There have been a number of posts in the blogosphere recently on the subject of returning beer to the bar. I’ve always been of the view that if beer is obviously cloudy or vinegary it should automatically be taken back and a refund or replacement provided without question. I’ve rarely had any problems with this in recent years although in the past I have had more than one “it’s real ale, it’s meant to be like that”.
On the other hand, Boak & Bailey raised the question here of whether it is acceptable to return a beer if it simply isn’t to your taste. My answer is a firm “no” – if you are going to order beer that is in some way weird, odd, experimental, boundary-pushing, you have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth and accept you may encounter the odd turd in pursuit of the truffle. If in doubt, ask for a sample first, and any pub or bar selling cutting-edge beers should offer them as a matter of course. Nobody would buy some unusual foodstuff from Tesco and then ask for a refund simply because they didn’t like it, so why should pubs be any different?
But there’s a third category, of beer that isn’t blatantly “off”, but is just downright poor. Over the past few months I’ve had more examples than I would have liked, often in well-regarded pubs, that have simply been flat, tired and stale. Not obviously cloudy or sour, though, so you need the courage of your convictions to take them back. Maybe in a pub where you know the licensee well you might stick your neck out, but in general discretion is the best part of valour, and you just struggle through it (or leave it) and move on to another pub. As has been said in the past, you’re going out for a relaxing drink, not a confrontation. In one pub, the licensee, who knows me, did ask “how was the ****?” and I replied “a bit past its best, I think”. Hopefully the point was taken and acted upon.
Given that the British are noted for their reluctance to complain, perhaps what is needed is a mechanism to allow customers to give anonymous feedback.
The point must also be made that any business that cares about its reputation with customers should aim to arrange its affairs so that occasions where customers feel the need to return sub-standard products are minimised.
As an aside, a while back I was in a Robinson’s pub and ordered a pint of Dizzy Blonde. It was very slightly hazy, and obviously past its best, but I took the view that it wasn’t really bad enough to take back and next time I’d have a Unicorn. However, obviously I had been looking at it rather quizzically as, when I had drunk about two-thirds, the barmaid came over and replaced it with a crystal-clear pint from a new cask. That’s the kind of customer service that sticks in the mind, like this one reported by Tandleman.