Graphic with an image of a dirty British pub and pub sign

What is ‘last orders’?

What happens in a British pub between after 11 pm?

For many years in Britain ‘last orders’ has been the warning (SP: el aviso IT: avviso) that the pub is going to close shortly.

The bartender shouts ‘Last orders!’ and rings a bell, and then all the customers rush to the bar, desperate to take advantage of the remaining moments of drinking time.

Many people order extra drinks.

Traditionally, at precisely 23:00 the bar stops taking orders and there are begin ten minutes ‘drinking-up time’.

At 23:10 the bell sounds again and you have to stop drinking.

A not uncommon sight will be the barman ‘collecting’ glasses from people as they desperately try to finish their drinks!



What kind of effects do you think this had on drinking habits in Britain? 

The government was constantly promising to change the licensing laws to make it possible to drink later. The reality is that although most still close early, some pubs now do open until midnight or even one o’clock. Before all pubs closed at exactly 11.10pm.


What this meant is that many people would drink a lot in a very short space of time, and, of course, end up completely drunk (SP: borracho IT: ubriaco.) and in the street at exactly the same time.


A typical scene would be many people shouting obscenities, men kissing their best friend’s wives, women urinating in the front gardens of their neighbour’s houses, a couple of people vomiting, and often a big punch-up (SP: reyerta, bronca IT: rissa) with the drunks from the rival pub across the road. What wonderful days those were!




When do bars open and close? Is there a difference between the laws for hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs? 

There are two typical opinions:

1. Drinking all night at least means that people drink at a more sensible speed, and then don’t get as drunk.

2. Or maybe they drink more because there is more time in which to do it. 


In Britain many people go out with the intention of getting as drunk as possible


Is it acceptable behaviour to drink a lot and be drunk in public?  Contrary to common beliefs not everybody in Britain is an alcoholic.

The royal family are just a bad example, that shouldn’t be followed.


Similarly, British politicians, sportsmen, artists and intellectuals like their drink a little too much too. Maybe that’s just the way we grow up.


Young people, for example, often go out and get very drunk, but that doesn't mean that it is socially acceptable to roll around the floor drunk singing rude songs about the vicar’s (SP: cura IT: priete) wife, when you go to the annual church fete.


That said, drinking is a part of the way of life, in Britain and Ireland, as it is in countries like Germany, Poland and Russia, and even if you don’t participate, you’ll never be far away from people who do. Knowing drinking etiquette is important.

Graphic of an old television with an image of maverick English teacher ZakWashington

Who and how do you order drinks? When do you pay? 

What would you say if you wanted to offer to buy everyone a drink or a meal? 

In British pubs you always pay for your drinks when you order them.

Don’t go and sit down, and expect to have an account kept for you like in some countries.


It is normal to buy a round of drinks, that is, one person pays for all the drinks for everyone, and when everybody finishes, someone else does the same. This is dangerous, if it’s a large group, as it is extremely expensive.


You could ‘go Dutch’ or ‘go halves’ which means that you pay individually, or you divide the price of something between you.


To offer a round of drinks say, ‘This is on me’. Similarly, ‘Is this on you?’ would mean ‘are you going to pay for this?

In many other languages this idea is expressed with a cognate of the verb to invite, which isn’t correct in English. (‘To invite’ refers more to ‘asking someone to go somewhere’ such as a wedding or a party. You could express this idea by saying ‘I’ll treat you.’)


A typical argument in many other countries would be like this:

Let me get this one.’

No, I insist. It’s on me.’

No. No. No. I’m going to get this.’

Please, it’s on me.’

Such conversations in Turkey and Argentina go on for between three hours and three days. Even though neither person has any money in their pocket.


In Britain, you should offer to pay, but you don’t need to ruin the evening by being over-persistent. If someone wants to pay, let them. You pay next time.


Also note that if you take out a packet of cigarettes, it is normal behaviour to offer one to the people you are with. As you are probably in an informal situation, you might consider a funny colloquial way of expressing this idea: flash your fags or crash the ash are two phrases that will get a laugh. Another faux pas (social mistake) is to sit in a pub without a drink at all, something typically done by foreign tourists when they see the price of drinks in pubs.

You’re on holiday for God’s sake. Buy yourself a drink, and have some fun.  

English pub inside

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