Thursday, 9 August 2012

I wish to register a complaint

A group of friends were recently touring the Scottish Highlands, and one night stayed in a bunkhouse close to a hotel in a remote location on the North-West coast. They went in and were pleased to see a handpump on the bar, and so ordered some pints which they took outside to drink. However, apparently the beer was so vile that they just left it on the table and walked out.

Now, I wasn’t there, and so don’t know the precise details, and for the same reason I won’t name the establishment concerned. However, given that they are not exactly a bunch of shrinking violets, I was very surprised that they hadn’t walked back in and asked for it either to be changed or a refund given. I know sometimes you feel that you just can’t be arsed, particularly if the beer’s only borderline returnable and it’s somewhere you won’t be going again. I’ve occasionally left near-full pints and walked away that in a familiar pub I would undoubtedly have returned with a comment like “sorry, but this really isn’t on very good form today”.

But, to my mind, if beer is obviously sour or murky, then really it’s almost your duty to take it back and politely request that something should be done about it. British people are still too often unwilling to “make a fuss” or “cause a scene”, and this reluctance to point out poor beer ultimately does the reputation of real ale no good. On several occasions I’ve seen people – even CAMRA members – struggling through seriously below-par pints that really should be sent straight back.

Incidentally, the other day I was given a distinctly hazy pint in a Wetherspoons that I know many would have grudgingly put up with, but I took it back and had it changed without demur.


  1. Yep, always take something back if there's obviously a problem. Back in my non-beery days of lager, we used to wonder if we could take back bottles that hadn't been properly chilled. Only had the balls to try it once, but got a fridge-cold replacement straight away.

  2. It can be difficult, though - if you don't think the take-back will be handled well by bar staff and you don't want to bring (more) sourness to your day, or if it's a pub you still want to be able to visit in your locality without the landlord/staff turning from friendly into hostile.

    There are several pubs in Brum where if I have an off beer, I don't take-back for this reason - I don't think the reputation of the condition of their ale is what the bar staff are most concerned about (maybe if I knew I was speaking to the pub's manager or a company representative who did care about those things it would be different). But overall I find I'm less inclined to say things these days, unless I think some action will actually be taken - i.e. someone behind the bar that knows about ale and it's off-flavours will try it and make a judgement, and replace my drink or take the beer off sale. Otherwise I don't think it will have any effect other than to grant me a replacement beer and a good deal of bad feeling.

    It's different if the pint is obviously pure vinegar as I'd think then even non-ale-drinking bar staff would get it, but so often a beer you're familiar with and know how it should taste, can just be 'not quite right', and that's a harder case to make to bar staff.

  3. Professor Pie-Tin9 August 2012 at 15:20

    If people running a pub get pissed off because you're returning what you think is a bad pint they're in the wrong trade and you're in the wrong pub.

  4. Martin, Cambridge9 August 2012 at 16:04

    Interesting topic.

    In general I'll always take back a pint that is obviously off, rather than just "tired". I probably wouldn't bother with a half though.

    If the pubs is one I use regularly, or taking it back involved a lot of effort (regulars hogging the bar etc), I probably wouldn't bother. I left a near full pint of Elgoods last week and rather hoped the new landlord would ask himself why anyone would do that.

  5. Wouldn't being in a pub you use regularly make it more likely you would take a duff pint back?

    I have certainly taken pints back in familiar GBG listed pubs and had them willingly changed, whereas in a strange pub that I wasn't likely to go back to I wouldn't have bothered.

  6. Martin, Cambridge9 August 2012 at 16:24

    Your logic is right Curmudgeon; can only assume wish to avoid emabarassing exchanges which might sour future visits. Would only wimp out when beer was marginal, not when clearly off.

  7. I've been in pubs that purport to care about their beer but actually get precious about it, which is a bit different - you can tell from the reaction when you take a pint back. Suddenly everyone's Jancis Robinson - sip, swill, hold up to the light, and then the dread words: Tastes all right to me. To which I invariably reply, How can it taste all right to you? It's sour! The beer is sour! It's an English bitter, it's not bloody Rodenbach, obviously it's not meant to taste like that! (Generally I don't reply out loud.) They'll give you a replacement if you stand your ground, but with a bad grace - and they often won't take the beer off.

