Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - February 2011
The new two-thirds measure should be welcomed as giving drinkers more choice
THE GOVERNMENT have announced that, following a consultation, they are going to permit the use of two-thirds pint measures, often referred to as “schooners”, in pubs and bars. While it is currently legal to serve a third of a pint “nip”, it isn't legal to put two in the same glass. This apparently innocuous move has led to a wave of ill-informed and prejudiced comment.
It’s not going to lead to the demise of the pint, as there will be no requirement to drop pints, and the pint will undoubtedly remain as the standard beer measure in pubs. It won’t result in higher prices, as pubs will continue to price beer by the pint and presumably price smaller measures pro-rata as they currently do with halves. It isn’t a bureaucratic imposition, as it is in fact allowing something that was previously illegal, so it is a measure of liberalisation. Far from representing creeping metrication, it doesn’t correspond to any standard metric measure and indeed reinforces the traditional system by introducing a brand new Imperial size. And no pub or bar will be forced to offer schooners if they don’t want to.
It’s easy to foresee this new measure being taken up enthusiastically by specialist beer pubs, which may have several stronger beers on tap, and where customers will want to sample a wide range of brews. But its potential appeal will spread much wider than that, to women, drivers and indeed anyone who just wants to have “a beer” but for whom a pint on that occasion is too much. While some women are happy to drink pints, many others find pint glasses inelegant and unwieldy. On the other hand, for drinkers of both sexes, half-pints often just seem too small and have an image of being something of a distress purchase.
This is a sensible move to give drinkers more choice and it would be a shame if it ended up running onto the rocks because of pigheaded resistance to change.
Suggesting that rounds should be discouraged shows a failure to understand British pub culture
GOVERNMENT adviser Richard Thaler, co-author of the influential book “Nudge”, has suggested that, to try to discourage “binge-drinking”, people shouldn’t buy drinks in rounds if they’re going to have more than a couple, but instead groups should set up a tab and settle it at the end of the evening. While the round-buying system may occasionally pressurise people into drinking more than they ideally want to, I can’t honestly see it as a major factor in increasing overall consumption, and if anything may just as easily lead to a party drinking at the pace of the slowest. Few ordinary pubs are likely to be willing to set up a tab anyway, and even if they did it would tend to lead to arguments at closing time over who had drunk what, not to mention being completely unsuited to visiting a number of pubs in the course of an evening.
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 in the First World War, when the “treating” of others was outlawed, even to the extent of banning a husband buying one for his wife. Buying rounds of drinks is a friendly and sociable custom that maximises the efficiency of bar service and is something that has become an integral part of British pub culture.