Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you been to any bars lately?

Do you usually open a tab or pay as you go?

If you have heard a phrase like this, then you may wonder what exactly it means in English.

We’re going to look at what it means to open or close a tab, and other phrases to use in a bar setting.

We have a listener question about what it means to “open a tab.”

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Hi girls, how are you doing?

I’m Keisuke and I have been living in Connecticut, USA.

I have been listening your podcast since I came here. It helped me a lot because I have been able to learn words, phrases, and expressions to connect with native speakers. I was not able to study these things at all when I was in Japan.

Now I am really into craft beer. There are many breweries even in my town, so I visit many kinds of breweries every weekend.

I had an issue when I ordered a beer recently. The staff asked me “do you want to open a tab?”. I couldn’t understand what he said at the time but he rephrased it in an easy way.

In the end, I provided my credit card and I could order a couple of beers without paying each time.

I didn’t know the phrase “open/close one’s tab”. Is it only used in a bar? Do you have any other phrases which are useful in a bar?

I would be happy if you share so I can continue to enjoy fantastic craft beer in the US!

Thank you!

Understanding This Common Scenario

This is a great question because it’s all about a scenario that you may encounter often in the US.

This is a great American culture episode.

Our listener will never forget this because this phrase came about through EXPERIENCE!

So let’s take a look at this to truly understand what we’re dealing with here.

To open and close a tab is typically only used in a bar.

To open a tab-you order a drink, usually at the bar, and instead of paying for it then, the bar keeps your credit card.

The credit card is held and charged until you are done and ready to complete the transaction–this leads us to the next phrase.

To close a tab-when you pay the bill from the credit card that you have had them hold, and then you leave after this transaction.

Why open a tab?

If you know you are going to have more than one drink!

If you aren’t sure, you could also just open one in case and decide later.

If you know you only want one, you probably don’t want to open a tab.

Other Related Phrases To Use

There are other phrases that you can easily use in a bar setting.

You want to know these so that you can start to practice them and see how they feel to you.

Try using some of these phrases so that you know how to communicate in a bar setting, and you’ll find that they make great conversation starters too.

“Can I open a tab?” : It’s to the point and allows you to enjoy drinks without having to keep paying as you go. It’s also very common in a bar setting as people keep that tab open throughout the evening.

“I’d like to close out my tab. It’s under ______ (your name)” : It’s a great way to end the evening and fit into this setting. You opened the tab and then you have to close it and pay it before you head out for the evening.

“It’s okay-I’ll just pay as I go” : if you are asked to open a tab and aren’t sure if you want one or more drinks. You can just pay as you go and it’s easy enough to deal with if you’re not staying or drinking for that long.

“What’s on tap?” : You want to order a beer that they have which is not in a bottle. Most bars have several different beers on tap that you can order for a draft version.

“What draft beers do you have?” : Very similar to what’s on tap but you are talking about the actual draft options. This applies to any beer that they have which is not in a bottle.

What bottle beers do you have?” : This is just the opposite because you are asking about what bottled options are available. This is usually a larger selection than the draft beers.

“Do you have any drink specials?” : Many bars offer specials or drinks at a discount. This can be particularly true during a designated time of day such as happy hour, when drink specials are quite typical.

“What are your happy hour specials for today?” : This is that designated time of day when the drink specials are plentiful. They may offer quite a few different drinks at a discounted rate.

“Top shelf” : This is the best of the best in terms of alcohol choices. These are the most expensive and therefore highest quality liquors available, and they make for good drinks.

All of these phrases are great if you are trying to communicate in a bar setting, so practice using them to get more comfortable.


It’s great to think of what specific language is used in specific places.

Think of when you most use English–think of your hobbies, where you go, and what you like to talk about.

Decide what to learn that way because it’s educational and fun too!

If you can cater the language lessons to subjects that motivate you, then it makes the learning process more effective and enjoyable.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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