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10 Unspoken Rules of Irish Pub Culture Every Traveler Must Know

A pub is more than just a place for drinking in Ireland – it’s the center of the Irish social universe. It’s where families mark births, birthdays, christenings, holidays, and even deaths. It’s where sports fanatics gather to cheer on their teams. And chances are, it’s where most of the couples in Ireland first met, talking over a pint of that black stuff and traditional Irish music. 

The next time you visit a pub Ireland, remember these 10 unspoken rules of Irish pub culture.

1. Know the rounds culture

Buying a “round ” is a common drinking system amongst friends in Ireland, and is probably the most important part of the Irish pub culture. 

Here’s the drill: If someone buys you a drink, buy one drink back. 

If you’re in a group, one person will buy each member of the group a drink. Another person from the group will buy all members a drink, and so on until each person has bought a “round for every member. No one will remind you it’s your turn (but you’ll be a stingy bastard if you forget).

So when you think locals are just being friendly by buying you a drink, think about this unspoken rule and return the favor by buying them a drink as well. 

2. Always ask before pulling up a chair or sitting on a barstool

On a busy night, pub stools and chairs are limited. If you spot an empty one, don’t just grab it! Make sure to ask those sitting at the table or bar if it’s free. Occupied or not, it is rude in Irish pub etiquette to take a chair without asking. 

3. Don’t rush the Guinness

All good things come to those who wait – like Ireland’s pride, Guinness. Unlike beers, it’s poured in two stages and it has to sit for about a minute between stages 1 and 2. 

There are six steps to pour the perfect pint: 

  • Take a branded, tulip-shaped pint glass and let the “harp” logo be your mark. 
  • Point glass at a 45-degree angle under the spout
  • Nice and slow, allow the liquid to bounce off the harp. It shouldn’t be full. 
  • Allow the bubbles to cascade and surge. This is where bartenders leave it for a white and allow customers to see it settle. 
  • Take it back and pour to fill (stage two), pushing the valve away from you
  • Savor

Some misinformed customers stop at step 4 and grab an unfinished stout (or yell at a bartender for leaving the pint uncompleted. Don’t be that guy. 

4. Tipping is not required but appreciated

If you’re getting a table service at a good restaurant in Cork City, for example, the etiquette is to leave 10-15% at the end of the night. But If you’re at a bar, tipping isn’t obliged. You can, however, leave some extra if you spent a few hours at the pub and had received exceptional service from a particular bartender or server. 

5. Be patient and respectful with the bartender

During busy hours, getting your order to the bartender may take a while. When getting his/her attention, there are right and wrong ways to do so. 

  • Right: Get as close possible to the bar and lift a finger. Be patient until you get your turn. 
  • Wrong: What you don’t want to do is stick your arm out, waving money in the air, and/or click your finger. These aren’t just not cool – Irish think these gestures are rude.

When the bartender finally approaches you, make sure you already know what you’re ordering.

6. Don’t be surprised to see children and old folks

Don’t assume pubs are only for legal young adults. A pub can be a place for the entire family to enjoy. Especially in rural areas, you can see families with small children enjoying music sessions and old lads sitting at the bar, doing their own thing. 

7. Never discuss Irish Politics

It’s an unspoken rule to talk not about politics when you’re in a social gathering. Pubs should be bringing diverse people closer together, not divide them. Instead of talking about the sensitive topic, talk about the good stuff like Irish sports, music, famous personalities, food, and travel destinations

8. Know about the beer mat/coaster placement

Here’s another universal Irish pub language: Placing a beer mat or coaster on top of your drink means “be right back” or “gone to the toilet.” This prevents you from losing your drink and seat when you need to have a bathroom break. Sounds delightful for people who love drinking alone, doesn’t it? 

9. Nobody likes the drunken hooligan

Just because Irish people love drinking doesn’t mean it’s okay to be a drunken lout – characterized as someone loud, vulgar, rude, and gross in their drunken state. There’s a law that marks being drunk in public as an offense. 

10. Drinking in Ireland isn’t a race – so gulp slowly

Most young folks tend to think that drinking is a competitive sport where they see who can get drunk the fastest and who the last man standing is. It’s not the case in Ireland. The etiquette is to drink slowly, as drinking is a social experience to be shared with friends and there should be no rush. 

Author Bio: Carmina Natividad is a resident writer for Greenes Restaurant Cork, a fine restaurant located in Cork Ireland’s historic Victorian Quarter, known for its top-notch local cuisines and talented kitchen team. This self-proclaimed foodie enjoys discovering hidden gems and writing engaging articles about food, travel, and lifestyle. 

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