist on shoes and, if in doubt, will wear shoes to avoid being turned away.
Clubs are often cheaper on weekdays (Monday to Thursday) as many of these evenings are for students; however, you will usually have to pay an entrance fee. For a club in a small town (capacity 250-300 people) the price is usually £1 to £2 during the week, £2 to £3 at weekends and rarely more than £5 for special occasions. Conventional clubs in big cities and alternative clubs in towns cost between £5 and £10. Large clubs, especially in towns that host a ‘dancing’ crowd, almost certainly cost more than £10, but rarely more than £15. In cities with a large student population, it is often much cheaper to go to clubs on weekday evenings (Monday to Thursday) as many clubs advertise for students on these nights and offer discounted drinks and cheaper tickets.
Tea is widely consumed in the UK. Most Britons drink black tea with milk and/or sugar. Tea consumption is widespread in the UK because India, the country where tea plants are found, was British territory until 1947.
Coffee is also popular in the UK, but not as popular as tea.