Thursday, September 27, 2007

Are we being served?

Last night I was in a pub. The night before I was in a pub. This is rather unusual.
It gave me an opportunity to reflect on the fact that the boozers of old London town are remorselessly changing into stripped pine gastro-pubs with computerised tills, guests beers on blackboards, staff who are young and new to the country and interesting furniture.
I don't mind this. I don't particularly miss the old ones. Except in one respect.
If you go into some old Irish fighting pub around the Angel, Islington you will find that it has been organised in order to facilitate the swift, uncomplicated dispensing of beer to thirsty men. The bar staff in these places, who are often middle-aged women, can remember, fulfill and charge for the most complicated order of drinks rapidly and accurately, without disappearing round the corner to stab hopefully at a bunch of artists impressions on the keypad of a till while humming along to the music, indulging in a little banter with colleagues or saying "do you want to start a tab?"
Given this, and the pointless range of new product options which are always being introduced ("cold Guinness or warm?", "straight glass?", "which vodka?", "large glass of wine or small?") London has turned into the slowest place in the world to get served in a bar.
You don't get this in New York, Paris or Rome. There they steamroller any confusion by just giving you what they think you should drink. I'm not against this.
I propose a new beginning. I see a new chain of "fast drink" pubs with one beer, one lager and two bottles of wine. I think we all know what it would say above the door.


  1. It would say, "Welcome to Russia."

  2. McPub? Boozer King?

    I agree: pubs with EPOS tills are much slower than the old fashioned ones, where barstaff would be able to say "that'll be six fifty, mate" as soon as they put the last drink in front of you. Factor in the time taken to ostentatiously mix up cocktails and you're guaranteed a longer wait these days.

    There's a similar point made on the letters page of this month's Word magazine regarding MP3 downloads, which are typically much poorer quality than CDs. Flashier technology does not always equate to better service for the punter.

  3. Anonymous9:51 am

    And in those pubs the name of the staff member is flashed up on the till, as they laboriously and long-windedly punch enough codes into it to launch a small WMD. Heaven forfend that they use their brain to add up the total, or some initiative in serving the growing queue any quicker. They, like so many low status workers, are turned into automatons by 'technology' with the added bonus for the corporate entity which employs them that they are being spied on as well, as every transaction is being logged. Treat a person like a brain dead robot and......

  4. without a lecture on niche marketing, the brewers can't imagine that grownups might wnat to a simple efficient friendly place to drink. They forget that our main aim in going to the pub is to enjoy ourselves and spend as much time with our friends/pint/crossword/thoughts/sandwich not with their staff, food ordering system etc. It goes without saying that "binge drinking alcopoppettes" don't like these sort of old mans pubs so maybe we should have more of them. I now really need a pint!

  5. The thing that grates with me most in those places is when you get your change with a till receipt on a little dish, in an attempt to extract a tip. If I had any thought of saying "one for yourself?", it would go right out of the window at that point.

  6. The change on dish thing is most annoying, on the continent it's asocciated with at table service and all the extra you get with it, not with the "surly flung down cheerless like it or lump it nonsense" we get in the UK. The moment they started doing it in Britain I stopped leaving tips. Also what's with spraying your table with MR sheen without asking if it's ok to do so first. Oh and why does putting nuts in bowl rather than taking them from a dolly bird festooned card entail a 300% mark up. I love pubs they just seem to be increasingly run by people who don't like them and don't like people. I fear that once they have all been sold off for cheap flats ( 16 a week and counting) or converted into over priced gastrobistros with bad food and soddy service we will all turn round and miss what we've lost.

  7. There is a large chain of pubs that begins with the letter 'W' who are, in my 'seaside town that they forgot to close down' that is notoriously slow to provide an ale for the customers. I went to teh pub on Friday: order was one pint of larger shandy (I was driving) and a pint of some guest 'real' ale. The timeit took to deliver this was approximately 15 minutes!!! And delivered with such a friendly smile too!!

