There seems to have been a widespread expectation (fear?) in the 1960s and 70s that pubs and bars would become less human, perhaps prompted by the arrival of the electric pump which allowed barmen to serve ‘a pint by pressing the button of a gleaming automatic machine which dispenses a liquid that is a travesty of brewing’.
‘It won’t be long before they’re selling keg from vending machines,’ a brewery man prophesied at the end of 1967. He was right. In November 1968, Watney’s installed a draught Red Barrel vending machine in one of their London hotels — ‘to relieve peak-hour pressure; fewer barmen would be needed’. A Watney’s spokesman commented: ‘The machine is just on trial to test public reaction. We will assess the situation after six months.’ If the public takes to vended beer… there may come a day when the barmaid is phased out.
Derek Cooper, The Beverage Report, 1970.
A Swedish firm has produced a cunning device, imaginatively called a Beerwaiter, which, with the aid of a microcomputer, dispenses exact measures of beer. This saves the barpersons from having to watch what they are doing…. If this devices catches on in Britain there could be some nasty incidents — not only from the fanatics at the Campaign for Real Ale, who eschew anything that threatens to drag beer drinking out of the 18th century, but from those of us who have devoted many hours to chatting up barmaids in an attempt to coax them into pouring over-large measures of our favourite beverages.
‘Feedback’, New Scientist, 24 August 1978.
How far did this automation revolution get? We think of the pub as quite the opposite of automated these days, with ever-more reliance on human interaction (‘What would you recommend?’; ‘This pint’s off.’; ‘You’re barred!’), room for human error and expectation of human effort, but perhaps there’s automation behind the scenes we’re missing?
Watney’s, of course, found themselves putting handpumps back into their pubs from the mid-70s, rather than installing vending machines.