Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Great British Pub - a visitor's guide

British Pubs Explained

The British Pub is an age old British institution that has stood the test of time and now it's centuries old. Medieval water was not safe to drink on account of all and sundry dispatching their trash, garbage and even excrement into the rivers and streams with all the abandonment of the modern day teenager slinging McDonalds wrappers under their car before they roar away in a souped up VW. Yes, the 'if I can't see it then it doesn't exist' mentality is not a new phenomena. Beer was invented as during the manufacturing process the water would be intensely boiled and, by doing so, kill off all the nasty bugs lurking within so, and you can use this, it was safer to drink beer than it was the water.

It became pretty obvious, very quickly, that two pints of this stuff they call beer made us very chatty and sociable, so it seemed logical to have a venue where upon we could drink said beer, talk, discuss and debate..... Then, after several more beers, we could continue to punch any person that disagreed with our given point of view while talking and debating and drinking. It was decided that this should be a public place, a house, a Public House! HOORAY!! But let us please now shorten this to Pub on account of the British being very, very lazy with language.

These places became very popular, workers would meet after the days toil to 'chew the cud' or, if in Ireland have 'a craic'. As the proliferation of these establishments grew rapidly the need to identify one Pub from the next spawned the Pub name. In the beginning they took the lead from their patrons or surrounding area, such as The Coach and Horses which, as the name suggests was a refuelling station for Horses and their occupants, that hauled people, mail or produce from one town to the next. The Coopers Arms would have been frequented by barrel makers and The Kings Head was a Royal sycophant and so on and so forth. The Red Dragon was by far the most popular name for a pub but landlords, again appreciating their clientele, got clever, for instance a pub near the financial district of London calls itself  'Shaws Booksellers' so when a suspicious boss asked what you did in your lunch break you didn't have to tell too many lies and could leave the boss to assume you were studying. My personal favourite name for a pub called The Dog House. The pub is born!

Every Hamlet, Village, Town and City had a pub or more than one pub. They did great business, admittedly these gaffs were mainly frequented by the working class but Winston Churchill loved the Pub, Prince William was often seen in Catherine's local pub in Bucklebury during their courting years and Madonna even owed a Mayfair drinking hole while married to Guy Ritchie. A Pub gives you and your area identity, you always met your mates in the pub, you probably met your spouse while in the pub, you've been offered dodgy cigarettes and stolen goods in a pub. It all happened in the Pub. The Pub has changed dramatically over the last 20 - 25 years, the death of UK manufacturing has meant that shipyards and coal mines no longer spew out thirsty workers 'when the whistle blows' which has seen a decline in the Pub trade with around 30.000 establishments closing in the past 10 or so years. The survivors have had to adapt and cater to a more family market. Nearly all Pubs now serve food and redefine themselves as Gastro Pubs or even Restaurants and, to be fair, a lot of them do an excellent job though it would be wise to take a large pinch of salt to claims of 'Home Made' and 'Best Fish and Chips'.

You must visit a pub on any visit to the UK and I am here to assist you.


Do not be put off by stories of 'warm, dark beer' - try the beer, agreed, it isn't ice cold like your American lager/blonde glass of gas but it has a thing I am sure you are going to enjoy called flavour. Beer is served not warm but at room temperature, it isn't gassy or fizzy but neither is it flat. You will order a pint (it used to be a half pint for the ladies but girls are not having that these days so get them a pint too). It should be poured with the glass tilted to the pump at around 45 degrees and, when the liquid has 'settled' have no more than an inch of frothy white stuff at the top of your glass then you drink through the froth. Politely ask to have your pint 'topped off' if different, you paid for a pint so you are entitled to a pint.

Don't make that North American mistake of asking to taste the different selection of beers on offer, it is a legitimate request but, trust me, irritates the server no end as well as the guy behind you who, on this rare hot day in England, is 'spitting feathers' (desperate fro a drink). Ask which is the local beer and stick to that; London Pride in London, Newcastle Exhibition in Newcastle and Boddingtons in Manchester - each region will have its own brewery supplying locally produced beer so get on side with the locals and flatter them in joining them.

Ordering food in a pub is simple but perhaps different to what you are used to. Firstly, Pubs normally have an explanation as to what is expected of you on a blackboard sign as you enter the building. For example;
Find a table,
Note the Table number,
Order and pay for food at the bar.

Top Tip - while at the bar, ordering your food, purchase your drinks. These can be enjoyed in the 30 minutes it takes them to get your food to the table. In this scenario tipping is not really done here but it is always good to 'round up' if paying prior to the meal being delivered. In the event that you get table service with payment at the end of the meal then do as you normally do in a restaurant or see my last Blog 'Tipping in the UK'.

Good to know.

