Knowing how to order a beer in another country is paramount to survival abroad. (Well, maybe second to phrases like “Where’s the bathroom?” or “I have food poisoning, so please direct me to the bathroom and then the hospital.”)
The thing is, ordering beer isn’t just a transaction—in Europe’s beer capitals, it’s a ritual. Yes, you’ll probably face a language barrier. But most places have their own quirks and customs when it comes to etiquette, phrasing, and the beer itself. Here’s your abridged guide to not look like a complete outsider the next time you step in a pub halfway around the world.
All excerpts reprinted with permission from Atlas of Beer: A Globetrotting Journey Through the World of Beer by Nancy Hoalst-Pullen and Mark W. Patterson, published by National Geographic in September 2017. Available where books are sold.
1. Oh, barman
The person standing behind the bar is not called a “bartender”. He or she is called “bar staff,” a “barman,” or a “barmaid”.
2. Get off your ass
Most pubs and bars do not offer table service abroad. You’ll probably go up to the bar and order your drink.
3. What a pint will get ya
An English pint is about 20% larger than an American pint. If you’re aiming for something more moderate, order a half pint, half a lager, or half a bitter.
4. This round’s on me
If someone offers to buy a round, do not offer to pay for your portion. You’ll have a turn to buy a round.
5. The right way to tip
If you want to leave the barstaff a tip, simply ask the bar staff, “And one for yourself?” If accepted, they’ll add the price of an additional drink to your bill.
6. First order of business
If you’re ordering a number of beers, and one of them is a stout (like a Guinness), order the stout first since it takes some time to pour properly.
7. Toast to this
Toasting is customary, so here are some common toasts (recognizing that there are many local variations):
- In Britain: “Cheers” or “Bottom’s up”
- In Scotland and Northern Ireland: “Slàintemhath” (SLAWN-cha wah), meaning “good health”
- In Ireland: “Slàinte” (SLAWN-cha), also meaning “good health”
- In Wales: Iechyd da” (YEAH-chid da), meaning “good health”
- In Russia: «Ваше здоровье! » (vashe zda-ROV’-ye): “(To) your health!”
8. Ordering in Belgian Dutch
If you want a pint in Flanders, where they speak Belgian Dutch, ask for “een pintje” (pronounced ayn PINCH-ya), say cheers by saying “op uw gezondheid”(op oow guh-zohnd’-HAYT) or “santé!”
9. Ordering in (Belgian) French
If you’re in Brussels or Wallonia, where most Belgians speak French, go to the brasserie (BRA-sir-REE), or pub, and ask for a beer by saying “Une bière” (oon BEE-yair), then cheers with “Santé!”
10. Ordering in German
In the German-speaking East Cantons, raise your bier at the brauerei (BROW-er-ee) and toast your neighbors’ health by saying “Prost!”
11. Ordering in Russian
If you’re meeting your friends at the bar, you will need to ask them «где находится паб?» (gde nak-ho-dits-ya pab): “Where is the pub?” Once there, you can tell your bartender «я хотел бы пиво пожалуйста»(YA KHYtel by PI-va pa-ZHAL-sta): “I would like a beer, please.” If the bartender offers you a cheap imported lager, you can ask «есть ли у вас какие-либо местное пиво?» (yest’ li u vas ka-KI-ye-LI-bo MEST-no-va PI-va): “Do you have any local beer?”
12. In Austria and Germany, phrasing is everything
Unlike in the United States, where beers typically have individual names, German beer is typically ordered by style. Each beer comes in a glass specifically created to complement its style. Say “Einen halben Liter__, bitte” (IHN-en HALB-en LEE-tah __, BIT-teh): “A half liter of ____, please.” Fill in the blank with the style of your choice.
A primer on German beer styles:
- dunkel (DOON-kel): a smooth, dark lager (“dunkel” means “dark” in German)
- gose (GO-zah): a salty sour wheat ale from Leipzigaltbier
- altbier (AHLT-beer): a bitter ale from the Düsseldorf region
- weissbier (VICE-beer): wheat beer
- Pilsner (pilss): an iconic Czech style, this is a light, mildly hopped beer
If you’d like the same beer again, you can point to your glass and say, “Noch ein Bier bitte” (nokh IHN beer BIT-teh), which means “Another beer, please”. Most beer halls have shared seating, so don’t be surprised if strangers sit down beside you. Just be sure to raise your glass and toast them with “Prost!” which means “Cheers!”