Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Pub courtesies

    I have read a few posts recently by Tandleman highlighting the rather abstract view of politeness and unselfish pub behaviour demonstrated in some London hostelries latest here. I have noticed however that this is a widespread malaise, and throughout the UK people seem to have quite forthright views on pub etiquette and the rules defining the relationship between customer and staff.

One comment on the post struck me in particular :

"I'm physically incapable of leaving a pub without trying to catch the eye of someone behind the bar to say cheerio - it's an instinctive reaction, like looking right when crossing the road. But on this count alone, in the last ten years of pub-going in London, I've seen a big drop in the number of bar staff looking up to see if you're leaving." (Gueuzel)

This is a joyous affirmation of my own outlook in terms of pubgoer and pub staff interaction - an all too often encountered blight on an otherwise brilliant visit which can be so easily avoided. Here is my slant on the attitude of barstaff and the role of customers.


Lets start by, as only Beefy must, adding a caveat. Like the role of being a bus driver or school teacher, I wouldn't want the job of working behind a bar (anymore). Not least because, like bus drivers and teachers, your job entails dealing with emotionally undeveloped, irrational, aggressive idiots on a regular basis. (please note, the above image is illustrative, any resemblance to a bar you might have been stood at is co-incidental, and any description of customers above is unrelated to anyone accidentally featured in the above picture, or actually there at the time.... )

So, caveats in place, its useful to remember that for a small number of usually louder punters, being an absolute cock is a behavioural prerequisite, leaving staff disheartened, annoyed, and immune to the needs of customers. So its important to think about what staff might be expecting from you.

However, pubs aren't always rammed, or indeed filled with ignorant clientele. Most of my shitty politeness experiences have come in quiet pubs. If you are one of only a couple or indeed the only person in a pub, being ignored or not speaking to the member of staff seems particularly rude.

Reasons (for) Greetings

The thing is, as Gueuzel points out, I too find it almost impossible to not engage with barstaff on leaving, even if only to give a nod and facial affirmation, or to say "cheers" or "see you". Weirdly, sometimes when I leave I find that I am willing even to wait for the reappearance of the barstaff who served me just to give my farewell. This is particularly prevalent in pubs I rarely visit.

But why?

Well, firstly, its because I used to work behind a bar. Mainly this was in a real ale off license and at occasional beer festivals. Admittedly I didn't really find many problems at the shop, in fact it was a great place to meet remarkable, interesting and inspiring  people from different backgrounds who shared a love of ale. Here, one of the great joys for me was talking with customers, not even always to find out what they wanted to buy. Just taking the time to hear what they had to say. That engagement is something that I find I miss when I am on the other side of the bar.

The other reason is probably my Dad. I spent much of my formative drinking years in pubs with Wee Fatha, certainly when I tried my first real ale, and definitely on my first visits to far away pubs. His contribution to the pubgoer and barstaff experience is that he always says, sometimes in a single conjoined word, "oritethanks" when he leaves any pub, whether he has enjoyed his visit or not. That's a strong influence that I am glad I haven't shook off. (the strange thing is, he used to be a bus driver - so between us we have a strong shared knowledge of good, and bad, customer interaction)

Mainly, and crucially though, its because saying hello and goodbye is just polite. Whether you are serving or slaking.

Absence of welcome

Because the other problem is that no matter how determined the customer might be to maintain the two way exchange of warm words, some pubs just don't have a human touch. Customers are numbers, pints sold or meals masticated; the staff only look at the till, not your face.  It seems that interest in the cursory hello and goodbye and the conscious treaty of civility between barkeep and barfly is waining fast.

Personally, I fully intend to keep on being polite, but every now and again I come upon and up against a hostelry so devoid of customer appreciation that its difficult to know how to react. So I shall leave this subject with a quote from my first ever post about a pub where pleasantries seemed gratuitous and indeed engagement of any kind seemed abnormal :

"Heading further into Sussex the level of hospitality dropped. Deep in Winnie the Pooh country, The Hatch at Colemans Hatch was a stark contrast to the New Inn. This unfriendly restaurant stocks a few beers to sell to its valued food customers and had no proviso for either welcoming or seating financially unrewarding drinkers. Squinting in pretentious near darkness at the pumps we selected Larkin’s traditional and more Harvey’s before finding a much sought after seat in the garden. The beer was fine, but when my Dad took the glasses back (as a courteous person would) the bar person looked at him with derision, and then glared at us when we said goodbye. Judging by the prices I am sure that the pub can easily afford to alienate drinkers, but it’s disappointing that financial demands should affect visitors to that extent."

Its time we re-established the pubgoer/pub worker relationship. Saying hello and goodbye isn't difficult for any of us, after all...

Wee Beefy


  1. If passing the bar on my way out I will always attempt to say thank you - unless there's nothing to say thank you for.

    Putting the boot on the other foot, though, it always seems rude to me for customers not to return their empty glasses to the bar if it's practical to do so.

    I never quite get saying thank you to bus drivers - surely the bus driver is simply doing his job and hasn't extended any particular courtesy to you at an individual level.

    1. I know what you mean about the bus driver thing, but, erm, I always do - and I can't explain why. Unless it seems polite to finish the "experience" with a salutation or recognition, epecially in that pause between rising from your seat and the bus stopping.

      And am glad you rate taking glasses back aswell. Our lass worked for years behind the bar in the Fat cat and started her pub career as a glass collector so always tidies up after us, even stacking plates if we have eaten in a pub (you can be too helpful I find).

      Mind you, if no-one comes to clear the table in a expedient amount of time we tend to lose patience very quickly. ..

  2. Ooh, I've ranted before about CAMRA members not taking their glasses back.

    When I'm out having a meal with folks we always stack our plates when we've finished - if nothing else, it makes more room on the table :-)

    1. For beers...good point.

      Staff really do appreciate you taking the glasses back as well. Less time sent collecting vessels leaves more for pulling your next pint of course.