Given that Czech beer is world famous, and Czech beer consumption is the highest per capita in the world, it is little wonder that the pub is an integral part of social life here. Regardless whether you’re drinking in Cafe Slavia or in an out of the way village establishment, there are some habits which are fairly common.
One great aspect of the Czech pub is table service. Turn up, take a seat and wait to be served. Your order will be marked on a small piece of paper which is left on the table for the duration of your stay. It’s a good idea not to lose this as some pubs will charge a flat, usually exorbitant, fee. All the orders for the table will be written on to the one slip unless separate one is requested.
When it comes to seating, the first choice would be smoking or non-smoking, providing the pub designates areas as such. One unofficial demarcation zone is for the regulars. In so-called štamgast (regular) pubs, there may be a table or two which is exclusively for the regulars. No laws enforce this. However, you will get some strange, even hostile, looks should you sit at one – as I discovered at my local. In more modern pubs, especially in Prague, this custom is practically unheard of.
Once the waiter has taken your order it is polite to put the coaster ready on the table. Asking around, I got a few different opinions. Some people said that they put the coaster down because it’s expected. Others said they would expect the waiter to do it. Also, placing the coaster serves as a way of announcing your order, at least to an observant waiter.
Before drinking the first round, saying cheers (na zdraví) is pretty common. When doing so, it is important to look the other person in the eyes, and local superstition dictates you should not cross over the arms two people in the process of touching glasses. Once glasses are touched it’s customary to touch the bottom of the glass against the table, firmly but lightly. Traditionally, you don’t touch glasses for subsequent rounds, but you will with any late comers.
It is said in some guidebooks that another beer will be brought once the waiter sees that you’ve finished the one you’re on. Nowadays, they usually ask. From my own experience from drinking around the country, I can think of only one pub which automatically brought beer. If I didn’t want it, I refused it. A Czech colleague of mine said he also experienced this only once and it was in a small town.
What is a big no-no, is to pour the remains of the earlier beer into the fresh beer. This is considered disgusting. It is so disgusting in fact that when I asked different people what their response was, most had to answer hypothetically. They simply had never seen anyone do such a thing.
When it comes to paying, this is usually done at the table. It can be together (dohromady) or separately (zvlášť). In the last case, the waiter adds up what you tell him. Tipping is not compulsory, though it seems standard practice in Prague and other larger cities. Usually, it’s enough to round up to the nearest five or ten, a bit more if it’s a large bill. Given the generally low wages of service staff, tipping will be appreciated. However, there’s no guarantee it will go to your waiter as the money is usually handled by the head waiter and not the people who serve.
Personally, I’ve never known anyone to refuse a tip, but my colleague mentioned above said that in his village pub his tip was flatly refused. The waitress told him that they do not do that sort of thing there.
Hopefully, this will prepare some of you for your first trip to a Czech pub. Na zdraví!