At the till, the sales assistant tried to encourage me to buy more. “It’s a session IPA,” he said. “Are you sure you don’t want a few so you can make it a session?” I thought at first it was just a quip. A bored cashier making small talk, but he kept on even after I’d said no and I realised he was actually upselling.
It was irritating, but my head was still full of the court case I’d gone to London to follow, so I let it go and headed home (I can report now that one beer was enough and that it paired well with the avocado sandwich and a ‘pig stick’ that I’d bought by way of a train buffet).
After I’d had time to reflect, I realised I was annoyed I’d been encouraged to drink more when all I wanted was one beer. It also felt far from responsible retailing. I wondered if such a thing is ever a problem in pubs. A friend of mine says it is and told of a place she avoids because the manager nearly always tries to get her and husband to drink a lot more than they’d planned. But when I asked around most people said it was an issue they’d never come across. Until I got to Claire, who used to work behind the bar for a pubco chain.
“We were always told to encourage people to buy more and had a chart listing things, including the amount of doubles we sold weekly. I remember refusing to serve people because they were too drunk after midnight – but was fully aware we’d just been pushing extra drinks on them,” she told me. “In another pub I worked in though, we had a clear policy of stopping drinks to anyone who seemed to drunk and would also book them a taxi home.”
Another person, Rhiannon a student from Bath, who’s worked behind numerous bars concurs with Clare on both points. “I’ve been taught to watch how drunk customers are and often a supervisor will let me know if there’s a particular customer who’s too drunk to serve – but I’ve also been told to encourage a double instead of a single,” she says – going on to add that she finds it ‘hard to deal with drunk people’ and that someone once threw a cup at her when she refused to serve him.
Most pubs know
I know it’s a Catch-22. Pubs sell booze and if you aren’t going to encourage people to drink it then you’ll either have no business or you might as well be a café. I also know that licensees will be well aware that it’s against the law to serve alcohol to someone who is already drunk. But where do you draw the line? Happily it seems most pubs know the answer. Although I don’t envy the licensees and bar staff having to make the call – or having things thrown at them when a customer doesn’t like their decision.
The issue is particularly pertinent at this time of year as pubs are hopefully enjoying a busy festive season – and punters need little encouragement to drink. Then I wondered how ‘less merry’ pubgoers feel when fellow customers are swaying more from excess than along with the Christmas music. I was quickly put in my place for suggesting such a thing by an old friend, Rob Monfea, who lives in Preston, Lancashire. “Birthdays happen 365 days of the year – bit difficult being the fun police,” he said. Whereas Pat Wright from Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, offered a different perspective. “There are pubs that are ideal for a quiet, low-key drink and pubs that are ideal for a rowdy big night out. I tend to pick the venue that suits the occasion,” he said – adding, “It’s difficult if you’re somewhere that doesn’t have much choice though.”
Rob, also a former bartender, chipped in that it’s a balance between knowing when to stop serving someone and being ‘diplomatic mediating between groups out for a quiet drink, versus those out for a party’.
It’s no wonder bar staff look so frazzled at this time of year. Here’s to successfully managing the 12 drunks of Christmas – and may they not come back to haunt us in Dry January.