Irish Pub Etiquette | How to Avoid a Cultural Faux Pas
Going to the pub for a drink or a meal when visiting Ireland should be on everyone’s bucket list. Full of character, colourful, lively or quiet, pubs are essential to Irish social life. People have been meeting, discussing and celebrating important life events in pubs for centuries. Disregarding Irish pubs would be missing out on something culturally unique.
But like any other social situations, unspoken rules are at play when stepping inside an Irish pub. These rules might be plain and simple for insiders but the Irish pub etiquette can be confusing for those who haven’t been initiated yet. It is always best to avoid a cultural faux-pas when possible so here are a few rules to follow the best Irish pub etiquette.
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Best Resources to Plan Your Visit to Ireland
- Getting There | Try Skyscanner: this website is a powerful search engine to find the best flight deals. Or visit Aer Lingus website, a trusted and affordable airline from Ireland.
- Where to Stay | Check Booking.com, they have accommodation for every budget. Or compare hotel prices on hotels.com.
- Getting Around | Travel around Ireland by bus with Bus Eireann, or take the train with Irish Rail. Check car rentals on comparison site Argus Car Hire.
- Planning | Lonely Planet Ireland is one of the best guides out there. The Rough Guide to Ireland will suit people travelling independently.
- Travel Insurance | Don’t forget to buy travel insurance before visiting Ireland. Heymondo has a nifty app to help you get the assistance you need while on the go.
When a group of friends are going for drinks, one can offer to buy a round of drinks, i.e “a round”, to everyone else in the group. Glasses emptied (or nearly emptied, if you are slow), someone else will then offer to buy the next round to everybody in the party. And so on until the group decides it is time to throw in the towel and go home.
Be warned though of the cultural quid pro quo hiding in the shadow of this generous offer. If you accept a drink, you will be expected to buy your friends a round of drinks in return. Or else you might sound…well, cheap.
You are not a big drinker? Do not fret. For the sake of the Irish pub etiquette, it is fair to decline taking part in the first and subsequent rounds. No offence will be taken and your reputation will remain intact.
Order at the Bar
You and your friends have found a pub you liked and settled at a table. You are about to put your feet up (mentally), and you are discussing among yourselves whether you should have a pint of Guinness or a glass of Jameson while you wait for someone to take your order. But no waiter seems available or willing to approach your table…
Do not panic though, you are not being snubbed. While it is common practice for staff to get people’s orders at their table, especially if you are here for a meal, sometimes they just don’t have the manpower available.
To avoid waiting unnecessarily at your table, best is to head straight to the bar and order your drinks there. But show patience if the place is busy and patrons are already queueing at the bar. This is a crucial time where pub etiquette must be strictly followed.
Start by approaching the bar near enough to be seen and heard by the bartender. But don’t push people out of your way, you don’t want to start an argument or even a fight. Once there, don’t try to catch the bartender’s attention by waving or shouting impatiently. This is just rude. Wait for your turn and have your order ready. Eye contact and manners will do the rest.
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Pay When You Order
Exceptions exist but it is customary in Irish pubs to pay for your drink(s) right after you order it. Don’t get too miffed about it. It’s not that staff don’t trust you to pay your bill before you go, it’s simply because a ‘tab’ is just not common in Ireland.
If you are worried about repeated transaction fees on your foreign credit card, taking cash with you might sound like a good idea. And yes, people in Ireland say “bill” preferably to “check”.
Tipping in Irish Pubs
Tipping is a question that comes up regularly among visitors to Ireland. Leaving a tip can be considered offensive in certain countries, like Japan, so naturally tourists are wondering if it is appropriate in Ireland.
The answer is yes! You can tip in Irish pubs. Although it is neither required nor common, it is nonetheless appreciated. People don’t usually leave a tip when ordering a drink from the bar but they are more inclined to do so after a meal. Tips are usually around 10% of the bill, but nothing stops you from being more generous.
Wait for Your Guinness to Settle
Guinness tastes better in Ireland, according to connoisseurs. But wherever you are in the world, the same rule must be followed when you order a pint of black: you must wait for your Guinness to settle before you can drink it. The company’s brilliant slogan sums it all up, “Good things come to those who wait”.
The white, creamy foam at the top of your beer is in fact created by tiny nitrogen bubbles escaping the keg when the pint is poured from the tap. The bubbles surge down the side of the glass and rise up, creating a white layer sitting above the dark stout.
Guinness reports that the settling takes exactly 119.53 seconds. Let’s not be too fussy about it and let’s round the number up at 2 minutes. Your pint should be good to go by then.
It is Fine Not to Drink Alcohol
Irish pubs might be temples to Dionysus but no one will expect you to drink alcohol if that’s not your thing. With the tightening of the drink-drive limit over the last decades and growing health-conscious behaviours, you won’t shock anyone for saying no to an alcoholic beverage. Fruit juice, fizzy drinks, limonades or other alcohol-free cocktails are widely available alternatives in Irish pubs.
Dress Code in Irish Pubs
This is the best part of Irish pub etiquette. Contrary to some fancier night clubs, Irish pubs do not require a formal dress code. Irish people dress quite casually in general and the same applies in pubs.
You should therefore be relieved to know that there is no need to stuff your already bloated suitcase with a tuxedo or ballroom gown. Keep it simple and relaxed. You won’t be barred from entering a pub in Ireland if you wear comfy sneakers or don your favourite pair of jeans.
Children in Pubs
It is an offence in Ireland to serve alcohol to someone who is under 18. However it doesn’t mean children are banned from Irish pubs.
Children under 15 are allowed in pubs until 9pm but they must be supervised at all times by a parent. Children between 15 and 18 can stay in pubs after 9pm (10pm from May to September) accompanied by a parent or guardian, if they are attending a private event where food is served.
Smoking in Irish Pubs
Since 2004 it is illegal to smoke in pubs, restaurants and clubs in Ireland. If you feel the need to smoke while at the pub, you’ll have to smoke outside. And the bad weather won’t change that.
Some pubs have outdoor dedicated spaces for smokers. Look out for the signs indicating the smoking area. When in doubt, ask a member of staff if smoking is allowed in the pub’s outdoor space.
Don’t Ever Order an Irish Car Bomb
An Irish Car Bomb is an American cocktail invented in 1970s. It is made with Guinness, Jameson whiskey and Bailey’s. The “car bomb” part comes from the idea that when the liquor is dropped in the beer, it makes bubbles reminding people of little explosions. But because of its ingredients, someone found it clever to call it Irish, likening the drink’s explosive sounds to the car bombs planted by the IRA during The Troubles.
While the cocktail is very popular on St Patrick’s Day in the US, the concoction is rarely seen on bar menus across Ireland. Some bartenders might not tick at the indelicacy of the name but a lot more might consider it highly offensive and refuse to serve it. Worst, you could be kicked out. Yes, the Irish pub etiquette can be unforgiving.
When visiting Ireland, don’t miss the chance to experience one of the most buoyant expressions of Irish culture: its pubs. At the centre of Irish social life and the traditional music scene, Irish pubs are a fantastic way to enjoy the local culture. Interested in the whiskey-making process too? Discover the distilleries in Dublin that makes the famous uisce beatha, or “water of life”.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link, I earn a little money at no extra cost to you.