Most offices and schools start around 09.00, so most people have breakfast at about 07.00. Breakfast is commonly a bowl of cereal with milk and some toast or a croissant. Porridge, yogurt, fruit or cooked eggs are also popular. When people buy breakfast in a café or hotel, they often choose something different, like an English breakfast.
Between 17.00 and 20.00 is the time most people eat their evening meal. It is common for this to be the biggest meal of the day, usually something served hot. The exact name for this meal depends on a person’s class and origin:
‘Dinner’ (mainly in the south, or the middle-middle class),
‘Tea’ (mainly in the north or the working class or lower-middle class)
‘Supper’ (mainly the upper-middle class or upper class. For them ‘dinner’ is a formal event, not a family meal).
Be aware that if you are at someone’s house in the afternoon and they ask “do you want some tea?”, this could be 2 things, depending on their social class:
Most people eat roast turkey with roast potatoes (peeled, chopped potatoes baked in fat) and winter vegetables like Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips. For dessert the tradition is Christmas pudding – a heavy boiled mix of dried fruit, eggs and flour. It is served with cream, custard or brandy-flavoured sweet butter.
‘Afters’ is another word for ‘dessert’. Other words are ‘pudding’ or ‘sweet’. Most British meals involve some kind of dessert. The national favourite is apple crumble or rhubarb crumble – stewed fruit with a crispy sweet topping. Although this seems very traditional, crumbles are actually from World War 2, when people did not have enough flour to make the pastry for a pie.
A crumble is usually served with custard and it is a warm, comforting dish. This might explain why crumbles (and scones) were the most searched-for recipes during the coronavirus lockdown of 2020.
It is bread, cheese and maybe an apple or some salad. It has this name because it sounds like the traditional choice of a farm worker (a “ploughman” is someone who ploughed fields). However, it was actually invented in the 1960s to promote cheese.
A cream tea does not mean tea served with cream! A cream tea is the name for a light meal of tea or coffee served with scones*. Scones are slightly sweet rolls made without yeast. They are cut in half and spread with a thick layer of clotted cream and jam.
You might also find a ‘savoury tea’ – this is usually cheese scones with tea. Specialist places that serve scones and cakes are sometimes called ‘tea rooms’.
The best scones are homemade and should be eaten still slightly warm. The scones from supermarkets are usually disappointing.
*Note: Britain is completely divided over whether they are pronounced ‘sgons’ or ‘scoans’.
In Britain, most people eat quite early in the evening (about 18.00 – and maybe earlier if they have very young children). It is also common for children to go to bed earlier than their parents.
For these reasons, people may take their children to restaurants quite early, even as early as 16.00 if the children are very small. Also, some restaurants/pubs do not allow children after about 19.00.
In Britain, waiters and waitresses will say ‘hello’, show you to your table and then leave you alone for a few minutes until you are ready to order. Once you have been served your food, it is usual to be left alone, and you will need to get their attention if you need something else.
This is because in general, British people prefer to be left alone while they are eating. Even in high-class restaurants (where you receive higher levels of service), the waiters and waitresses will do their job quietly and discreetly, so that you remain undisturbed.
In some restaurants, there are 2 prices for food – the ‘takeaway’ price and the ‘eat-in’ price (which is more expensive).
Most food does not have tax added to it. The exception is when you get something ‘extra’ with the food – for example, it has been heated, or there is a dining area to eat it in. In these cases, the food is taxed by 20%.
The general rule is no, you cannot have a fire or BBQ in a public space unless you have permission from the landowner. The UK has strict rules about lighting fires in public places. This includes open countryside, woodland, moorland and common areas like parks.
The strict rules are because fires can be anti-social or dangerous – much of Britain is much drier than you might think, so wildfires are a problem. For this reason, take your rubbish home and be especially careful of glass bottles – they could start a fire if the sun shines through them.
This doesn’t mean you can never have a BBQ in a green space – some parks have special BBQ areas. Just look for the signs or contact your local council to ask them.
If you go camping, ask the campsite if fires are allowed.
Bars and pubs both sell alcohol, but there is a subtle difference between them.
A bar is usually somewhere with music, perhaps some dancing. Sometimes they specialise in wine or gin. A ‘lounge bar’ is a more relaxing area, often with sofas. Bars are usually only found in urban areas or hotels.
Pubs in city centres are often like bars. In other places they can be very different. In villages, many are part of the community and used almost like part of the home. Most welcome families (during the day). They specialise in beer, but most also serve food, teas and coffees, wine and spirits.
Be aware that you normally need to go to the drinks counter (known as the ‘bar’ in both pubs and bars) to order your drinks; table service is rare, although coronavirus restrictions have made it necessary in some places.
Because of coronavirus restrictions, many pubs and bars now have table service.
