Safari the Globe

Cultural Information for the Traveler

Food » Europe » Western Europe » United Kingdom »

United Kingdom

Food, Dining, & Drinks

Dining Etiquette

British Food - Fish & chips
Fish & chips

Dining in the United Kingdom varies drastically. In many ways, it is the most formal country in the world when it comes to eating; however for most of the population, they're a far cry from formality.

While the formality exists, for the most part there are few dining rules one must follow in the United Kingdom. The most important points to remember are that posture at the table is very important and eating with the knife in the right hand and fork in the left is a must. The rest of the rules are fairly common in most cultures: don't eat until everyone has been served, don't eat with your hands, and when finished, place your fork and knife together.

The Brits are fairly accepting of differences and pointing out a special diet you are on or a dietary restriction is well accepted and catered to (if you give them advance warning). Likewise, not taking a dish due to personal tastes is accepted, however don't make a fuss of your preference and politely ask for another dish. Also, while you are expected to arrive on time and, if dining in someone's home, to bring a gift, forgetting these will not make a Brit banish you forever.

If eating in a restaurant, the host typically pays for everyone, however some groups don't follow these rules, especially among the younger generation or in informal gatherings. If your meal is at a pub and followed by drinks, it is customary for each person to buy a "round" (or a drink for everyone), which is later returned as each person is expected to buy a "round" in turn.

When eating at a sit down restaurant with a server, you should tip about 10% of the bill or just round up. In bars, if keeping a tab, round up when settling the bill.

History & Influences

British Food - Haggis
Haggis

The British Isles are not known for their great growing seasons or soils (although they do get plenty of rain) so their diet began with the most common and accessible meats and hearty root crops that can withstand their winters and a lack of sun.

Historically, England's diet is the stereotypical British diet in most foreigners' eyes and their most famous dish, fish and chips consists of their two most accessible ingredients today: fish and potatoes. However, each ethnicity on the isles has a slightly different culinary history. Scotland's diet relied more on wild game, dairy, and fruits, but again, the poor growing seasons didn't allow for much variety. Wales has historically eaten the most meat as they have a tradition for raising animals, while Northern Ireland thrived on root crops like potatoes.

Unlike some cultures who viewed food as "culinary art," much of historic Britain viewed food as it was created, a means to sustain life and one's health. This perspective gave Britain a bad reputation as having bland food, however this image is quickly changing as the country has adopted new ingredients, spices, and has become an immigrant destination.

British Food - English breakfast
English breakfast

Today, the food of the British Isles consists of a combination of historic dishes and newly introduced ethnic foods. Even among the people there is variety; for example, Ireland as a whole is famous for their corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, while Scotland is famous for their Haggis. While in major cities today the immigrating Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, and Europeans have changed the diet significantly and have opened new restaurants boasting various ethnic foods. Additionally, as the country adopts new technologies and higher incomes the people have turned to both ethnic as well as quick service restaurants as a larger and larger percentage of their diets.

Staple Foods

Cabbage: common and traditional in Northern Ireland, but the potato still tends to dominate as the starch of choice
Meat/Fish: there is a meat or fish in nearly every British meal
Potatoes: the most common starch in the isles cooked in a huge number of ways

Regional Variations & Specialties

Anglo-Indian: England's take on Indian Food, a combination of authentic Indian food and English varieties like Tikka Masala
Fish & Chips: battered deep fried fish served with "chips" or "French fries"
Haggis: Scotland's national dish consists of sheep's internal organs and spices slowly cooked in an animal's stomach; developed by the population's majority who couldn't afford the higher priced cuts of meat
Ulster Fry: traditional breakfast consisting of sausages, bacon, potatoes, eggs, and bread

Drinks

The United Kingdom offers drinks from every part of the world, particularly given the fact that the country is a growing immigrant destination. One of the more popular non-alcoholic drinks is tea, which is typically served with milk. There is also coffee, soft drinks, juices, milk, and others.

The most authentically British drink is alcoholic however: bitter (pale ale). A bitter is a beer commonly served in pubs, but other beers, like lagers, stouts, and other ales are also served. In addition to these beers, hard liquors, wines, and other alcoholic beverages are also widely available.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in the United Kingdom, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

United Kingdom Geography & WildlifeHistory & ArchitectureCulture & Identity

This page was last updated: March, 2013