Q & A: Irish Pubs and Etiquette

Mix 2/3 Guiness with 2/3 Jameson & 1/3 Baileys...Pull TriggerOh, the allure of the Irish pub… warm, friendly, and the best tasting pint to ever touch your lips.

Generally, a visit to a pub is simple and straightforward… you order yourself a drink and enjoy the craic. But our readers want to know the ins and outs of a REAL Irish pub.

Here are four questions that will help put you in-the-know.


Is there a protocol in pubs when someone buys you a drink and the drinks keep coming before you can ever buy in return?

— Karen Atherton via Facebook

In Ireland there is a tradition of buying a round of drinks for everyone in your group. This can become overwhelming if you are a “newbie” in the company of more than three people or if your group suddenly starts getting bigger. A row of pints may magically line up in front of you. That may sound great, but you are expected to reciprocate.

What if you get it wrong… the worst that will happen is that you’ll be labeled as cheap (not to your face of course). Not a title you’d likely wear with pride, but certainly something you can live with the morning after. Still, you want to make a good impression, right?

The best advice I can offer…

  1. Buy your round early in the night while your visit is likely more manageable.
  2. Inconspicuously make your way to the bartender to order your round.
  3. Order your round before glasses are 1/2 empty otherwise someone else may beat you to the punch.
  4. Don’t announce “I’m paying for this round…” let your actions speak for you.
  5. Pay attention to what everyone is drinking so you know what to order.
  6. Don’t take no for an answer… the Irish have a funny habit of telling you they don’t want food or drink even when they do. If you think they really mean NO, offer a mineral (soft drink) instead.
  7. Choose your first drink wisely as it will likely be what you will be drinking for the rest of the night.

For some, the most difficult situation arrives when there are more beverages in front of them than they could possibly drink. It’s time to make a decision… leave the pints untouched… take a few sips and leave them behind… find a way to move them out of sight… drink up regardless of the physical price you’ll pay later.


I was told a decade ago that “ladies” order a glass (half-pint) – it’s unladylike to order a full pint.

— Sheila Lamb via Twitter

Good news. A woman ordering a full pint will not garner a bad reputation… it’s the affects of drinking the whole pint that may bring out any unladylike characteristics 😉

It’s also okay for a guy to order a glass, but I wouldn’t want to be the only lad at the table with a kiddie-cup 😉

At times you might hear warnings that women should order a Harp, a glass of sherry, or a Paddy’s whiskey rather than a Guinness or Jameson’s whiskey. Ultimately, you should order what you like. Most pubs serve soft drinks, water, basic mixed drinks, tea, and sometimes wine and coffee.


Do I tip the bartender?

— John Wagner via email

Tipping is not necessary… although no barman will refuse one. Christy Nicholas makes the suggestion that if you’ve ordered several drinks, tell the bartender… ‘and have one for yourself.’ He or she will likely just take the value of a drink or may actually have one.


I want to bring my kids to a Irish music session, but I’ve been told they are not allowed in pubs after 9pm. Is this true?

— Pamela McCann via email

There is a rule that prohibits under 18s from pubs after 9pm in the winter and after 10pm in the summer. Since most music sessions start late, it can be tricky for families like yours.

Be on the lookout for pubs offering an early session or seek out performance-based venues like Bru Boru in Cashel. You may also find a place that has music AND serves food late; if you are a patron of the restaurant, your entire family can enjoy some food and music after 9 or 10 without compromising the rule. That said, I wouldn’t abuse this loophole by keeping your kids in the pub/restaurant until wee hours of the morning.


Required Reading

Irishmen Lecture Americans on Pub Etiquette: Two publicans offer vital tips for Americans visiting Irish pubs courtesy of the Steve Holt of the Matador Network.

Tips from our readers:

“Smile, be polite and remember it takes a while to pull a Guinness. As a local, the things which tend to be frowned upon are loud, opinionated voices and those who get the seats closest to the music but don’t buy a drink (it happens). Don’t let anyone overhear how much VAT you are going to claim back. Religion and politics are a no-no — as is the claim to be Irish because your Granny’s nanny once visited.” — Tony Calland via Facebook

“Take your smiles and good sense, chat and enjoy. Dress down to try NOT looking so much like a tourist. Don’t talk loud and wave money around.” — Ruth Speir Kuehn via Facebook

“If you want to order, go to the bar, don’t wait at the table. If you want to be in the conversation, sit at the bar; if you want privacy, sit at a table.” — Christy Jackson Nicholas via Facebook

“So many pub etiquette tips! Rounds system. Don’t move chairs for big group. Take a newspaper if going alone. Don’t tip barman.” — Megan Eaves via Twitter

“Don’t leave your pint on a table as a way of “saving” your spot. Grrr. If you go outside, your table is free!” — Rosemary Mac Cabe via Twitter

“In many pubs that serve food, you pay for your meal at the bar… instead of paying your server.” — Kevin Avery via email

More Q & A >>

Add your tips in the comments below…


Author: Corey

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  1. In Ennis, County Clare, there are a few pubs that host an early evening music session – 6pm or 7pm, and these are perfect for taking kids to or if you have an early start the next morning. These is also Cois na hAbhna in Ennis with Irish music, song and dance – this is an Irish music centre and the bar is separate to the music area. Also during the summer some pubs are starting to run Sunday afternoon sessions.

    In relation to the dreaded ’round’ system, it is very easy to excuse yourself from one of these by saying ‘no thank you’, it is becoming more frequent here as less of us want to wake up wishing we could stay in bed for another week!!!!

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for the extra tips.

      That reminds me, stricter drink driving (drunk driving) laws have also made people less likely to “push” drinks on others… thus, making it easier to opt of a round as well.

      Post a Reply
  2. As an addendum to Rosemary Mac Cabe’s suggestion, if you need to go outside to smoke or make a call and you don’t want to abandon your table or pint, just put your beer mat (coaster) on top of your pint glass to mark that the pint is still being drunk and the table is taken!

    Post a Reply
    • I recently went to Wisconsin where I did this and they poured out my beer. They said there it means that I’m tapped out or all finished.. weird!

      Post a Reply
  3. Very helpful and informative article. Thanks for the wonderful insights on pub etiquette!

    Post a Reply
  4. Is it acceptable for a woman to belch out loud in a pub?

    Post a Reply
    • Most people would be too polite to bring up Miss Manners’ thoughts on the matter…. which apply world-wide.

      Post a Reply
  5. I prefer a smithwicks, is there any special way to order a pint of Smithwicks?

    Post a Reply
    • That you can simply order by name… if you want to pronounce it like a local, drop the “hw” — “Smitticks”

      Post a Reply


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