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Pubs in England - A Good Place for Lunch or Dinner (or a drink)

Pauline Kenny

Pubs, also called Free Houses, are all over the countryside. Most villages, even small ones, will have a pub. Pubs are a great place for lunch or dinner. In the countryside, most pubs serve lunch and dinner. Watch for signs that say "homemade food", "food made fresh", "food with local products" - these are pubs with good food. The local tourist office may have a list for you. Eating in a pub is more casual than a restaurant, but many pubs serve meals of a similar quality to restaurants.

The Wyndham Arms in Kingbury Episcopi, south Somerset

Hours for Meals

The thing to remember about pubs that they do not serve food all day long. Lunch is usually from 12:00pm to 2:00pm, which means you have to be in the pub and have your order in by 2:00pm. Some might go to 2:30pm, but never assume that.

Dinner is usually 7:00pm to 11:00pm, but the cutoff time for ordering dinner will be around 9:30pm.

Bars may close midday for serving drinks as well as serving food.

Lunch at a pub: cod, peas and chips; fried Somerset Brie with a side order of new potatoes;
half a pint of Guinness, half a pint of Somerset Cider.

How to Order

When you enter the pub, go up to the counter. You will usually find menus there. Take the menus to a table. Look around for a specials board - most places have one. When you have decided what you want, go back to the bar and give your order to the barman. They write it down and take it in to the kitchen. When they come back, they will ask what you want to drink. They make your drink and you carry it from the bar back to your table.

After this, everything runs like a regular restaurant. Someone brings cutlery to your table if there is none on it. They bring your food. If you want to order desert, you go back to the bar and order.

Inside The Wyndham Arms in Kingbury Episcopi, south Somerset

Paying

When you are ready to pay, go to the bar and they will tell you the amount and you pay them. I leave the tip on the bar (10%).

Reservations

When we are in the countryside, we like to go out to a pub for lunch on a Sunday. If you can, book ahead for Sunday lunch. If you cannot book ahead, try to arrive before 1:00pm before most people have arrived.

It is best to reserve ahead when going for dinner, because most pubs have a small area with tables and can be completely booked.

Etiquette When All Tables are Full

Try these approaches if you arrive at a pub and there are no tables:

  • First, ask the barman if there are any tables.
  • If it is a nice day, ask the barman if you can sit at a table outside.
  • If someone is near the end of their meal, ask them if you can have their table when they are done. Then position yourself within sight of the table and tell them to let you know when they leave. Be very polite about this and make sure they know you are not rushing them.
  • If there is a table for four, with only two people, ask the people at the table if you can share the table. (We have only seen this done with outside tables, where it tends to be more casual. I would probably hesitate doing this inside, or ask the Barman if you can do this.) You might even have to put in your order for food, before you have your table, to be sure to get it in before the kitchen closes.

Dishes you Might Find at a Pub

You will usually find sandwiches on the menu. In good pubs, there will also be a regular restaurant menu - starters (appetizers), mains (main course), pudding (dessert). We have found that most pubs have a vegetarian option and a fish option. It may be harder to find vegan options. They are also pretty flexible, not minding if you just order an appetizer or if you order extra vegetable side dishes.

The type of meals offered differs by pub. We have had gourmet-style meals and simple restaurant meals. We have usually had good meals in a pub, plus it is a fun place to eat. Pubs are usually in the center of a village, in an historic building.

Pubs will have several types of beer on draft. "Real Ales" are locally produced, good quality, beers. In Somerset, where the cider is locally produced and in popular, there will be cider on draft too. I usually ask for a local beer or cider. You will frequently find Guinness on tap.

Public House Vs. Free House

The term "pub" is short for Public House. Pubs that are not affiliated with or owned by breweries are called "Free Houses"; they are free to sell whatever beer they like, not just the beer supplied by the brewery.

LEZ from the message board writes: "Most pubs in England are "tied", meaning they are tied to a specific Brewery (normally the brewery owns the Pub and the Landlord rents it from them). The Landlord has to buy his stock from the brewery, normally at a higher price than the free market. They can and sometimes do offer what are called "Guest Beers" from other brewers, but generally only one or two at the most.

Which brings us to Free Houses; this is where the Landlord owns the Pub and is free to purchase whatever beers he likes. These are the best of all as the choice of Beers is more varied. For example, my local Pub stocks up to nine different beers all from different brewers."

How Pubs Used to Work

I don't know when it changed, and you can still see evidence of it, but there used to be two sections to each pub - a rougher section and a nicer section. I figure it was the working class guys in one section and the upper class in the nicer section. The rougher section was more of an open room with people standing around with drinks in their hands. The nicer section had tables and chairs. The sections used the same bar, but had separate parts of the bar.

It is changed now but there is still an open area in front of the bar where people may stand with their drinks, and tables further away, where people take meals or sit and have a drink.

Smoking and Non-Smoking

English and Scottish law now bans smoking in public buildings (including pubs) though many pubs do offer outdoor facilities, sometimes with a gazebo-type cover, for the use of smokers.

Resources

www.sirc.org/publik/pub.html: PatrickLondon from the message board recommends this link: "Passport to the Pub, which is an amusing but still acute set of observations and insights into how people perceive and use their 'local' (significant word)." Passport to the Pub was written by SIRC Director Kate Fox and originally published in 1996. You can download the book from the SIRC (Social Issues Research Centre) website. Kate Fox later wrote "Watching the English, The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour", Hodder & Stoughton, 2004.

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