  8. Anonymous5:18 pm

    It would be called "Ale Express", or "Booze Direct", and it would offer "Best-In-Class Drinking Solutions"

  9. And why do even the scuzziest pubs serve Thai food these days? There's a real bruisers' boozer at Kings' Cross which now boasts a Thai menu, very much in keeping with the drinkers, a ruddy-faced, potato-nosed crowd (and that's just the women). Also, why is bottle-green the default wall colour for any gastropub?
    This morning, my boss was telling me about a nice, traditional pub in Brighton called the Coach and Horses. It got all gentrified and was turned into a bar called Couch - Jesus. Now, it's been refitted as, er, a nice, traditional pub, and is now called The Rat and Trumpet. Leave our Old Man's Pubs alone.

  10. The Thai food thing is fantastic, isn't it? The pub that I used to use in my student days was called The Cock. Now it does Thai food and it's called The Cock and Dragon. Mind you, the whole history of English catering is full of tides like these, isn't it? Somebody told me the other day that the building opposite Kings Cross has a lighthouse on the top to indicate that it used to be an oyster bar back in the days when this was working man's fare and the customers couldn't read the signs.

  11. The gentrification of pubs really pisses me off. There was a real working mans boozer (or work dodgers boozer) in the Irish town that I grew up in called 'The Shambles'. If you went in there chances were that you'd be let out the side door just in time for breakfast by Tony, the owner. He retired and sold up. It has now been 're-launched' as 'Chocolate Bar' (geddit?). A pub so devoid of charm that there is a constant danger that an atmosphere might break out. To top all of this off the new owners have opened a nightclub upstairs called 'Renaissance'. The publicity blurf for this s*** hole says this: 'The Nightclub themed on Venice's many Renaissance wonders'. I bet that the patrons of the real renaissance are chuffed to bits that all their hard cash went into funding a hole like this. And how long does it take to get a drink in this place - about 30 mins............

    When I lived in London there was a pub near my house with no TV at all, a plentiful supply of what Mark Ellen calls 'wooly ales' and a hand made sign that said: 'Please switch off your mobile phone. This is a pub, not a phone box'

  12. Two more pub name suggestions:

    Incidentally, I've only just climbed aboard the Word Podcast experience, and have been enjoying them en masse while driving to and from work this week.
    In future, please could you edit in some kind of a warning each time an ambulance or police car is about to scream past Word Towers -which appears to be almost constantly - as I keep pulling over to the side of the road to let them pass, and it's starting to get a bit silly.

  13. "This morning, my boss was telling me about a nice, traditional pub in Brighton called the Coach and Horses."

    I used to work in the Coach & Horses! We only ever had four or five regular cusomers being located at the "wrong end" of The Lanes.

    One of whom was called Alex. He'd been left four grand in a grandparent's will and had decided to drink it all.

    He would arrive at opening time (both sessions) and stay until closing.
    The only thing I ever saw him spend money on, other than booze, was the jukebox.

    He'd stick his quid in and play "Mick's Up!" by The Style Council five times in a row.

    To this day I hate that tune.

  14. "Grumpy Old Gits Welcome"?

  15. Anonymous1:39 pm

    David, much as I like the apocryphal story about the oyster bar lighthouse, I am afraid that you will find that the lighthouse structure is a remnant of some sort of evangelical establishment. So we have been told by Robert ' I'm London, me' Elms.

  16. I've gone off pubs now you can't smoke. But that's just me. I'm never going out again.

  17. Marketing innit. That till's not there just to let them employ innumerate idiots. It's collecting stats, so the marketing nerds at the brewery can slice them up and say "it looks like people are moving away from premium lagers to lower margin brands at around ten o'clock on Tuesdays" or whatever.

    Big business runs these places. It's not about getting you your drink quickly or even making you happy or comfortable -- it's about converting some square-footage of expensive leased property into money as rapidly as possible. I'm sure if there was a better way to do it, they'd be on it.

    What with the "long tail" and all, a pub that works the way you want probably exists... find it and go there... although you might find that your mates prefer the mainstream. Alas, most pubs are like that because it works.

  18. Anonymous3:11 pm

    Most people of your age and ilk, David, have moved to the country. And this is one reason why.

  19. A few years ago I went to a pub in Gloucestershire that only served one type of beer (a real ale) and pickled onions. It was marvellous, but I've forgotten the name.