However, in more normal times, you need to go to the bar (drinks counter) to buy your drinks. If it is busy, there will be an invisible queuing system. Some people like to stand at the buy and chat to others or watch the world go by. This means if you want to buy drinks, you need to stand right by the bar and look hopeful. You also need to try to meet the eyes of one of the bar staff. They will give you a nod when they have noticed you and will make sure you get served as soon as possible. You do not need to shout or speak to them until it is your turn to order drinks (or food).
If you stand at the bar and looked relaxed, or you don’t meet the eyes of the bar staff, you will probably not get served. The bar staff will assume you have the drinks you need and are just hanging out (the bar is the best place to chat to strangers).
No, it is quite normal not to drink alcohol. Many people do not drink alcohol, especially if they are driving. There is usually a good selection of ‘soft’ drinks (drinks without alcohol). Pubs and bars usually serve coffee, tea and hot chocolate as well.
Pubs have a licence to serve alcohol only until a certain time (usually 11pm, or 10.30pm on Sundays). They ring a bell to announce ‘last orders’ – the last chance to buy drinks. There is a 20-minute ‘drink-up time’ after the bar shuts. Then you have to leave.
It used to be the law that pubs stopped serving alcohol by 11pm. In 2003, the law was changed so that pubs could stay open longer. But most don’t.
Many people will visit a pub for several hours so sometimes it is fun to have a game to play. Some games are best for just 2 players, others need more. Common games are darts, pool or snooker. There might also be games to borrow, for example playing cards, dominoes or Scrabble.
In some parts of the UK (Somerset, for example) there are pubs with skittle alleys, a special place for playing the game of skittles. Skittles is a bit like 10-pin bowling, except there are 9 skittles (pins) and a hand-carved wooden ball. It is sometimes called ninepins. It is a very traditional game and it is a lot of fun.
A pub quiz is a fun game of questions. Usually you play in pairs or in a small group. You pay a small amount of money for your group to enter.
Someone in the pub reads out questions (usually on sport, geography, pop music etc). Your group has to think of the answer. At the end, you find out which questions your group answered right. The group with the highest number of correct questions wins a prize.
If you are in a pub on pub quiz night you do not have to join the quiz.
In bars and pubs, drinks and food are normally paid for when you order them, though you can also ‘have a tab’ (where you leave your credit card behind the bar and pay for everything at the end). This would normally be used in a situation where you were the one paying for everything, for example if you were out for a family meal.
At other times, most people ‘buy a round’ (take it in turns to buy drinks for everyone on the table). Read our blog about the custom of buying a round.
You do not have to tip the person serving the drinks (the bartender) when you are in a pub or bar.
However, if you are buying a round, some people give the person serving the drinks (the bartender) a tip. They say “and add one for yourself” when placing the order. The bartender adds some money to the order, about 50p-£2. You could also say “keep the change” when paying with cash, which means “don’t give me any money back”.
It is illegal to buy alcohol if you are under 18, or for someone to buy it for you. The exception is that it is OK for anyone aged 16 or 17 to drink wine, beer or cider with a restaurant meal, provided they are with an adult and the adult buys the drinks.
In general, there is no law against drinking alcohol in public places. This includes public parks.
However, some places have an Alcohol Control Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) to stop drunk people causing problems for others. This is most common in town centres or city centres. In these places, drinking alcohol outside might be banned. Look for signs on lamp posts and noticeboards.
A ‘unit’ of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol. One pint of lager or 175ml wine would contain about 2 units (although it depends on the strength of the lager or wine). The government suggests that no-one should drink more than 14 units a week.
The most popular meal is a ‘roast dinner’. It is also known as ‘Sunday lunch’. A roast dinner is usually roast meat, gravy, Yorkshire pudding (a savoury baked batter), roast potatoes and cooked vegetables.
Other favourites are British versions of food from other countries. This includes Italy (lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese, pizza), India (chicken tikka masala or korma) or China (stir fry, sweet & sour chicken).
There are also traditional British favourite meals. These are usually fairly simple and based on meat with either potatoes or pastry:
fish and chips (fish fried in batter with chips)
shepherd’s pie (minced lamb topped with mashed potato)
cottage pie (minced beef topped with mashed potato)
chicken pie (chicken in sauce topped with pastry)
steak pie (beef in sauce topped with pastry)
bangers and mash (pork sausages on mashed potato)
bacon butties (bacon sandwiches)
haggis (a boiled mix of meat and spices)
The best place to find these foods is a pub, or look for ready-made versions in the supermarket.
A Victoria sponge is a typical example of a British cake. It is a vanilla flavoured sponge cake filled with jam, and maybe buttercream or whipped cream as well. Like many British cakes, it is not very difficult to make.
At community events (like fetes, fayres or coffee mornings) there are often lots of home-made cakes. You can also find them in tea rooms, coffee shops and cafes (especially in National Trust properties).
