Many Americans have asked me this question. The ‘tipping culture’ in the USA is widespread and well-understood but few people from the US understand the British way of showing your appreciation – especially in pubs.
It’s likely that just about every foreign visitor will go at least once to a pub – and it’s a very wise choice. The food is most pubs is cheap and good, traditional pubs exude history and they let visitors see a true slice of English life.
One of the first things to remember about English ‘pubiquette’ is that unlike most American places, you’ll need to go to the bar to order and collect your drinks. Several times I’ve seen people simply sit at their table waiting for the server to arrive – this is unlikely to happen in the UK.
Order your drinks at the bar and the bartender will get them for you so that you can carry them back to your table. Remember too that if you’re ordering draught beer, you’ll have to specify whether you want a pint or a half. In most cases you’ll be required to pay for the drinks when you’re at the bar collecting them, you won’t have a tab.
The bartender will not expect a tip. However if you feel that he or she is giving you great service then the correct way to reward him or her is, when you’re ordering your drinks, say ‘and have one for yourself’.
The bartender will then charge you for the drink of their choice, usually an inexpensive one. They may take the drink straightaway, save it for later or take the cash as a tip – depending on the landlord’s ruling.
Most pubs in Britain serve food. This can vary from a simple selection of sandwiches to a full gourmet experience. In between, you’ll find ‘pub grub’ which is usually hearty, filling and tasty but this too can vary depending on the establishment. Some will be gourmet – at other pubs you’ll find more basic meals.
As with the drinks, whether to leave a tip depends on the level of service you receive. Some pubs have a dedicated dining room that it to all intents and purposes, a restaurant. Some of these are famed as destination dining. In these instances then yes, you should leave a tip for your server. Between ten and fifteen percent is expected, depending on the level of service.
With other standards of pub food, you be the judge. If you order basic meals and the service is equally basic, then there’s no need to leave a tip.
In larger cities, do check whether a service charge has been added to your eventual bill. Some places will add this, usually 12.5% or thereabouts, and if so, you are not required to leave a tip – although I would leave one specifically for the server if he or she had provided admirable service.
In country pubs, or smaller places, an unobtrusive way to leave a gratuity is to round up the eventual bill. For example, if the total comes up to £26.75 simply pay with a twenty pound note and a ten pound note and say ‘keep the change’.
However, whatever you choose to do, be thankful that you are not in Japan or several other Asian countries. There, your tip can be seen as an insult – that’s definitely not the case in the UK 🙂