Dining

The stereotypical notion of English meals as a dull parade of roast beef, overcooked vegetables, and stodgy desserts has largely been replaced—particularly in London, other major cities, and some country hot spots—with an evolving reputation for innovative, creative cuisine. From trendy gastro-pubs to interesting fusion restaurants to see-and-be-seen fine dining, English food is now known for innovative takes on traditional dishes, with an emphasis on the local and seasonal. In less cosmopolitan areas, though, you’re still looking at lots of offerings that are either stodgy, fried, sausages, or curries.

Discounts and Deals

Eating out in England—big cities in particular—can be expensive, but it can be done cheaply. Try local cafés, more popularly known as "caffs," which specialize in heaping plates of English comfort food (bacon sandwiches and stuffed baked potatoes, for example). England has plenty of the big fast food chains, as well as independent outlets selling sandwiches, fish-and-chips, burgers, falafels, kebabs, and the like. For a local touch, check out Indian restaurants, which are found almost everywhere. Marks & Spencer (aka M&S), Sainsbury's, Morrison’s, Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, and Waitrose are chain supermarkets with outlets throughout the country. They're good choices for groceries, premade sandwiches, or picnic fixings.

Meals and Mealtimes

Cafés serving the traditional English breakfast (called a "fry-up") of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms, half a grilled tomato, toast, and strong tea are often the cheapest—and most authentic—places for breakfast. For lighter morning fare (or for real brewed coffee), try the Continental-style sandwich bars and coffee shops—the Pret-a-Manger chain being one of the largest—offering croissants and other pastries. In London, the Leon chain offers healthy alternatives.

At lunch you can grab a sandwich between sights, pop into the local pub, or sit down in a restaurant. Dinner, too, has no set rules, but a three-course meal is standard in most midrange or high-end restaurants. Pre- or post-theater menus, offering two or three courses for a set price, are usually a good value.

Note that most traditional pubs don’t have any waitstaff, and you’re expected to go to the bar to order a beverage and your meal. Also, in cities many pubs don’t serve food after 3 pm, so they're usually better for lunch than dinner, unless they're gastro-pubs. In rural areas it's not uncommon for pubs to stop serving lunch after 2:30 and dinner after 9 pm.

Breakfast is generally served between 7:30 and 9, lunch between noon and 2, and dinner or supper between 7:30 and 9:30—sometimes earlier and seldom later except in large cities and tourist areas. These days, high tea is rarely a proper meal anymore. It was once served between 4:30 and 6, but tearooms are often open all day in touristy areas (they're not found at all in nontouristy places), so you can have a cuppa and pastry or sandwich whenever you feel you need it. Sunday roast lunches at pubs last from 11 am or noon to 3 pm.

Paying

Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants and pubs, though some require a minimum charge of around £10. Be sure that you don't double-pay a service charge. Many restaurants exclude service charges from the printed menu (which the law obliges them to display outside), and then add 10% to 15% to the check. Others will stamp "Service not included" along the bottom of the bill, in which case you should add 10% to 15%. You can also add to the included charge if the service was particularly good. Cash is always appreciated, as it’s more likely to go to the specific waiter.

Pubs

A common misconception among visitors to England is that pubs are simply bars. They are also restaurants and community gathering places where people go to relax after work or meet their friends and where the social interaction is as important as the alcohol. In small towns, pubs act almost as town halls. Traditionally pub hours are 11–11, with last orders called about 20 minutes before closing time, but pubs can apply for a license to stay open until midnight or later. Many pubs in larger cities have taken advantage of this.

Though to travelers it may appear that there's a pub on almost every corner, in fact pubs are something of an endangered species, closing at a rate of 2.2 a day (as of 2019), with independent, nonchain pubs in smaller localities at particular risk.

Most pubs tend to be child-friendly, but others have restricted hours for children. If a pub serves food, it’ll generally allow children in during the day with adults. Some pubs are stricter than others, though, and won’t admit anyone younger than 18. Some will allow children in during the day, but only until 6 pm.

Reservations and Dress

Regardless of where you are, it's a good idea to make a reservation if you can. We mention them specifically only when reservations are essential or when they’re not accepted. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. (Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.) We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.

Online reservation services aren't as popular in England as in the United States, but Open Table and Square Meal have a fair number of listings in England.

Wines, Beer, and Spirits

Although hundreds of varieties of beer are brewed around the country, the traditional brew is known as bitter and isn’t carbonated; it's usually served at room temperature. Fizzy American-style beer is called lager. There are also plenty of other alternatives: stouts like Guinness and Murphy's are thick, pitch-black brews you'll either love or hate; ciders, made from apples, are alcoholic in Britain (Bulmer's and Strongbow are the big names, but look out for local microbrews); shandies are a low-alcohol mix of lager and lemon soda. Real ales, which have a natural second fermentation in the cask, have a shorter shelf life (so many are brewed locally) but special flavor; many are worth seeking out. Craft beers are also taking off, especially in cities. Generally, the selection and quality of cocktails is higher in a wine bar or café than in a pub.

Previous Travel Tip

Visitor Information

Next Travel Tip

Lodging

Advertisement

Book A Trip
  • HOTELS

  • FLIGHTS

  • PACKAGES

  • CARS

Trip Finder
Store
Guidebooks

Fodor's New England

View Details