Interestingly, bakeries are not usually the best place to find good cakes. British bakeries are best at yeast-based things, for example iced buns (a long bread roll with icing – surprisingly delicious when fresh), Chelsea buns (an iced bun with raisins) and jam doughnuts.
Crisps and chips are both very popular British foods, but they are quite different!
Crisps are thinly fried potatoes (and other similar snacks). The five most popular flavours are cheese & onion, ready salted, salt & vinegar, prawn cocktail, and roast chicken. If you want something different, it’s easy to find many other flavours. You can also find limited edition flavours. At one point these included sausage and brown sauce; cheese, cucumber & salad cream; and even beans on toast. British people love crisps. Each person eats about 150 packets a year.
Chips are thick versions of French fries, made of potato or sweet potato. The thickest ones are known as ‘steak cut chips’. It is common to have chips as a part of a meal. People also eat chips by themselves, sometimes covered with gravy, curry sauce or cheese.
Marmite is a thick salty mixture made from yeast. It is usually eaten on toast or bread. Spread it VERY thinly (add butter or margarine first).
People sometimes describe things as being ‘a bit Marmite’. This is because Marmite advertises itself as something you either love or hate. So someone with a ‘Marmite personality’ would be someone you either loved or hated.
Haggis is a Scottish dish that mixes sheep liver, heart and lungs with oats, fat and spices. The mixture is boiled in a sheep’s stomach. It is traditionally eaten on Burn’s Night (January 25) and is much nicer than it sounds…
Be aware that some people like to joke that haggis is a small animal with legs shorter on one side of its body that runs round Scottish mountains. This is not true!
If you are not familiar with British or European cooking, a very good place to start is the Usborne First Cookbook by Angela Wilkes, illustrated by Stephen Cartwright. This cookbook has very clear instructions with pictures.
For a good range of British traditional recipes, Delia’s Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith is excellent.
For more modern British cookery, try cookbooks by Nigella Lawson or James Martin.
The NHS (National Health Service) is trying to get everyone to live more healthily. It suggests that eating five 80g portions of fruit, vegetables and beans (roughly 5 portions a day) can help. This includes fresh, frozen, canned or dried products.
As a result, you will often see ‘1 of your 5 a day’ logos on foods that are trying to show how healthy they are.
Yes you can, but there are strict rules about when you do it, where you can do it and what type of animals or fish you catch.
‘Game’ is the word for meat that is caught (usually shot), rather than farmed. This includes grouse, partridge, pheasant, venison (deer), rabbit and hare. Most game is only available in certain months of the year, to allow the animals time to breed. Rabbit is available all year.
The Countryside Alliance is a charity that tries to protect rural life. It has a website with details about types of game and when to find it in the shops.
See the SPORT page for more information about catching your own food, either by fishing or hunting.
In most places, foraging for mushrooms (fungi) is allowed as long as it is a small amount and only for your own use. However, there are some protected forests (such as Epping Forest) where it is not legal to pick mushrooms at all. This is to protect the environment.
Before you go picking, check local signs and websites to see if mushroom foraging is allowed. If you break the rules, you might have to pay a fine.
Be aware there are several species of British mushrooms that can kill you or cause severe long-term health effects. Some of these look similar to edible mushrooms.
Single cream is about 20% fat. Double cream has a much higher fat content (about 50%) and can be whipped. Whipping cream can also be whipped, but is only 37% fat. Clotted cream is a special baked cream. It is very thick and about 64% fat.
Plain flour is white wheat flour. It is good for biscuits, pastry and cakes. Self-raising flour is the same, with added raising agent. Strong white flour is white wheat flour with a high gluten content, so it is best for bread.
The different names for sugar are to do with the size of the crystals. Granulated sugar has fairly large crystals and is usually used in drinks as a sweetener. Caster sugar has smaller crystals and is good for baking. Icing sugar is powdered sugar.
Britain has a diverse culture so in most cities and large towns there will be shops specialising in foods from different cultures. In some places, standard supermarkets will also have a range of overseas products.
Markets are another good place to find unusual ingredients – and if you can’t find what you want you might be able to order it.
If you are not near a speciality shop, search online.
If a label says ‘may contain’, it means it has been made on a site where that product is used. This could mean (for example) on the same piece of factory machinery, or at the other end of a factory building. There is no way of knowing how likely the contamination is.
For something to be labelled ‘gluten-free’ it must contain no more than 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten. This is a safe level for people with coeliac disease.
This means some special wheat products (where the gluten has been removed) can be labelled ‘gluten-free’. However, people with a wheat allergy might still have a problem, so make sure you check labelling carefully.
It can be difficult for people with allergies or coeliac disease to find suitable food in restaurants or cafes. There should be information on the menu, but it might also be good to ask the restaurant about the ingredients and how the food is prepared before you decide if it is safe to eat there.
If you prefer, you can find a restaurant that specialises in allergy-friendly food (also known as ‘free-from’ food).