Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - October 2016
The pub trade remains one of the prime strongholds of the cash economy
THE DEATH of cash has often been foretold, but it still seems a long way off happening. This is something that is also true of print publications, such as the one you are reading now. The digital age may encroach on the territory of its analogue predecessors, but in most spheres it seems incapable of dealing the final blow.
We are constantly being urged to use credit and debit cards and abandon cash. This is especially true since the introduction of contactless cards, which undoubtedly make a big difference in ease of use, and have led to a surge in the number of card transactions.
However, cash is still proving very resilient, and one of its prime strongholds remains the pub trade. Yes, people may be flashing cards more to pay for meals and rounds of drinks in trendy bars and gastropubs, but in your average local you would still be looked on askance if you proffered a card to pay for a couple of pints, even if they offered the facility, which most donít.
Using a contactless card rather than cash also exposes you to the risk of unwise spending on a night out where your judgment might be impaired by a few pints. If you want to control your spending, stick to cash. If you depend entirely on cards, youíre also left at the mercy of bank computers, which can all too easily fail, as several recent incidents have shown. Most of the extensive grey and black economy runs on cash, which isnít going to disappear overnight. The same is true of most ordinary local pubs, and CAMRA beer festivals. Cash isnít going anywhere any day soon.
If there are no staff at the bar, customers need to be able to summon them
THE ONGOING decline of the pub trade inevitably leads to staffing reductions, so very often one person is left to look after a serving area which canít all be seen from one vantage point. And, even if there is just a single bar counter, there are reasons such as toilet breaks and popping into the kitchen that mean the sole server is absent.
In these situations, itís all too easy for staff to be distracted and fail to check regularly whether there are any customers waiting. I can think of several occasions in well-regarded local pubs, including Good Beer Guide entries, where Iíve walked in, only to find nobody behind the bar, and no means of summoning them. Less patient people might well have walked out and gone elsewhere, and I have done that myself on one or two occasions in the past. It shouldnít be too difficult, though, even if staff are hard-pressed, to say ďIíll be with you in a minuteĒ, which will swiftly defuse a lot of frustration.
Itís tempting to argue that it makes sense to bring back the service bell, a staple of the old two-bar pubs, but rarely seen nowadays. At least that way you might stand a chance of actually getting served. However, in British culture that often comes across as a touch aggressive and peremptory, like sounding a car horn.
To get over this problem, a correspondent suggested it would be a good idea to attach a squeaky rubber duck to the bar. That would certainly defuse any confrontational element, but inevitably might be abused by some mischievous customers.