Saturday, 13 April 2013

Abuse of hospitality?

Quite a few pubs, especially those with beer gardens, have signs saying “Only food and drink purchased on the premises may be consumed here”. While that may come across as a touch officious, the signs wouldn’t be there unless there was perceived to be a problem. Nobody would dream of walking into a restaurant, sitting down and unpacking their sandwiches and thermos flask, but there seems to be something about the term “public house” that leads some people to believe that the facilities are there to be used free of charge.

In this post I quoted a comment on a newspaper article complaining about ramblers who made the maximum use of the pub’s warmth and comfort for the minimum outlay. There is even a small sub-set of ramblers who seem to think it’s OK to eat their packed lunch in pub gardens. I also posted here about a customer who sat in a pub and read a paper for half an hour without buying a drink, and one commenter said that the old-school licensee would have spotted that within a couple of minutes and asked whether they did intend to make a purchase.

I know of one busy market-town pub where a group of middle-aged women were in the habit of meeting up one day a week and basically using the place as a social club. Yes, they did buy a few coffees, but certainly less than one each, and took up half the lounge throughout the lunchtime session, squeezing out other customers. Eventually the licensee barred them on the grounds that they weren’t spending enough money.

I’ve sometimes seen groups of young people meet up in a pub and sit around a table with several of them not having bought any drinks. And I’m a member of a non beer related society which has its annual meeting in a pub. For some of them I suspect it may be about the only occasion in the year they actually venture into a pub except when specifically going for a meal, and the basic etiquette that you buy at least a small glass of diet coke seems to elude them.

In this day and age, licensees can’t afford to be too picky about who they let use their pubs, and if a pub is quiet it isn’t really a problem if a group of customers are taking up space but spending very slowly. On the other hand, if the pub is busy you really don’t want large groups taking up your best seats and nursing halves for a couple of hours. Licensees have to be careful that they don’t come across as heavy-handed, which is much less acceptable now than it once was, but to my mind they have the right to expect people who are making use of their heating, lighting, seating and hospitality to put a reasonable amount of money across the bar.

And I haven’t even got on to the subject of non-customers using the pub toilets. To be honest, in these days of widespread public toilet closures, pubs would generate much goodwill if they said that non-customers were allowed to use their toilets on payment of 20p. In the past year I have spotted one pub in Tewkesbury doing precisely that. Although, if there’s a Spoons, there's normally little problem in just walking in and using the loos anyway.


  1. You missed out the other vital issue... people who go into a pub to watch a football game and don't buy any drinks. I see this a lot. They don't even buy a soft drink.

    A lot of pubs in Norwich that have beer gardens have a massive issue in the summer with hippies going in, not buying anything and drinking their cheap cider while juggling.

    There are plenty of parks around, why can't they do it there?

  2. Good point - as I tend to avoid pubs where big matches are being screened I hadn't really spotted that one.

    Re hippies, I understand smoking weed in pub gardens can also be an issue.

  3. Our local 'spoons (by no means one of the better examples of the chain) has a sign attached to a lampost almost directly opposite its doorway and pointing to it which reads "Community Toilets" - which is intended to reflect and advertise an act of generosity by said establishment, but has also, given the long established reputation of said establishment, lead to suggestions locally "that at last, it is being described as what it is".

  4. Twenty_Rothmans13 April 2013 at 17:37

    The people who use my local's amenities as a public toilet are never going to ever darken its doors as a paying customer - if you know what I mean. Keeping toilets clean in a pub is labour-intensive, and when they are fouled your regular customers will be annoyed. It's only reasonable that a small tribute is paid.

    A sensible solution to the "We've brought packed lunches" conundrum would be paying the equivalent of the corkage you pay at a BYO restaurant (sadly rare in the UK) - provided that they are no precluding paying diners their table.

  5. It's sadly impossible in most places now to find a toilet that doesn't belong to some business or other. Basically councils force us to use pub or shop toilets, so maybe they should pay the owners for providing a service local authorities can no longer be bothered with?

  6. Martin, Cambridge13 April 2013 at 17:51

    I think the 20p suggestion is excellent; did the Tewkesbury pub ask for payment at the bar ?

    More generally, I rarely see people abusing pub facilities if I'm honest, but do agree that the tendency for some pubs to look like cafes with alcohol and free wi-fi might is a big factor where that is the case.

  7. @Chris - some councils operate a "community toilet scheme" whereby they pay businesses for opening their facilities to the public. There's much to be said for this (it's certainly better than no public toilets at all) but it's useless unless well signposted. A sticker in the window is not enough. A few years ago I used the facilities in the Spital of Glenshee Hotel in Scotland, on the very long and lonely road between Blairgowrie and Braemar, which were signposted under this kind of scheme.

    "did the Tewkesbury pub ask for payment at the bar ?"

    Don't know, just saw the sign outside. I assume they did. The need to ask would stop virtually all of those who would abuse pub toilets.

