In 1986 I bought my first pint in the long since departed Upper Deck pub in Sunderland. I was on a work night out from my first job and not only was I underage at sixteen, I also looked about twelve. Clearly worried about getting refused or arrested I offered the money to a colleague to get my round in but he said no. He sent me to the bar telling me I had to learn. It was my first lesson in pub etiquette and I have been a keen studier of the art since then.
Admittedly I was sick on a nightclub floor later that evening, something I would generally advise against, but I was young, we all make mistakes.
After drinking for nearly 30 years, I am still appalled by the behaviour of some people, not young kids finding their way in the world of alcohol, but grown men and women. Adults who should know better.
Here is the first part of my essential guide on how to perform in a pub. If you are reading this on your phone whilst waiting for your cappuccino in a pub, get yourself to Starbucks and don’t return until you have read and memorised it.
The British love to queue but not in pubs. Pubs are the exception that prove the rule, they are not a branch of Argos a bus stop or, importantly, a working men’s club. Since the introduction of cheap beer in the Wetherspoons chain, a lot of club drinkers have ventured out into world of public houses and have attempted to bring their club ways with them and queue at the bar. There is no queuing system, it is a pub and pub rules apply.
I’m going to contradict myself slightly here, I do that a lot. Whilst there is no visible queue, there is a virtual one. A good bartender will know where everybody is in this virtual queue but they are busy, they can’t be expected to spot everyone. It is your responsibility to know who is before you and after you.
If the barperson attempts to serve you before the bloke beside you who was there first, simply say “I think he was here before me,” and normal service will be resumed. If someone does the same for you, the correct response is “cheers mate.” No fuss, no drama, just good manners and common sense.
A slight quirk to this rule is that if you use “I think he was here before me,” you are automatically next in the queue no matter how many people were there first.
Depending on the pub, there may be a slight element of queue jumping from the regular drinking all his wages away at the end of the bar. This is the bar’s bread and butter so it is as unavoidable as it is understandable.
If you feel like you haven’t been noticed and decide to move somewhere more visible, like next to the till, you automatically go to the back of the virtual queue. No exceptions, it’s a tough world out there.
When ordering your round (and you should order in rounds, we’ll come to that later), you should know exactly what the round is. Don’t run off half way through ordering to find out whether Mary wants a pint or a half of lime and soda.
If you are ordering Guinness, order that first. It takes longer to pour and it can be pouring whilst you are ordering the rest of the round.
Always have your money ready to pay. Pay by card if you must, I’ve conceded defeat on that one, but don’t wander off delivering drinks if you won’t be back in time for the last drink to hit the bar.
In certain real ale bars, the staff may allow you a quick taster before ordering to make sure you don’t order a plum stout or some cloudy cider by mistake. That’s very kind of them but don’t abuse it. If a pub is busy just take your chances and order something, how bad can it be?
Any group of friends, colleagues etc that are in a bar together should drink in rounds. It is perfectly acceptable to break a big group down into smaller rounds, three or four people maybe, but a group of people ordering individually is forbidden. There may be an occasion where one of the group plans to leave after a couple of drinks. They can declare they are not getting into a round at the beginning. I still think mates would offer to buy those couple of drinks in most cases but it is acceptable.
If you order individually, getting food and a coffee and pay on your card, I swear I will track you down.
If you are in a group that is just stopping for one drink or some lunch, give your money to one person who takes the orders and goes to the bar.
Everybody has their ‘normal’ tipple be it Stella or John Smiths, Real Ale or Fosters. Some are more expensive than others, get used to it. Don’t whinge that your mate always has something that costs 20p more a pint.
Changing up to a more expensive drink when it is somebody else’s round is shocking behaviour, do not do it. Everyone will know and you will rightly be shunned.
As with all rules, there are exceptions. I’ve been on all day sessions in the past where the final few rounds have become a case of people wanting bottles of wine or expensive whiskies. It’s understandable, there’s a limit to how much beer you can manage. If it’s a group of mates, it’ll all even out over time, just get them in when it’s your round.
Never say “If I give you the money will you go to the bar?” If it is your round, it is your responsibility to go to the bar and order the drinks, don’t expect your mate to become your waiter.
Round dodging is a capital offence. If you slope off home before getting your round in or flit between different groups getting each one to buy your drinks, I hope your friends buy a donkey to boot you up the arse all the way home.
This is just a start to my guide, it will do for starters. Feel free to comment or recommend any other areas of pub etiquette you would like me to cover in part two. What to order and seating are two topics that are close to my heart and will be covered in a later blog.