Tuesday 4 January 2011

Buy your own

The latest government “initiative” to try to discourage binge-drinking is to suggest that people shouldn’t buy drinks in rounds, but instead groups of drinkers should set up a tab and settle it at the end of the evening. Now, while it can happen that the round-buying system pressurises people into drinking more than they ideally want to, I don’t honestly see it as a major factor in increasing overall consumption. And if you asked to set up a tab in the Gungesmearers’ Arms, you would be met with bemused laughter. They wouldn’t be much more accommodating in your average Spoons. You can also imagine a lot of drunken arguments at the end of the evening over who has paid for that - after all, it’s notoriously difficult to split the bill fairly in the curry house.

What is more, this is yet another example of pointing the finger at pubs when they certainly can’t be held exclusively responsible for our supposed drink-related problems. It’s a naïve, Puritanical throwback to the days of Lloyd George, when the buying of drinks for others was banned, even to the extent of preventing a husband buying one for his wife.


  1. To be fair the Government (and I don't say that too often) this isn't a new 'initiative'. It's a comment made by a professor in an interview who's acted as an adviser to Cameron.

    And the prof in question, Richard Thaler, went on to wonder whether local councils could vary the minimum age for purchasing alcohol. Which demonstrates his keen grasp of UK alcohol policy.

  2. If you are not going to solve binge drink Britain using the crude method of price, but instead look at drinking culture then you will look at the culture of our European cousins where waiter service prevails and any group run a tab until they leave.

    The round only exists because UK bar self service exists. It's a method of making a crap system workable. Ordering drinks at a busy bar can be one of the most aggressive acts of an evening.

    Oh, and if you can't split the bill in a curry house, get less pedantic mates.

  3. the whole point of paying as you go is so you can leave at any time you want-'Public House'

  4. You can ask to do that when in Europe, Anon. They don't mind. Ask to pay every time they bring something. If the service is a bit slow, plenty of people do it. In some places if they notice you are a Brit they ask you to pay thinking you'll do a runner.

    But if the norm was waiter service, it would either reflect a more civilised drinking culture or initiate one. Not sure which, to be honest, but this idea reflects a deeper thought into drinking culture and that alone deserves praise.

  5. Nothing bad about the round system if you ask me. It's a good way to be sociable and just plain 'nice to others'. Certainly went down well for us last night! May have made us drink a bit more but we weren't complaining.

  6. Of course our widespread culture of "perpendicular drinking" also militates against the adoption of waiter service. But it did used to be commonplace on the "best side" of pubs in the North - some unmodernised pubs such as the Nursery in Stockport still retain the little electric bell pushes to summon the waiter.

  7. Not really, Ghost, the round system is one of reciprocation not gifting people. It's expected to return the favour. Its result is that any group keeps the pace of the fastest drinker with the number of drinks reflecting the size of the group. Round culture blows a whole in any argument of pubs being responsible drinking environments. As a system, it's pretty poor and only adopted because everyone in the group trying to be served individually is problematic at a busy bar.

    I was unaware waiter service used to be more common, Mudge. I presume that was not confined to Stockpit?

  8. The problem I've always found with a tab is keeping track of what I'm spending. Much easier to have 20 quid or so in my pocket and when it's gone it's gone. Likewise the variant of getting a round in that seems to work well with the bunch of no goods I drink with is people ask if anyone wants one when they go to the bar - anyone taking advantage quickly stops being included in such offers. Means no one drinks more than they want or faster than they want but you still minimise the number of trips to the bar.

  9. Oh dear, I’m afraid I’m going to have to totally disagree with my learned colleague, Cookie. I shall put his ignorance of the rounds system down to his general aversion to visiting pubs. Either that or cooking lager really is bad for you:)

    Far from being “poor and only adopted because everyone in the group trying to be served individually is problematic at a busy bar”, it’s a very cultured and efficient system. That’s one reason why it’s survived.

    If it merely arose because of supposed queuing problems, then it wouldn’t have flourished in the waiter pubs that PC alludes to. But it did.

    The cultural appeal of the rounds system lies in its tribal and very socially inclusive nature. It does not mean the group drinks at the pace of the fastest drinker, at all. Sure if you on a stag do or it’s a rugby lads’ night out, there will be some rapid drinking, but I think you will find that under any system.

    If there is mixed company (and there often is) it’s considered common working practice to drink at the rate of the slowest drinker. It’s not just a case of good manners, but logical as well. However, I have seen the same groups drink far more under the continental tab method than they do here. The continental system also lends itself to error far more than the rounds system.

    So instead of decrying it, we should celebrate the tradition of ordering rounds as something we can justly be proud of.