    Tbh, the abuse of hospitality isn't something I see on a regular basis or a major problem for pubs, but it does happen.

  8. You go in a pub, you buy a drink. End of.

  9. RE: The 20p Suggestion, I remember in Hamburg in 2008 most bars will have a guy on the toilet door taking 50cents for you to go to the toilet and he gives you a token which you can then cash in for 50 cents off your next drink.

  10. Seems a bit bad that, especially as your visit to the bog has been directly caused by buying their product in the first place. Maybe they should give you a bog token with each beer purchased.

  11. @Nate Dawg
    This hippy - was he drinking cheap cider AND juggling at the same time ?
    That's some trick.

  12. There's no excuse for this "freeloading" behaviour. I remember 3 years ago, my son and I were having a drink, plus bite to eat, in Penderel's Oak - a JDW outlet in Holborn, London. (Not one of the company's best outlets, but it suited our purposes at the time). We were in the downstairs "cellar bar", and occupying the comforatble sofas a few tables across from where we were sitting, was a group of a dozen or so girls. Whilst not wishing to stereo-type them, I would say they were almost definitely students.

    What struck us most about this group was, that apart from one or two, none of them had drinks in front of them. Furthermore, during the time it took us to eat our meal, plus a couple of drinks, none of this group made any attempt to go and order themselves drinks, food or indeed anything from the bar.

    They were a bit on the loud side, as groups os young girls can oftern be, but I wouldn't hold it against them. What I did find offensive waas their "taking the piss" attitude, using the pub as a comfortable base to meet up for a natter but without bothering to purchase anything there.

    I mentioned their behaviour to one of the bar staff as we were leaving. I don't know whether anything was done, but suspect not, knowing the reluctance of many bar-staff (particularly younger ones), to get involved in potentially confrontational situations.

  13. Such a feeling of entitlement is not the prerogative of groups of young girls or selfish football fans. Our folk club sometimes books "name" guests who attract people who don't regularly come. While most people do buy a drink, there is a small minority who come in for the act and don't spend a penny at the bar. Our admission prices are extremely low as we have virtually no overheads (no staff wages and we pay nothing for the room), so there is no good reason not to buy at least one drink, especially as tea and coffee are available. After all, they don't charge us for the room on the reasonable assumption that they get some sales out of it.

  14. Maybe if you're charging for admission people feel absolved of the need to buy a drink, especially if in a private room rather than the main body of the pub.

  15. Perhaps, but most people who go to folk clubs know the score, i.e. that you get the room for nothing in return for bar sales. They also know they'd pay at least double at an arts centre.

  16. Nev, a few yeara ago, whilst walking the South Downs Way, my companion and I had booked in for an overnight stay at a pub in West Sussex. It was a smashing place, with a high standard of and reasonably-priced accommodation, good range of beer and excellent food.

    The friendly landlord informed us on arrival that the pub was hosting a "Poetry Reading" that evening in the back conservatory, which we were welcome to attend, should we wish to. After finishing our meal, which was washed down with several pints of beer, we stuck our noses in for a while, just to see (and hear) what was going on.

    Without wishing to be too judgemental, the group conducting the reading struck us as a real pretentious bunch, who took themselves far too seriously. What we couldn't help noticing though was that most of their followers were either nursing solitary halves of bitter, which they made last all evening or, were not drinking at all!

    At breakfast the next morning, we asked mine host how he thought last night's poetry reading had gone? With a wry smile he confided he wouldn't be holding another. As we had noticed, this group had hardly spent a fortune at the bar and he too seemed less than impressed by their vocal renditions. My friend jokingly said that if he could have remembered all the words, he would have stood up and recited "Eskimo Nell", to which the landlord responded "I wish you had!" Happy days!

  17. Crikey Mudge. For a so called libertarian you don't half come across as a disgruntled social conservative half the time. But as the smoking ban is here to stay and with each passing year looks a good thing, I suspect you need something other than the smoking ban to bang on about.

    What is it with you and rules of pub etiquette? Why don’t you publish a full guide to Mudges rules of sitting in overpriced dumpy pub? You must take your empties to the bar. You cannot bring in your kids; you must buy a perfunctory diet coke if you want to have a shit.

    You don’t own a pub, what the people at the next table do isn’t your problem. The people that run it can choose for themselves whether how they deal with low or zero margin punters.

  18. Martin, Cambridge15 April 2013 at 14:43

    Another excellent idea, CL; CAMRA could publish a little pamphlet (edited by Curmudgeon or Roger protz) on pub etiquette, which we could give to 16 year-olds along with their Gideons Bible when they leave school.

  19. From the comments we can see there is no easy solution to the problem and not even a problem according to some. The toilet tokens are a sound idea. Tobacco smoke and the sight of smoking would get rid of a lot of these people and groups, some of whom were probably initially encouraged by desperate publicans. The fact is, smokers are on average more cavalier with their health and more likely to enjoy the feeling of being a little drunk. A pub can't make money if it's customers don't actually like drinking. You wouldn't make much money from a lap dancing club were people aroused by the dancers banned.

  20. I would be interested in a copy, Martin. But it really is the just another form of the lack of human compassion that Mudgie often demonstrates. It’s those other vulgarians that that are the problem, not me. They don’t contribute. They take up space and don’t spend. Do they “infest” pubs like vermin I wonder? A nasty word Mudge likes to use occasionally:

    I have rarely seen people in pubs not drinking and when I have I see no reason to resent their presence. It’s there look out. If the police invite you to a neighbourhood watch meeting in the back room of a pub instead of church or school hall are you obliged to buy a drink? If you pay to see a band, must you buy a drink? If you are caught short and need the toilet and spot a nearby pub, must you buy a drink? I buy plenty of drinks in pubs, but see no reason to buy one if I don’t want one. I have on many occasions popped in a pub & used the toilet. I might pop back on other occasion if the place looks nice.
    I have never ate my own food in a pub but seen students eat chips in the beer gardens of pubs without a food offer. So what? It is allowed to bring a picnic in larger Bavarian beer gardens, but the pokey 2 benches out the back by the bins & cancer spreaders is much more the British style.

    If you own a pub then you’d like customers that spend money, that’s a given. You might want to be nice to those that don’t because you’d believe they will become profitable customers. It’s why banks give money to students. You can also kick them out. Take your pick. It’s your future.

    I can think of 1 pub with a sign on the door explaining the toilets are for paying customers only. It is 2 strides from a spoons and McDonalds and not in a town centre so I doubt they have much of a problem. I have never been in. It looks an empty, desolate unwelcoming sort of place. Full of old codgers reading the daily mail and moaning.

    Me, as a punter, would like to drink in a civil nice pub, and that isn’t one with a grim landlord charging 20p for the bog and demanding I drink at a faster pace.

  21. You've certainly got out of the wrong side of bed today, Cookie - I see you've been griping over at B&B's place as well.

    One of the features of pubs is that you encounter an ever-changing parade of human life - I just report what I see.

  22. A lazy answer and untrue. You report what you see through the prism of your own prejudices. One that dislikes those that do not conform to your own socially conservative mannerisms. I think I shall go sit in your local and drink tap water and use the bog until your head explodes with rage. That'll teach you.

  23. Its a bit of a grey area. I'm certainly not above popping into a pub to use the toilet, assuming I don't piss all over the floor the marginal cost of me using their bog is zero pence therefore that is a fair price to pay.

    On the other hand, I would never sit in a pub doing a pub quiz etc without buying a drink, but maybe that's just because I would see it as a wasted opportunity for a beer :-D

    I've sometimes used our local to play pool and only bought a single desultory coke in the two hours I've been there, but then again I must have put a grand behind their bar last year so I think its fair enough.

  24. @RedNev

    ...but most people who go to folk clubs know the score...

    Is there still a folk club circuit? Good Lord, my first forays into live music appreciation came through going to folk clubs back in the mid sixties. I was still at school, and well under drinking age then (14/15/16), but never seemed to have a problem getting a beer. I got to see some great musicians in those little pub back-rooms. Bert Jansch and John Renbourne were fairly regular guests. Interestingly, one of the clubs I went to regularly was (unbeknown to us) close to the home of John Williams, the classical guitarist (who inherited Segovia's mantle of 'greatest classical guitarist in the world'), and one club night he wandered in, guitar in hand, and asked if it would be ok for him to play a set.

    Would it be ok to play?

    Is the pope a catholic?


    Anyway, getting back towards topic, yes, we always bought a beer back then, in fact as many beers as budget would allow and stomach could cope with (and sometimes a tad more...).

    Re the toilet thing, in Greece it's an unwritten law that if you have a bar or restaurant then anyone can walk in off the street and use your loos. I think it stems from the fact that public toilets are an extremely rare event, so bars etc are expected to provide that public service. Handy for the passer-by caught short, but not so handy for the owner. It was a fairly regular occurrence in my bar, and a right pain to have to clean up after someone who hadn't even bought a drink.

  25. A couple of points here in response to some raised by Cookie.

    First, I think it's a generation thing about showing respect in a pub. I was brought up with the knowledge that a public house is also the landlord's home, and should be treated as such. "Do as you would be done by" and all that!

    Second, yes many Bavarian beer gardens DO allow punters to bring their own food along, but it is on the proviso customers buy beer from the establishment. I think you'd get pretty short shrift if you sat there eating your packed lunch with a flask of coffee for your liquid refreshment, like the ramblers who kicked this whole debate off!

  26. It's also not unknown for some British pubs that don't serve food to allow customers to bring in meals from nearby takeaways. But again there's an expectation that some money will be put over the bar.

  27. Cookie: "But as the smoking ban is here to stay and with each passing pub looks an over-reaction".

    There, fixed it for you. :)

  28. Our local not only allows takeaways to be brought in, but provies menus, rings up the order for you, pays up front (you have to pay them back obviously), and provides plates and cutlery.


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