Going out for a meal can be quite confusing, 'Do I tip in a pub?', 'Do I seat myself?' and 'How do I order?' are all questions I receive. So I thought I might write some tips about going out so that you could feel more confident when you go out.
There are so many great places to eat in England. The awards for the best places are called Michelin stars. There is one Michelin star restaurant in Cambridge called Alimentum and a two Michelin star restaurant in Cambridge called the Midsommer House which is expensive but they say the food is worth it!
If you are planning to go out to eat, especially on a Friday or Saturday, it is best to book ahead to avoid disappointment. I suggest to book ahead anytime that you plan on eating out just to save yourself the hassle of finding a place to eat. Unlike in the States where you are used to going to eat whenever you want, restaurants are usually open for lunch from noon-2:30 p.m. and open for dinner from 5:30-11 p.m.
The unwritten rule is that children are generally welcome but they are expected to be well behaved. It also depends on where you go. Most restaurants you can bring your children but it’s expected that they sit at the table with you and that you will not allow them to be overly loud and run around the place. Apart from the danger of them colliding with a food server, it is discourteous to the other diners. Remember eating out in England is much more expensive than in America, so for many people going to a restaurant is a treat, and often for a special occasion.
Before picking a place to eat with children, do a little research as to what type of place it is, what their opening hours are, and how child friendly it is. That way you can be more confident with your choice of restaurant and avoid a stressful situation. Netmums has a great list of child friendly restaurant which you can also contribute to.[i]
I have found that restaurants have been very accommodating for my allergy, for vegetarians and those who are gluten free. If you are concerned, it is always best to contact them ahead of your visit. I have had restaurant chains email me a copy of their menus or the chefs alter my dinner to suit me. It is now law that any place that serves food to have a list of its ingredients so people with allergies/intolerances can eat out safely.
It has been highlighted that there are other differences when eating out. People do no request that the bill be split or that you order separate. It is left to the patrons to divvy up the bills accordingly. This can be done one of two ways- sometimes people like to just take the total and divide it by the number people so that everyone pays the same. The other way is just pay what you owe.
Another thing is when you eat out, you are less likely to be hassled. In Europe in general, they may come once to see how your food is but they will not ask you constantly. They also do not try to shove you out of the door as soon as you are finished so that they can get another customer in. You have the table for as long as you like. They will often refill your water jug (when asked if you want water get tap, it is from the sink and free) but they will not pressure you for refills because they are not free.
[i] Netmums, “Family Friendly Places to Eat in your Area,” accessed June 26, 2013, http://www.netmums.com/local-to-you/places-to-go/family-days-out/family-restaurants-pubs-and-cafes
Pubs are the center of English life. After the shops close, the pubs come to life as a favorite meeting place for friends to get together. There are many very old pubs in this area, so take a few minutes to appreciate your surroundings. Pubs are generally open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-10:30 p.m. on Sundays. Some are open earlier or later if they have the license to do so. They may have games like darts, pool or snooker, and there are often inter-pubs teams in various leagues including football (soccer).
They often have themed nights like Pub Quiz, a general knowledge games that you use a team to answer. Usually the whole pub takes part and is a lot of fun if you have knowledgeable team members. There is a small fee to play and you can win prizes such as a gift certificate or cash.
I have never understood why Americans tend to overlook having a meal in a pub. It was not until I came across Margaret Meade'sAmerican Troops and The British Community: An Examination of the Relationship Between The American Troops and the Britishwhich was written in 1944 that I knew why. She says "To an American a British town is puzzling. He doesn't know what to do there. He doesn't know how to nurse a pint of beer in a pub all night. At home, he didn't go into bars except to drink, one drink after another. If he didn't want to drink, he went somewhere else.... There is no where to go except the pub, and when he gets there he thinks the only thing to do is drink."
You see my husband is English so perhaps I have a different view of pubs, we think nothing of going in and having a drink (which can be non-alcoholic) or staying for a meal. I think many Americans with children often dismiss pubs as a place to eat because they think pubs are like a bar just because they sell alcohol, but they aren’t. They are generally child friendly especially if they have a beer garden. If you take your children to a pub with a beer garden, that's fine to let them loose out there while you sit back and enjoy your pint. You can apply this guidance to anything, but first of all you must be honest with yourself about what kind of situations your child can behave because if they can’t behave it will be stressful for you and the people around you. If you are honest with yourself and curtail where you go to suit your children, you shouldn’t run into any problems.
The minimum drinking age is 18 but younger children can go into the family areas but have to be out by a certain time. Some pubs allow children 14 and older in the pub but they cannot drink. A person from the age of 16 can drink beer or wine in a hotel or restaurant with a meal. An English pint is 20 oz to the U.S.16 oz. Be careful as the beer in England has a higher alcohol volume than you will find in the States, even if you already drink a British beer.
You must order your drinks at the bar. When ordering food in a pub, first find a table. Figure out what you want and then look to see if there is a table number, they will ask you for this when you are ordering. If there is, go up to the bar and order your food and drinks. If not they will give you a number to take to your table. They fix the drinks for you and bring out your food when ready. Sundays are a great day to go to a pub because many do a carvery or Sunday Roast.
Some pubs are “tied” pubs such as Greene King and Adnams. They serve beers particular to that brewing company. In Bury St. Edmunds, you can tour the Greene King Brewery which I highly suggest especially if you are a beer drinker. Weatherspoons drinks are generally cheaper, because they do not have music and have longer hours. The smallest pub in England is The Nutshell in Bury St. Edmunds and the largest pub is The Regal in Cambridge, and the oldest us Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham.[i]
Some pubs belong to CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), which promotes real ale made in microbreweries. There are over 700 in the UK. These beers are often extremely strong. They hold beer festivals in the local area where you can taste a wide variety. CAMRA holds an annual beerfest in May in Cambridge. This is a great event but make sure you have a designated driver.[ii]
If a pub is a “Free House”, it is independent and the landlord is free to sell what beer he chooses.
King Richard II made pubs hang picture signs over doors in 1393 so that people knew ale was brewed there. Also most people could not read so they had to identify themselves by an emblem. These were an early form of advertising. The most common pub names are The Crown, The Plough, The Red Lion, The Swan, The White Hart and The Royal Oak. [iii]
[i] Towergate Insurance, “Pub Facts- Did You Know?” accessed June 26, 2013, http://www.towergateinsurance.co.uk/info-zone/home-property/pub-facts/
[ii] CAMRA, “The Campaign for Real Ale,” accessed June 26, 2013, http://www.cambridge-camra.org.uk/
[iii] British Express, “British Pub Signs- A Short History,” accessed June 26, 2013, http://www.britainexpress.com/History/culture/pub-names.htm
Tipping is a topic that comes up often. When do you tip? It can be quite confusing, but one thing you should know is that tipping is not very big in England and the rest of Europe. This is because everyone gets paid at least minimum wage unlike in the U.S. where people are on lower wages when they work in restaurants. So you can look at it as saving you money :)
In a restaurant, if there isn't a service charge added to your bill. You can still tip if you would like but it is not expected.
In a taxi or hairdressers, 10% or to the nearest pound.
In hotels, only if the chambermaids have done something extra for you.
A guide or coach driver, £1-2 per person at the end of tour.