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Visiting an Irish pub should be on the itinerary for every visit to Ireland. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the etiquette of Irish pub life.
Push open the heavy wooden door and enter the snug, dimly lit interior. It welcomes you like an old friend with a lively din of clinking glasses layered with laughter, conversation, and musicians wailing away on their instruments in the corner.
This is the Irish pub ( short for public house), intrinsic to Irish social life. Known more affectionately as the heartbeat of Ireland.
When touring Ireland, popping into a pub for a pint is almost always on one’s itinerary. It’s the perfect way to soak up the culture and have a good time. As casual as they may seem, pubs have their own, usually unspoken etiquette to keep in mind.
On our visit to Ireland, we spent time in local pubs in Galway, Dublin, or small villages on the Aran Islands. Pubs are where the locals gather for the evening and kick back and kick up their heels. We took in a literary pub crawl in Dublin and enjoyed the good craic (fun and lively conversation) of pub life up the Wild Atlantic Way coast from Kilkee to Donegal.
If you want to blend in like a local, here are a few tips we garnered during our stay (according to bar keeps, publicans, and locals alike).
Etiquette for Attire in an Irish Pub
One of my biggest concerns was what to wear. I wanted to dress and look smart but not stand out as a tourist.
No need to fret. The attire in Ireland is generally quite casual. The pub is no different. Locals meet and exchange the day’s news inside a pub, or families and friends gather for a celebration. The dress code is relaxed and more “come as you are.” I chose a nice pair of jeans, comfortable slacks, and a T-shirt or blouse. This worked well, and going from a day’s outing to an evening out was easy. I topped my look with a light blazer and a scarf to smarten it up, knowing I could shed these layers if I became warm. Layers are essential in Ireland.
Buying a Round of Drinks is Good Etiquette in Irish Pub Life
It is standard pub practice in Ireland to buy drinks in rounds. This is especially true if you are with a group. The rule is simple, meaning that each person pays for the group’s drinks in turn. Friend number one buys the first round, with the second round fetched by friend two, and so on until everyone is done drinking.
We met up with some friends at a local pub in Kinvara, where we witnessed the “buying a round” in action. One friend kindly bought the first round, then another the second, so before the drinks went dry again, we reciprocated, posing the question, “Will you be having another?” and bought the next round.
Pro Tip: It is customary to order drinks at the bar. Keep in mind to place your full drink order with the bartender all at once and be ready to pay after ordering your drinks. Tabs are not common in Ireland.
Pouring of Guinness in Irish Pubs
If you’re familiar with Ireland or Guinness, you probably already know patience is a virtue. And a delicious Guinness comes to those who wait the appropriate amount of time.
Pouring Guinness happens in two stages and requires a minute to breathe between these stages. Some consider this an important, almost sacred, step. When ordering a pint, you may see the bartender fill the glass most of the way before leaving it to stand for a moment. Don’t worry. He will finish topping it up and serving it when the time is right.
When ordering a pint, you will order the iconic black stuff. If you prefer a lighter ale, ask the bartender for the craft beer choices they may have on tap. The craft beer scene has exploded in Ireland, with most bars stocking local varieties. You might also try imbibing with another Irish classic, Smithwick’s (pronounced with the W silent). It boasts a taste somewhere between a hoppy lager and an IPA.
Guinness now makes a non-alcoholic version of its classic, the Guinness 0.0. This was my drink of choice. It goes down as smoothly as the original and is the perfect option for anyone exploring a more sober evening.
Order a pint or a glass, essentially half a pint, and enjoy! Sláinte! (SLAWN-chuh)
Asking Before Taking a Seat is Good Etiquette
During busy nights, pub stools and chairs are a rare find. If you’re lucky enough to find one, keep it.
However, if you spy an empty seat, the polite protocol is to ask those around the table or at the bar if the seat is taken. To skip this step is a social faux pas and is considered rude.
You might also see a glass on the table covered with a beer mat or napkin. This signals the occupant is not yet finished and is coming right back.
Tipping Etiquette in Irish Pubs
To tip or not to tip is a common question.
Tipping in Ireland, in general, as well as in pubs, isn’t expected, but it is always appreciated.
As a show of appreciation for good service, especially if you have ordered food or happen to be spending hours chatting with friends, is always welcome. Leaving a 15 to 20% tip at night’s end aligns with Irish pub etiquette.
Etiquette to Get the Bartender’s Attention
Getting the bartender’s attention can be daunting, especially on busy nights. However, there are effective and ineffective ways to go about it. The best opportunity for making eye contact with the bartender is to position yourself as close to the bar as possible. This may call for some assertiveness, but never be pushy. Wait your turn, and if necessary, raise a finger as a subtle sign to signal them. Remember ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way in showing respect. These gestures get you noticed more readily. When the bartender approaches, know your order. This helps prevent further delays.
Respecting the Musicians is Pub Etiquette
Nothing beats listening to traditional Irish musicians play a session the night you visit, or like us, attending a local festival where the music happens in pubs all around town. This is part of the culture.
The musicians gather and set up their instruments in a corner of the pub. Coats, instrument cases, and other belongings sit nearby. Good pub etiquette allows the musicians room to sit and play, even if it looks like there may be a front-row seat.
Etiquette of Pub Life Inside a Lock-In
If you experience a lock-in during your time in Ireland, take it as a sign that you’ve left a positive impression on the locals.
What is a lock-in? Lock-ins occur when the pub has officially closed for the night, yet the desire for more fun lingers. The pub bartender for the evening discreetly invites friends, regulars, and even perhaps a newcomer who left a good impression to extend the revelry after the doors are locked and the windows are shut.
The concept hinges on the notion that once the pub is shut down for the night, it transforms into a private domain.
We learned the term ‘lock-ins’ while staying in Howth. Our lodging was a private apartment above a public house, which was very popular with the locals. When we shared where we stayed with a local guide, he commented, “Aye, they have some good lock-ins over there. Sometimes they go on all night.”
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Understanding Etiquette of Irish Pub Life is a Recipe for a Good Time
Ireland’s pubs offer great fun, a friendly atmosphere, and even sometimes shelter from a quick-moving rain squall. For these reasons, embracing Irish pub life etiquette is essential for an authentic experience in this enchanting land.
These public houses, especially in rural areas, can be family affairs. The drinking age in Ireland is 18, yet it is common to see children in pubs enjoying a time out with their parents. They scoot home soon after dinner. So sit back, slowly pull a pint, and enjoy the craic. Life is a journey, not a race. In Ireland, there is all the time in the world.
We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more information on visiting Ireland, and please share some of your experiences with Irish pub life below.