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Eating Out

This time around, we ate out a lot more than we did before. Our last trip, we tended to follow the Taste of Scotland scheme and stay in B&Bs offering dinner. That scheme appears to have changed quite a bit in ten years, and we found fewer and fewer options for DB&B when we started looking for a place to stay.

So, we headed out each night to find a pub or restaurant for dinner. You'd think for people used to going out all the time, it wouldn't be a daunting effort, but when you don't quite understand the rules, it can be a bit stressful.

Manners regarding eating are somewhat more formal in Scotland that here in the loosey-goosey US, so pay attention, use your napkin, don't talk with your mouth full, and keep your elbows off the table.

That pesky fork and knife things...

No one is going to bother you if you eat properly in the US fashion (fork in the right hand, swapping with the knife as necessary), but it's tempting to try the Continental style (fork in the left with tines down, knife in the right, don't swap). We were at an advantage - both Mark and I are left-handed, and normally eat with our forks in the left and use the knife with the right. We don't flip the fork over, though, and that's trick I've never really mastered. I've tried, really.

As long as you aren't handling the cutlery like a half-trained baboon, no one will bat an eye, No one, it seems, is perfect.

And yes, people do actualy eat peas on the backs of their forks. (I asked several people to demonstrate, actually, it was a rather fun evening). The trick? Squash them. They stick to the fork. Or, mix them into the ever-present potatoes.

Lunch or dinner or tea?

Depending on where you are in Scotland, the meal at middday may be lunch or dinner or supper, and 'tea' is the meal after work when you get home, which might also be called dinner or supper. Don't try to figure it out, it's as hopeless here as it is at home, I guarantee.

For some, the main (largest) meail of the day is midday (usually between 12 and 1:30 or so) and for others, the main meal is the evening meal, sometime after 6 or so. We often sailed in for an early dinner and barely missed the end of the lunch crowd. I simply started annoiuncing that "we're freakishly early..can we still get supper?", which seemed to cover all bases.


If you're heading into a pub-cum-restaurant, you usually catch the bartender's eye and let him or her know you are looking for dinner. They'll either have someone show you to a table, or tell you to find your own. Most of the time, the restaurant seating is separate from the main part of the pub.

In small cafes, it was a bit less clear, but it's usually ok to simply find a table and sit down, catching the eye of one of the servers as you do so. Obivously, if there is a table or counter, it's always ok to go there and ask. Half the time we were seated, and the other half, just waved off with a "oh, find a table, dears". We figured it was better to ask and be told to sit anywhere, than seat ourselves and be wrong.

Catch the eye of the server, but don't snap, wave, whistle, or shout. How they manage to keep everything straight, I have no idea, but they do. Make eye contact, and you'll get an affirmative response and they'll show up as soon as they can.


A lot of restaurants expect reservations -- more so than I'm used to at home, although we were often lucky simpy asking if they could possibly fit us in and we were willing to wait. We got into the fabulous [xxx] restaurant on our last night by simply showing up and they managed to squeeze us into a small table. It can't hurt to ask politely. We never made reservations outside of Edinburgh, but we also didn't pick fancy places often either.

For restuarants in the cities, call ahead if you have any questions. And if you do make a reservation -- show up on time. Promptness is highly prized here, and you'll lose your table (and the goodwill of the staff) if you are late.


If one thing makes people flip out, it's tipping. Do you? How much? You can always do what we do -- which is ask at the first place we eat out at. While many servers will tell you tipping is not required, it seems to be in practice. We were told 10% or so of the bill, as long as service charge was not already added. Make sure to check, or you'll tip twice. Servers definitely appreciate the tips in cash, even if you pay by credit card, so keep a supply of pound coins about.

Don't tip the bartender, usually -- just include them in the round ("and one for yourself...") and they will add the cost of the drink to the till for their tip (or they might actually draw a pint). We tended to drink less at the bar and more at the table, so I'm just going by what i was told.

Kate Fox's 'Passport to the Pub', which details the rules and subtleties of pub culture is definitely a must read if you want to fit in!

Buying a round

If you are in a group at a pub, and someone includes you in a round of drinks -- and they are likely to, the Scots are an amazingly friendly bunch -- absoultely return the favor. Don't shirk your turn! When it comes round to you, make sure you step up.