Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - May 2012

* Measuring Up *

Drinkers are now left on their own if they want a full pint

I was recently in a pub next to a group of drinkers, one of whom went to the bar and returned with a round of drinks, including a pint of bitter for his companion with a head at least one and a quarter inches deep. “I asked for a pint, not a half,” the guy said. “Well, take it back to the bar for a top-up,” the other replied. He pondered this for a moment and said “You know, I really can’t be bothered.” Now, in this particular pub, if he had left the pint on the bar it would almost certainly have been topped up by the bar staff without asking, so in a sense he only had himself to blame. But this clearly illustrates that the problem of short measures in pubs is still very much with us.

On two occasions in recent years – under the Conservatives in 1992 and Labour in 2001 – the incumbent government has gone into a general election promising to bring in legislation to define a pint of beer as a full liquid pint. However, on each occasion, after the party in question was returned to power, the plan was quietly dropped and the prospect of it being revived now seems remote. So we are left with the unsatisfactory situation that, while serving short measures remains an offence, there is no watertight legal definition. It is a myth that the “trade guidance” seen on notices in many pubs stating that a pint must consist of at least 95% liquid has any force in law.

So in effect drinkers are left on their own to ensure that they receive a full measure when ordering a pint at the bar. It has to be said, though, that it doesn’t seem to be an issue that many people get particularly excited about. The number of pubs using oversize glasses has steadily dwindled to the extent that now the practice has virtually disappeared, and no pubs promote it as a factor differentiating them from others.

Ironically, while CAMRA policy strongly favours full measures legislation, and CAMRA beer festivals all set an example by using oversize lined glasses, it is often the drinkers of Guinness and smooth beers rather than those of real ale who come off worst. It’s worth adding that, in my view, as often as not short measure results simply from sloppy bar practice rather than from any deliberate intention to short-change the customer. And I have often seen drinkers who really should know better take pints off the bar that would have been gladly topped up, often without asking, if they had not been so hasty.

* Reservations about Reservations *

Reserving tables for diners is something that should have no place in a public house

I’m always a bit annoyed when I see tables in pubs with “Reserved” signs on them. It suggests both an excessive concentration on food and a somewhat snooty, exclusive attitude. Surely a “public house” should be just that – open to all comers, and first come, first served for the available seating. And “Please Wait Here to be Seated” is a notice that really should never be seen in anywhere that lays claim to the title of “pub”.

If pubs want to reserve tables for diners, then it’s quite simple, they should have a separate restaurant, distinct from their bar areas. Indeed, twenty years ago there was quite a vogue for pubs opening up restaurants, as it was seen as something bringing a bit of extra cachet. I can think of at least one where the former public bar was turned into a restaurant.

But more recently, the tide has been running the other way, with the separate restaurants being stripped out and in effect colonising the rest of the pub with their place settings, pretentious, pricey food and table reservations. It is more true than ever before that many pubs have, to all intents and purposes, turned themselves into restaurants and left behind their original purpose in life. Very often, there’s no attempt to provide even a small area that feels welcoming to casual drinkers.

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