  10. The Vic in Withington had waiter service as late as the 1980s. There was only one waiter, making it much quicker to get served at the bar; really, what they had was a permanent glass collector in a white coat. But he did carry a tray and he would bring drinks to your table if you asked him.

    I think the tab system could only really work with a much higher staff-to-punter ratio, and with a much more café-like approach to service. And even then it could raise practical problems. It was said of Guy Debord that as soon as the conversation at his table started to bore him he would get up and walk out, but not before paying for everyone's drinks. Which is a great story, but I think it also points to the problem of how mere mortals would deal with leaving early - go to the bar and pay for a quarter of what they've had on table 10 so far?

  11. Dear me. I have to agree with Tyson. Where our dear friend Cookie trips up is when (as he is oft tempted to do) he wanders into sociology and social comment. Maybe not always wrong, but when he talks about pub culture, he is all at sea.

    He should stick to jocular tosh about canned lout where he has no equal.

    The round actually has evolved rather a lot and is, I'd venture, confined to particular rather than general circumstance. It is used flexibly and with regard to the where and when. It is no longer the norm.

    As for "In some places if they notice you are a Brit they ask you to pay thinking you'll do a runner."

    Well, that's never happened to me, but maybe Cookie looks more dodgy than I do? (-:

  12. Whenever I go to Greece (usually a couple of times a year) my last day is spent going from bar to bar to cash-point and back in order to settle up all my bar tabs! I even drink 'small' beers when I'm there to keep in line with everyone else in the group...the reason is that the beer doesn't get warm if it's a smaller measure, but the same quantities are drunk! Unfortunately the bar owners are wise to this and it's much dearer to buy in small measures, so if I'm on my own it's a large one!!

  13. I don't actually recall seeing waiter service in operation during my drinking lifetime, but I believe it lingered on in and around Manchester longer than it did in other parts of the North-West. I have read in 1980s Good Beer Guides that it still operated in Peter Kavanagh's in Liverpool, a pub I have never visited. My understanding is that it was widespread across the North-West and Yorkshire; books on the history of pub design suggest it vanished from the London area much earlier than in the North.

    Few pubs now retain their pre-war lounge bar fittings, but I can remember seeing bell-pushes in the Castle in Macclesfield and also, I think, the Arden Arms in Stockport. The Arden also had tables in the snug with a device like a bicycle bell in the middle. The Nursery was clearly built with waiter service in mind, as the bar openings on the "lounge" side are too small to work effectively as public serving counters, and nowadays are often clogged by bar-hoggers.

    On the subject of buying in rounds, I have found no stigma in participants opting for a half rather than a pint, or even missing a round entirely. On the other hand, certain individuals have been known to go for a "slotter" if they feel the others are drinking too slowly ;-)

  14. Waiter service was also common in some parts of the Midlands with buttons positioned in the centre of the table. However, I don't think many survived beyond the 70s.

  15. More legislation.
    Of course they will make a complete mess out of it over regulate and damage the trade more.
    Even the last bastion of the gastro pubs will whither away and die.

  16. Yo Curmudgeon,

    Ha,some folk disappear when its their round,I wish MP`s would just fuck off with their "initiatives",the only pub most of them drink in is the subsidized one in Westminster,buying rounds at our expense.


  17. I don't think there's any prospect whatsoever of legislation to outlaw the buying of rounds, to be honest. It's just a misguided idea that shows a profound ignorance of British drinking culture and has no chance of coming to fruition.

  18. Like the smoking ban ?
    Don't count on it all this stuff comes direct from the WHO .

  19. I remember waiter service in pubs in Liverpool and Crosby, and recently in the Volunteer Canteen in Waterloo I ordered at the bar and they said, "Take a seat and I'll bring your drinks over."

    But that's not the point. An adviser for the PM, presumably paid by us tax payers, has come up with this complete bit of tosh which simply shows he hasn't a clue what he's talking about. I agree with Curmudgeon that it is unlikely to be introduced, but I begrudge paying for such nonsense.

  20. I like the round system. I only have to go to the bar every 3 or 4 pints. Service would be much slower with each drink a different transaction and if pubs take on more staff prices will go up. Imagine the scrum at the bar in Wetherspoons.
    The Rose & Bebington had table service in the lounge up to the mid 70's. Bitter was 17p a pint in the bar and 18p in the lounge. This was historically quite common on Merseyside.

  21. "Oh, and if you can't split the bill in a curry house, get less pedantic mates."

    But the only friends I have are pedants :-(

  22. The round just is, "like mount Everest is",and I suspect will long remain. But, at beer festivals the circles that I move in have found it advantageous to buy one's own beer. This allows you to drink at a comfortable pace and you don't have the problem of getting to the bar only to find that they don't have your friend's choice.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. Unregistered comments will generally be rejected unless I recognise the author. If you want to comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.