Shopping and dining in England
Whether you are on base or off, the UK boasts a variety of restaurant and shopping venues you will want to check out. Compare commissary products to the goods found at local markets, learn how to use your American credit card and VAT forms, and frequent the local pubs for more enjoyable shopping and dining experiences in England.
AAFES offers different provisions at each base. RAFs Alconbury, Menwith Hill, Mildenhall and Lakenheath have Exchanges. Additional facilities are located at each base, such as food courts, mini malls, barber shops and dry cleaners. At RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall, Reel Time Theaters feature the latest Hollywood films.
At DECA commissaries, you’ll find your favorite brand names for essential household products and groceries. Commissaries are located at RAFs Alconbury, Croughton, Lakenheath, Menwith Hill and Mildenhall.
Many towns have market days. Vendors will set up booths and sell a range of items from clothes to food. Market days vary by town, so check city websites to find out their market days.
Availability of goods
While AAFES has several locations in England, some of the stores are smaller and may not have everything you need. However, almost any item you could want is available on the local economy. Tesco and Sainsbury are two popular stores and have general goods and food.
American credit cards will work in England, but they are slightly different than what the English are used to. The most popular card type in the U.K. is one with a chip in it, called a “chip and pin.” American swipe cards, however, are usually accepted.
The Value Added Tax (VAT) in England is similar to state sales tax in the U.S. The standard rate in the U.K. is 20 percent, though some items have a reduced tax and many are not taxed, including some food and children’s clothing items. Unlike state sales tax, however, stores display prices inclusive of VAT.
Servicemembers and families are exempt from this tax on items costing 100 pounds or more through a VAT Relief Program provided on bases. The program requires that the seller gives you information, such as an invoice, which you take with you to the local VAT office. Once there, you pay the VAT office the price of the item and a small processing fee (based on military rank); then the office will cut you a check to take back to the seller. Check with your local VAT office for more information.
Sellers are not obliged to participate in the program, so you may want to talk to whomever you are buying from before assuming that you can have the VAT deducted.
England is famous for pubs, and you will have no problem finding one, even in the smallest of villages. Pub fare is relatively standardized, ranging from burgers to cooked sausages and mashed potatoes. Typically, you will pay at the bar for your food and drinks before the meal.
Aside from pubs, tmany types of food are available, particularly in metropolitan areas such as London.
Tipping is not generally expected in pubs, cafés and other casual or fast food establishments. At restaurants with sit-down service, anticipated gratuity varies, though 10 percent is a good rule of thumb. In larger cities, you may find a service charge included on your bill. In London, a service charge of 10 to 12.5 percent is common.