Tracy Bird, freeholder at the Newman Arms, in London’s West End, agreed to slow down service to her customers in a deal with the council.
Bird feared a licence review if she didn’t comply with the council’s demands — aimed at reducing numbers of after-work drinkers in the street outside the pub, which is based in Fitzrovia.
The council said it was concerned pedestrians and wheelchairs would have problems getting along the path on the street outside.
Barstaff have been instructed to complete one transaction at a time, instead of going on to the next customer while waiting for a credit card to clear. On the first Friday of the go-slow, takings fell by £1,000.
Bird has also been forced to stop serving the Newman Arms’ popular pies on Thursday and Friday evenings, so the upstairs restaurant can be opened to vertical drinkers, and hire doorstaff.
The move is just one of the latest ludicrous policies introduced by the council. As far back as 2002 the council was slammed for prosecuting pubs that allowed people to “rhythmically sway” on the premises.
Martin Rawlings, the British Beer & Pub Association’s director of pub and leisure, said: “It seems bizarre and probably dangerous. We’re astonished that a council would insist that a food area is given over to drinkers. It flies in the face of good management. And deliberately serving slowly is potentially very dangerous. It makes customers angry.
“Westminster would really struggle to have these conditions imposed under the licensing regime. It is absurd to ask any pub to serve customers slower — and councils should be encouraging food sales on premises, not trying to undermine them.”
Licensing expert Peter Coulson agreed: “This is a very contentious area when people congregate outside premises. The licensee has been caught between a rock and a hard place. The idea of stopping food service is most bizarre. I would have thought that food service was a good thing.”
Bird said the move is going to cost the business. “We can sell between 30 and 40 pies a night. But we would rather comply than go to a licence review.
“It’s strange, though, that at a time when pubs are being encouraged to improve service we’re being made to slow it down.”
Ironically, it was the pub that suggested the move — as a joke.
“We were asked in the meeting with the council what we could do to reduce numbers of customers,” said Bird’s daughter Amber, who manages the bar. “I said we could serve people more slowly. I was being sarcastic but they took it seriously and included it in the agreement.”
Coulson added: “It just goes to show that you can never joke with Westminster City Council.”
The Newman Arms has now launched a campaign, A Slap in the Pie, which aims to gather ideas about pedestrianisation of the street to present to the council.
A Westminster City Council spokesman said: “Westminster always tries to strike a fair balance between businesses and residents in the city. It’s difficult to comment on the pedestrianisation, as it is not yet an official proposal.”