Old Tam's Chair. Mainly found, though not exclusively, in country pubs this is the best seat in the house but set aside for the exclusive use of an old, loyal and eccentric customer who always sits there. The locals all know it is Old Tam's chair and even though the old git isn't even in the pub at that particular moment, you cannot sit there just in case he turns up. Better to tell you now diplomatically than have Old Tam bark at you on his arrival.

The Round. In the pub it is customary, when meeting friends and family or indeed any gathering of people, to 'get your round in'. For instance, if there was 5 people in your party then you will purchase 5 drinks, this is known as 'your round' then on completion of these drinks the second person, then third person and so on will WITHOUT PROMPTING get their round in. If you do have to prompt then keep it civilised to start with by saying to the gathering 'whose shout is it?' That should be enough to shame the next one up to the bar. It is a heinous crime to join 'a round' then leave before you have honoured your commitment. It can be seen as a sign of weakness if you declare that you do not want to join 'a round' unless you happen to be struggling financially or the wife is ovulating and you might get called back.

One in the Wood. This is a description for a pint being left for you at the bar. Lets say your friend, Dave, has agreed to meet you in the Red Dragon at 7pm, you are late but, no worries, he orders a pint of Bishops Finger to enjoy while he waits. Then he gets a call from his wife to say that she is ovulating and he has to get home now and he had better be sober. When you eventually reach the pub you ask the landlord (this is before cell phones) 'where did Dave go' and he will pass on Dave's apologise but also hand you a pint, bought and paid for by Dave, with the words 'he left one in the wood for you'.

Last Orders Is called loudly and verbally along with a ringing of a bell to let the whole boozer know that they have one last opportunity to buy a drink, (usually around 10.30pm). Unwritten rule and landlords discretion says you then have between 5-10 minutes to get up to the bar and order before...

Time Gentleman Please is called, to politely ask you to go home. Ladies please do not be offended by the call being to gentleman and not ladies, this is a throwback to when the only customers in a pub were men. Traditionally the only ladies that frequented such dens of iniquity were either prostitutes or collecting for the Salvation Army. None of you are excluded, the landlord/lady would now like all of you, regardless of gender, to 'Drink up' with the question 'no homes to go to?'.


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Tipping in the UK - info for visitors

The unanswerable question I get a lot from visitors to the UK is 'how much do I leave as a tip? '


As talking cash in the Former European Country of Great Britain is still considered terribly rude to most of us and simply not the done thing dear boy, I am here to give you some answers. 

The culture of leaving or receiving a gratuity is still very alien to us Brit's so the perennial problem for any fair minded North Americans heading this way (and knowing you will tip), how much you should leave can become as complex to you guys as 'how many times do I apologise for Donald Trump?' When the first question when here is actually 'should I tip?'...you should always apologise for Trump. 


The first and most important thing you need to know is that 'WE ONLY REWARD GOOD SERVICE'


Whereas in the US it seems that it is an (unwritten) part of the Constitution to leave a tip, you do need to reset that thinking when calling in on us here in the UK. For, brace yourself, a tip here is NEVER expected but ALWAYS gratefully received. To explain, most of us (I'll come back to that) are happy to reward good service but can as easily register our disapproval of bad service by 1) NOT tipping before 2) 'tut tutting' our disapproval loudly while shuffling out of the restaurant. 


Traditionally, rule of thumb says that, we leave a gratuity of between 10-15%, my wife gives 10%, me 15%. But then it gets a bit more complicated...


I'll Keep it Simple..




Scenario 1

A £100 check - with ok service and you all getting the correct burger, leave £110.


Scenario 2

A £100 check - the service was good, lots of smiles and directions to Abbey Road, leave £115 - £120 

However, you'd be no less thought of in sticking to the £110 tip, as in Scenario 1, as long you back it up with a pleasant 'thank you' to your server as you depart. 


Scenario 3

A £100 check - the service was exceptional, burger cooked to how you, not the chef, like it, leave £130......you are now more popular than a Downtown Abbey Christmas Special and should have the restaurant door held open and next Royal baby named after you. 


Simple Eh? Hmm, buckle up.


Most restaurants now automatically, and somewhat sneakily, add a thing they call 'Service Charge' to your final bill, which we Brit's do not consider to be Cricket.


For example purposes, and sticking with the £100 bill, a 'typical' service charge added would read:


Total.                    £100.00

Service charge.    £12.50

Total.                    £112.50


The British do not like Service Charge as it is the management telling us that we are happy with the experience, before we have had the experience, we do not like being told what to do (A little German fellow tried similar bully boy tactics back in the 1940's so we took the cane from atop the cupboard and administered a damn, sound thrashing) . Restaurants do this because should the meal turn out to be a bad experience most of us, being British, will never ask for the check to be adjusted (we consider public confrontation unacceptable unless up against the French).  Restaurant management guilt you by saying that the Service Charge is introduced to ensure all waiting staff received a gratuity (nessacery because of the terrible wages they pay them!! ) Very worthy.... except remember? 'WE ONLY REWARD GOOD SERVICE!!!!'


