What is a Public House
Pubs Discussion

What Is a Public House?


In the UK the very question of What Is a Public House has been debated for centuries with the answer lying somewhere in a mixture of historical data, current liquor licencing law and public perception.

In truth, whilst the definition of a Public House used to be black and white, over the years the lines have been blurred so much that without holding a legal degree it’s just about impossible to identify exactly what constitutes an establishments right to be called a Public House.

The reality is that there is really no strict definition for deducing the exact meaning of What is a Public House – however, there are a number of characteristics one can look at of each establishment that serves alcohol that would categorise those places as being Public Houses..

Public House Meaning

A Public House is defined online by The Free Dictionary as a proper noun and it simply states the following:

public house
chiefly British
A place, such as a tavern or bar, that is licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

The modern reality of the term, however, is not so simple in this 21st Century, where there are actually many factors that need to be taken into account by any establishment to legally define it as a Pub or Public House.

Meaning Of Public House

Public House History

There were no specific historical names for a public house in antiquity, with original establishments being known as Taverns, Alehouses and Inns but there were actually many of these establishments that had no name at all and relied on reputation alone for patronage.

Whilst pubs as we know them have surely been around for centuries the term Public House itself seems to have first popped up in the mid-17th Century as a term to identify the simple difference between private houses that may have provided drinks to the public and houses that were actually licensed to serve alcoholic drinks to the public.

Public House Definition Legal

The current most recent law in the UK in regards to defining an establishment as a Public House or Pub includes many factors such as, but not limited to, the following list:

  • The main activity of the premises i.e. is it used exclusively or primarily for the sale of alcohol? This is often deduced by Government Standards by identifying the percentage of each establishments takings relating to alcohol vs food and other drinks.
  • Whether you can visit the establishment solely to simply drink at the bar.
  • If tables are set for meals or left bare for anyone to sit.
  • The aesthetics and lay-out of the premises in question and what specific adaptations have been made to said premises.
  • Whether or not food is ordered at the bar or at the table.
  • Does the premises have a menu for consumption at a bar or does it offer only table service.
  • The proportion of alcoholic drinks offered vs non-alcoholic and food items.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the recently retired chair of the Assured Food Standards (operating under the Red Tractor quality mark) has been quoted in 2015 as saying the following in regards to the legal definition of the public house in the UK:

We all think that we know a pub when we see one and we think we know the difference between a pub and a fish and chip shop, but increasing food consumption in pub, gastropubs and so on has made separation by legal definition more complex”

So it seems not even the UK Government can perfectly define the meaning of What is a Public House.

What is a Pub

What is a Pub?

A Public House (Pub) Is:

  1. A venue that is open to the public without requiring membership or residency.
  2. A venue that serves alcoholic draught beer or cider without requiring food be consumed.
  3. A venue that has at least one indoor area that is not laid out specifically for meals
  4. A venue that permits drinks to be bought at a bar (i.e. not only table service)

In settling on this definition the team at Londons Pubs have aligned their thoughts and reasoning on the topic almost exactly with CAMRA – the UK’s premier independent voluntary organisation dedicated to all things related to British Pubs and Clubs.

We’ll endeavour to examine the difference between Public Houses and Free Houses in more detail in a future blog entry as well as our thoughts on Pubs vs Bars and much more!

We hope you enjoyed the read and our version of describing the meaning of What is a Pub, and if you did, we’d love to hear from you with a comment below.

Thanks for joining us on this LondonsPubs.com journey on our never-ending quest to find the perfect pint. Stay Safe, Stay Happy, Enjoy Life!

English Poet, painter and printmaker William Blake provides us with Today’s Quote in which he says “A good local pub has much in common with a church, except that a pub is warmer and there’s more conversation.”


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *