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.