It will probably not come as any great surprise if I tell you that I spend a reasonable amount of time in the pub. Not so much time that I’ve become one of those people who virtually lives there, who has their own stool, a special glass behind the bar and insists on regaling the poor long-suffering barmaid with the same three lame jokes at least a dozen times a night and laughing uproariously each time; but enough time that I think I broadly understand the rules of pub etiquette.
Over the past week the Gloucester Blues Festival has lured me into the city’s pubs far more frequently than I am used to, especially on ‘school nights’. This means that I have spent much of the past week at work stumbling about in a half-asleep daze (although I don’t think anyone has noticed the difference) and the suffering of my liver is only matched by the suffering of my wallet.
All in all an excellent week then, and high praise should be heaped upon the stalwarts of the Gloucester music scene for making it so good: the Café Rene, the Cross Keys and the Pig Inn the City.
But I digress. The thing with events like the Blues Festival is that it brings out people who do not usually frequent the city’s pubs. This is, of course, a good thing: it is good for the city and it is good for the landlords who often struggle to turn a profit in these cash strapped times. However, these people do not understand the unwritten rules of pub etiquette and they can be bloody annoying.
At the most basic level, what you find is an increase in the number of people milling about aimlessly and getting in the way as you attempt to move from the bar laden with drinks. You would think that normal life would equip them with the good sense to move aside when they see a slightly inebriated person with several brimming and precariously balanced glasses heading in their direction, but it seems this is not the case. Nor do these people seem to respond in the expected manner to the familiar cry of ‘excuse me mate’ as you try to weave past without pouring your precious beer down their backs.
But it is at the bar when their lack of savvy is most apparent. Perhaps the most obvious give-away of the infrequent pub visitor is a phenomenon most often observed in groups of colleagues on a works outing. This is where one of the group, most often a slightly bossy or organised looking woman, will approach the bar and whip out a notebook or scrap of paper on which she has efficiently written down everyone’s order.
Oh yes, this may be efficient, and it may result in everyone getting what they actually asked for, but where is the sense of adventure? No self-respecting pub regular would ever resort to a written list. No, pub etiquette dictates that you attempt to memorise what everyone wants and then, inevitably, when you get to the bar you forget and just get everyone whatever you’re having. It is also customary to forget at least one person, traditionally the one who asked for a coke.
And just to digress again for a moment: when you ask for a coke or other non-alcoholic beverage, why do bar staff always ask if you want ice and lemon? It’s a miracle if you remember to order the drink at all; the expectation that you have had the foresight to enquire as to whether your non drinking friend would like ‘ice and a slice’ is frankly preposterously over optimistic.
So, to get back to the point: your list writer may give themselves away as an amateur, but at least they make efficient use of the bar-staff’s time. This cannot be said of the worst offenders against pub etiquette: the bar ditherers. These people often tend to be a bit posh, and maybe their behaviour is deemed acceptable in the more up-market Cotswold pubs and wine-bars, but not so in a busy city pub.
I encountered a good example of this breed in the Pig Inn the City on Tuesday night. Picture the scene: it is just after 9.00pm and the band is setting up in the back of the pub. The bar is four deep in people desperate to get a drink before the music starts and the three bar staff are running about like mad things trying to accommodate them. Then a posh bloke breaks through to the front of the bar and catches the harassed barmaid’s eye.
“Hello there,” he says, “may I enquire as to what beers you have available?”
The barmaid looks despairingly at the line of fonts before her and the plainly visible blackboard listing the names and ABVs of all the ales. She points them out.
“Oh I say,” He says, “there’s rather a lot of choice isn’t there. Can you tell me which of these is a nice light beer?”
Luckily this is the Pig and the bar staff know their stuff. She recommends one to him. The posh bloke turns to his companion:
“Well that sounds jolly nice, don’t you think?” he says, “I think I’ll go for one of those, what do you think?”
Some discussion ensues about the various merits of this beer or that beer as the barmaid looks on helplessly and the more pub-savvy regulars begin to get restless at the delay. Apparently blissfully unaware of all of this, the posh blokes finally make a decision and the barmaid gratefully disappears off to pour the beers. She returns a short while later and puts them on the bar.
“Will there be anything else?” she asks hopefully, and is clearly crestfallen as it becomes obvious that there will. Despite the ample opportunity afforded to him, this is clearly the first thought that posh bloke has given to any further drinks and he turns to a posh horsey looking lady behind him.
“What would you like my dear?” he asks
“Hmmm?” she replies, breaking from her conversation with her friend.
“Oooh, I don’t know, what shall I have?”
At this point there is a palpable tension around the bar. What will you have? What will you bloody have? You’ve been stood here at the bar for about 15 minutes and this is the first thought that you’ve given to what you will have? What the bloody hell did you think you were here for? It’s a miracle that no-one got punched frankly, and she continued to push her luck…
“What… shall… I… have?” she repeated slowly. “I know, I think I’ll have a Bicardi and Coke…”
The barmaid scuttles away to fetch it, but is stopped in her tracks.
“No, wait, I think I’ll have a… oh, what is it called…?”
“A vodka?” suggest posh bloke helpfully. “Gin? Malibu?”
“Yes, Malibu, that’s it, I’ll have a Malibu and Coke”
Thankfully, by this time I had managed to get served by someone else and left the bar. With difficulty, as these stupid people didn’t seem to realise that they needed to move out of the way as I tried to get past with my beer.
All of this got me to thinking; perhaps I should start a course on bar etiquette. It could save a lot of people’s blood pressure and, just possibly, someone’s life.