They Brought Their Own

Illustration: man smuggling booze.

People like being in pubs; they just don’t always like (or aren’t able) to pay for the privilege.

* * *

Standing at the bar in a local branch of a popular chain pub, we notice a barman huddling with a manager.

Muttering angrily, the junior member of staff points to a far corner, gesticulates and holds his hands up in despair. The manager closes his eyes for a moment, gathering his strength of will, and then marches across the floor.

He returns with a plastic carrier bag held between two fingers, his nose wrinkled. As he walks past us, shaking his head, he pauses to whisper conspiratorially, ‘They smuggled in a whole chicken from Tesco. Ate it with their fingers. Left the bones for us to clear up. What are they like?’

* * *

A few weeks later, in a trendy ‘craft beer bar’ in London, we notice a frisson in the air: the staff are suddenly tense and ‘meerkatting’ towards the far end of the room.

We follow their gaze. A large party of middle-aged people has colonised some sofas. Though the broad backs of the menfolk give them a degree of privacy, we can see from our vantage point that the women in the party are, at intervals, producing from their handbags cans of Guinness which they are using to refill all the glasses on the table.

Suddenly, the tension breaks as the bar staff swoop en masse.

It’s hard to see exactly what happens: there is some shouting; a barman walks back towards the bar carrying pint glasses; the sofas are empty; and a fire exit door is swinging on its hinges.

What are they like?

22 thoughts on “They Brought Their Own”

  1. Happens dunnit?

    A popular gambit at uni was sneaking in half bottles of bacardi or vodka into nightclubs then buying cheaper soft drinks for mixers.

    Around Munich, bring your food is part of the culture around the beer gardens. People get a table, bring a picnic and buy a beer. So it’s cultural innit? Neither right nor wrong, a morally ambiguous cultural practice.

    I knew a pub once near a 6th form college than was relaxed about the kids eating chippy chips in the beer garden so long as they bought a few Carlings. Then it shut and reopened as a middle class dining pub and the kids got told to buggar off. Price of the bitter went up too.

    Can’t say I’d sneak beer into a pub myself, but I’ve taken a hip flask into football games & bags of illicit jelly beans into cinemas so as not to pay the rip off prices.

    1. I agree with the cinema thing, it’s not a food shop it’s a place to watch a film so me and lad always pre load up on Revels and Coop popcorn before going to see Pacific Rim for the fourth time…

  2. A friend of mine smuggled a scotch egg (purchased from the Craft Beer Co across the road) into a gig at the Brixton Academy. I’m not sure whether that’s quite the same thing, but it was a delicious scotch egg.

  3. “we can see from our vantage point that the women in the party are, at intervals, producing from their handbags cans of Guinness which they are using to refill all the glasses on the table.”

    I find this little bit interesting as the whole episode seems to demonstrate that ‘craft beer bars’ are simply places to be seen because they are trendy, coolness by association. Does it also offer proof that the beer at ‘craft beer bars’ is overpriced and often not as satisfying as a industrial scale produced mega-brand?

    People want to drink, people want to drink is cool places, people don’t want to pay through the nose for beer. I would say their behavior was proper punk.

    1. In this instance, we think what attracted them was comfy sofas rather than the coolness of the bar, but we could be wrong. The case of the Brewdog bar manager who caught students in the toilet filling their glasses with smuggled Budweiser is more evidence that not everybody who visits these places is there purely for the beer.

  4. This was not unknown in skint college days. Like nicking a good glass a minor infraction. Wouldn’t get you banned. Not like the time the girl marched down the bench table and kicked all the beer glasses into the stone wall at the end. That got her barred for life. She did it again the next weekend and was barred for life again.

  5. As a bar manager I find smuggled booze infuriating.
    The place I work for doesn’t sell food so we let people bring their own, and if one member of a group who are drinking in the pub wants to get themselves a coffee we are happy with that too but pretty please don’t bring something that is actually undermining the main business of the pub.
    If you don’t like our selection and/or want to drink cheap tinnies with your mates there are other places to go …
    Also, generalising horribly, but the people who bring their own alcohol to pubs tend to be the ones who getting very drunk and causing trouble for the people enjoying the beer I’m actually selling.

  6. Been in plenty of pubs that allow food to be brought in, some even give out plates and Cutlery.

    I’ve had beer from outside in a pub but only when checking with manager (eg, bottle shares, home brew tasters)

    1. My local does that, in fact I shall be in there on Sunday having a curry. You let the landlord know what you want and he orders it for you, pays for it when it arrives, hands out plates and cutlery, etc. I really don’t know why more pubs don’t do this.

      1. Quite a few wet led pubs I go to do it. If you don’t do food I really don’t see what harm there is in letting people bring their own – surely it’s extra encouragement to go to the pub?

  7. The Cooper’s in Burton lets people bring in their own grub, encourages it as there’s a curry house next door, but as for bringing in your own booze as someone else says above — a) drinking issue — and b) why not stay at home and get smashed on cheap booze; I don’t go into a restaurant with my own lasagne or whatever. Or maybe I should go into a bookshop with a table and a few paperbacks and start selling them. Jeez some people.

  8. From the drinkers perspective, on the scale of crimes against civilization the odd broke kid bringing in a can to extend a party with pals is something that should be overlooked if done on a rare occasion. Same with the business suit with a flask tucked away. Repeat offenders are the real annoyance as would evidence the favorite tavern has become a soft mark. On the other hand, drinkers who align their interests too closely to that of staff or the owner are missing out on a natural tension within a proper establishment. One needs to be getting away with something once in a while.

  9. The food thing is fine if the management are cool with it. My Dad was a pub manager and we looked on those smuggling drink in as vermin. If you want to drink cheap supermarket booze drink it at home. You’ve already helped plenty of pubs to close, don’t take the p*ss as well.

  10. I know he’s not pulling punches (vermin!?) but I broadly agree with Steve. A relative of mine runs a pub (in Birkonia! :-) it’s not a well-off part of town, but they’ve a small group of enthusiastic drinking locals that keep the place going & weekly darts games bring a few extra folk in on home games.

    A while back a regular seemed to be drinking more coke & less vodka than normal, but no-one thought anything of it until one of the loos in the ladies got blocked…with empty plastic miniature vodka bottles! How dumb do you have to be…!?

    If as someone said above it’s a case if students who’ve run out of cash extending the night the odd time for economic reasons, then no it’s not the worst crime, but in my view they should find some income & drink with more fair-minded people who’d stand them a pint or 2 until the next bit of cash appears.

    As to problem-drinkers (to themselves & others) they need to be helped in some way to not be a problem to themselves &/or others, I don’t see how allowing them to in effect steal from pubs helps anyone.

  11. Ive been struggling with this as bringing your own food just feels a bit wrong…however i’ve now got a 14-month old so it’s the norm for me to take food and snacks to the pub and even ask them to warm it up for her-noone bats an eyelid! However this can’t continue, there’s got to be a tipping point when bar staff start frowning. How long have I got before it’s not ok?!

    1. When the stuff you’re bringing in starts to overlap with the Kids’ Menu (“could you just pop these fish fingers in the oven for me?”).

  12. I know a few places that let you take your own food in and it’s great but I don’t think you should do it when it’s a place that serves food. It’s just rude.

    And as for alcohol, bar staff have a legal responsibility. You’re not allowed to order a pint of vodka so how would be be okay to bring your own bottle in? I’ve worked in several city centre pubs and we always find people with spirit bottles and even empty ones on tables. Why should we be responsible for people if they drink the way they do at home. I know how I pour measures at home and I’m not even the kind of person who sneaks a cheap bottle of vodka in their handbag.

Comments are closed.