So, you’ve found a place you want to eat at. You walk in, find a table, open the menu… now what?
Scenario 1: You’re at a pub, and you’ve heard that the food’s great, the service is fast, etc. So why have you been sitting at your table for fifteen minutes looking like an idiot while your stomach grumbles so loudly that it’s attracting the attention of the couple at the next table over? Pubs often don’t have staff members who come to take your order. Sitting there waiting for them to pay attention to you is just going to make you look like a dumb American (and make you hungrier). Have a look at the menu and then go up to the bar and order.
Scenario 2: You’ve just stopped into a café for a much-needed cuppa, and now you’ve finished and are ready to head out. You’re used to Panera and campus dining halls, where it’s a capital offense to not bus your own tray. So why don’t there seem to be any bins to put your trash and dirty dishes in? You have to overcome that well-honed Panera instinct and just leave the dishes at your table. Someone will come to clear when they have a moment free. If you try to take things up to the counter and ask where you can put them, you’ll just come off as pushy and rude. It’s like you want them to take your things right now! and not when there’s a lull and the staff has time to tend to it.
Scenario 3: You’re eating at a nice sit-down restaurant, and the meal’s been really delicious, but it’s getting late and you’d like to head out. You haven’t seen head or tail of your server for a half an hour, and you’re wondering when he’ll bring your bill. British servers tend to leave you alone while you’re eating. At first, this is a bit weird. But it ends up being really nice. You can just sit in a restaurant or café for a few hours with friends, and no one will bother you. They won’t interrupt, they won’t shove the bill at you, and they won’t try to hustle you out of the restaurant. But, if at some point you do want to leave, you will have to specifically ask for the bill.
Scenario 4: You’ve ordered successfully, gotten the bill successfully, counted out the change successfully, but – there doesn’t seem to be any mention of a tip on the check. How much should you leave? For the most part, tips aren’t expected. Again, this goes against every American instinct. We expect to tip our servers. But, British servers are paid like any other worker, so their income isn’t based solely on how much they earn in tips. Some restaurants will include a 10% service charge, but if they don’t, you don’t really need to leave any extra.
And there you are! With those basic tips, you should be good to go when it comes to eating out in the U.K.