Back to our £100 check.. 


Scenario 1. Pay the Service Charge but DO NOT ADD A FURTHER GRATUITY!!


Scenario 2. Pay the Service Charge then add £5 - £10 cash tip directly into the servers hand.


Scenario 3. Pay the Service Charge and add extra cash to server of around £20.


Poor Service. 

If you have had poor - terrible service then be brave, you are not going to like this next bit, but ask for the service charge to be removed from your check AND DO NOT TIP. They won't argue but simply return an amended check with you paying for only the food/ drinks you've consumed. Service Charge is NOT a law or an official tax (unless it is clearly brought to your attention, usually on the menu, prior to you ordering) and is, ultimately, them deciding what gratuity you should pay. A few years ago it was exposed that a lot of restaurants, not all, were charging you the service charge then NOT passing it onto their staff. Scandalous!!!


Here's what I do.

Assuming I first want to leave a tip, when the bill arrives I, quietly, ask the server if they actually benefit from the service charge. You will be shocked at how many of them give you a discreet shake of the head.

So, I insist the service charge be removed from the check then pass the cash tip (pertinent to Scenario's 1, 2 or 3) directly to the waiter/waitress. The restaurant will not/cannot complain as that money was going to the server anyway, RIGHT??. If the server tells me that the management are fair and that they split the gratuity then I would keep it official  ensuring all, waiter to chef and dishwasher, benefit. 


Remember,  if *Service Charge is going to be added then the restaurant should inform you of that on their menu before you order.



My particular field of expertise and should I ever have the pleasure of driving you please don't forget to add your tip for these tips to my driving tip. You have several options with ground transportation so I'll break it down again as you'll get away with paying less to some than others.


London Black Cab 

With over 6000 'Cabbies' swarming the city they count many fantastic, polite and knowledgeable drivers on their ranks. 

For a Heathrow to City Centre a £70 fare can be rewarded with a £7 - £10 tip

Journeys across city. If the meter reads £17.20p give £20 and a 'keep the change' victory speech, if it is bang on £20 give £2. If you have no change for that, just say so, pay the £20 and leave ' as a tip is never expected but gratef..... yeah, you get it.


Good to know: 

All, but all London Taxi's have a credit card machine but you wouldn't believe the amount of times the machine is faulty or lost Wi-Fi.  Reflect that in your gratuity. Also, conversations best avoided are Uber, Brexit and 'which soccer team they follow?'


Black Car/Chauffeur Service

Heathrow to City Centre, Tip  £10 - £15

Journeys across City - all depends on service, vehicle and competence (as ever) but if making single journey £5 is good. If making several journeys then always wait until after last drop off and give £20 - £40.



Heathrow to City Centre £10.

Journeys across City: £3 - £5 

Always much more appreciated in cash and not on the app, as they have to wait for. (and declare) that. 




Concierge/Door man - give him/her £20 as soon as you arrive.

Luggage Delivery £5

Taxi hail - £2

Hotel restaurant - see Scenario 3 in Restaurant section.



Concierge/Door man - give him/her £20 as soon as you arrive.

Luggage Delivery £2

Taxi hail:  £1 - £2

Hotel restaurant - see Scenario 2 in Restaurant section.



Concierge/Door man - you'll open your own door 

Luggage Delivery: lifts are over to your left

Taxi hail - you will hail your own taxi 

Hotel restaurant - do not eat in a 3* hotel restaurant, you deserve better.  


Good to know: while at the airport money change load up with £5 notes and £2 coins, very useful.


Private Tour Guides 

A tip should be between £40 - £100 depending on length of day and enjoyment of tour. 


Good to know: 

Please do not proffer cash towards your guide while in the hotel foyer, especially towards a lady, Other guests will witness this and could jump to the wrong conclusion on the type of service she has provided. On the flip side the same applies if you have enjoyed a 'lady of the night' as other guests might, again, jump to the wrong concussion and begin testing her Henry Vlll knowledge when all she wants to do is go home and sleep.


In summary :

A tip is never expected but always gratefully received.




Service Charge is still at your discretion* and not compulsory to pay.


Lastly, believe it or not, some people in the UK never, ever leave a tip, some will even ask for the service charge to be removed then still not tip the waiter even when the experience has been excellent!


So, believe me, you leaving any form of appreciation will be appreciated.


Enjoy your visit to the UK


I am Kevin Willis and I Travel for...My clients.

Chirton Grange Ltd. Award winning Chauffeur Company


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