The pub is the center of the social universe in Ireland.
It's much more than just a drinking place - it's where families mark births, deaths, birthdays, and christenings, and where sports fans congregate to cheer on their teams. Many an Irish couple first met in the pub.
When tourists come to Ireland, they often spend a lot of their time in pubs and the possibilities for pub etiquette misunderstandings are endless. There are a number of practices to be aware of.
With this in mind, IrishCentral has come up with a guide to pub etiquette, to help avoid red faces all around!
The 'rounds' system
If you're out with Irish people in Ireland, you'll certainly be offered a drink as one person usually goes to the bar for everyone. This is called "getting your round in." But be warned: that offer rests on the unspoken condition that you'll return the favor.
The problem is that no one will remind you when it’s your turn. And if you forget to get your round in, people will start talking about what a stingy bastard you are behind your back.
This story illustrates the point: A few years back a new guy, Seamus, started at my brother's company. During his first week on the job, Seamus went out for drinks with his new colleagues. He thought they were all being very generous buying him drinks all night. The following morning, word had gotten out that Seamus didn't buy his round. This did not bode well for his reputation.
The moral of the story? Probably the worst thing you can do in a pub in Ireland (aside from belting out a few bars of “God Save the Queen”) is shirk from the responsibility of rounds.
Do this once, and it will take years to redeem yourself. When it comes to drinks – and indeed most things – the Irish have long memories. This could explain why Seamus is still floundering in middle management, poor man.
Couples are TWO Units!
An important point for couples to note: just because you are together, and you love one another very much, doesn’t mean you are a single entity when it comes to drinking. (Unless of course, you are sharing the same drink.) For the purposes of rounds, you are two, distinct people. Meaning you both have to get a round in.
Tipping in pubs in Ireland is generally only necessary if you have table service. Even then, it’s not as much as in the US. Don’t feel bad about tipping less while in Ireland. Remember, the person serving you is probably on a decent wage. As a cardinal rule, if you go to the bar yourself and order drinks, there is no need to tip.
Especially in rural areas where there are music sessions on, the pub is a place for the entire family to enjoy. So don't bother complaining to the barman if you see kids running around the place.
Ireland’s pub closing times can be confusing.
Alcohol can only be sold on a licensed premises during set hours. For pubs serving alcohol on the premises, these hours are 10:30 am - 11:30 pm Monday - Thursday, 10:30 am - 12:30 am on Fridays and Saturdays, and 12:30 pm - 11:00 pm on Sundays.
‘Drinking-up’ time of 30 minutes is permitted at the end of official closing time.
However, a Special Exemption Order allows the licence holder to serve alcoholic drinks outside of ordinary opening hours; the latest time that alcohol can be served for drinking on the premises is 2:30 am.
Trading hours for off-licenses (aka 'liquor stores' and supermarkets where alcohol is sold) are 10:30 am - 10:00 pm Monday - Saturday, and 12:30 pm - 10:00 pm on Sundays (and St. Patrick's Day!)
Up until 2000, pubs had to close from 2-4 pm on Sundays – the so-called “Holy Hour.” The bizarre thing was that as long as you were already inside the bar before 2 pm you could stay – the bar just couldn’t let anyone in during these hours.
Another law concerning drinking in Ireland is that technically, it’s an offense to be drunk in public, so mind yourself on the way home!
If during your time in Ireland you get to be part of a lock-in, you can rest assured you did something right to impress the locals. Lock-ins are what happens when the pub has officially closed for the night but nobody is quite ready for the good times to end. The pub owner or bartender in charge that night will quietly invite friends, regulars or, if you're lucky, a new face who made a good impression, to stay on for a few rounds after the doors have been locked and the windows shuttered. The idea is that once the pub is closed for the night it becomes private property...!
In the spirit of this loophole, some bartenders will insist you pay for any drinks you plan to have during the lock-in in advance, so no money is exchanged after closing time, or that all transactions be done in cash. If it's just a group of a few close friends, however, the drinks might even be on the house - a way for the owner to unwind and have a bit of a night out after a night's work.
* Originally published in 2016. Last updated in 2023.