    Spoons are wonderful in comparison. The response is always the same - instant apology, replacement pint, pump clip turned round. Bosh bosh, shum shum, the customer is always right.

  8. i really do hate the response of bar staff/landlords/landladies who can't taste anything wrong with the pint you've just returned. happened recently in PSBH and Maltings in York. Was left with the impression that this was the first time this had ever happened to one of their pints. Comments like " do you know how it's supposed to taste" yes - not like sarsons!!! a new pint begrudgingly handed over and looks that would kill, and snide comments to the regulars.
    I was under the impression the customer was always right, or is this an antiquarian way of thinking??

  9. I've never really had a problem in taking a pint back-if it's off it's off and I consider myself knowlegeable enough to be able to carry the argument-on the other hand if a beer is a tad hazy but tastes fine or a bit lacking in definition of flavour (eg an end of the barrel pint) I may well just see it through as I feel it might be more diffcult to justify the argument/discussion with the bar staff. I rarely have any problems in getting a pint changed, unless the dreaded response "no one else has complained about it" defence is raised-at which point my polite request might become a little more audible and strident.......

  10. Had this problem last Saturday. First pint (Wadworth Henry's IPA) was excellent; second pint (Adnams Bitter), whilst not sour, definitely tired and way passed its best. We were siting outside, so just left my half full glass when we left for the landlordto ponder over.

  11. It is tricky and believe me I'm no shrinking violet.

    As always common sense and judgement should be applied. It all depends on circumstance, but if the beer is vinegar or completely flat or warn enough to poach an egg in, I will always complain.

    If it is just poorly kept, I tend to just leave it. In London, I usually buy a half pint first. Less money wastage that way.

    Having said that, I still wimp out sometimes. Who goes to the pub for a confrontation? Not me funnily enough.

  12. Martin, Cambridge10 August 2012 at 11:13

    "Who goes to the pub for a confrontation?"

    Exactly - and often it's the one with regular clogging up the bar rather than the bar staff that's in your mind.

    Had a particularly sour experience in a pleasant-looking Widnes pub (recent Beer Guide, current Cask Marque) with horrific Tetleys. Felt so embarassed I took a pint of Smooth as replacement !

  13. I often try and have a quick sip of the pint whilst I'm still at the bar, as it feels much easier to then point out any bad pints. I have to say I can't remember the last horror pint I had though...

  14. I've also had poor experiences at the maltings. The barmaid was more than happy to replace the pint but the bar manager (?)was less than pleased!!
    But the worst was at PSBH - on returning a frankly sour pint of stout, I was met with the comment "Not all stout tastes like guiness". Well, to mirror Phil's comments above, I politely suggested that if I wanted a sour beer, Rodenbach, Gueuze etc would have been my choice.
    I was begrudgingly given another pint but they obviously thought I was wrong and they made sure I knew what they thought.

  15. I think having a pint exchanged with bad grace, while giving you the clear sense that you are a numpty, is almost the worst of all possible worlds.

    When I worked in a pub regularly years ago, our boss said to always exchange a pint with good grace even if you knew it was fine. He explained it would do much more for the pub's reputation than refusing an exchange and have a bad press for doing so.

    That was back in steam days too. In the days of twitter, it is plain daft. Your reputation can be instantly knocked.

  16. I have never left a pint because it wasn't right. I decide whether I am prepared to drink it and if I'm not, back to the bar I go. When I took a pint back in a pub in Liverpool 8, the barman told me that no one else has complained. I replied that it wasn't my fault if his customers didn't know what a decent pint tasted like. Pint exchanged with extreme bad grace, and I boycotted the place for many years.

  17. I'm just going to add that sometimes people do take back beer that has nothing wrong with it at all, or is just getting a little tired. Sometimes the brewery is sending out whole batches that are not up to their usual standard, but not bad enough to send back either.


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