Is “We were sitting there” a scam?

It was either terrible pub etiquette, or a low stakes con.

Two men get up, put on their coats, and slip out of the door. They leave two pint glasses on the table, each with less than an inch of beer.

After five minutes, a party turns up and spots the table. They hover for a minute before deciding to go for it.

They take the (not quite) empty glasses to the bar and get comfortable, ordering drinks, ordering food.

Then the two men return, after almost fifteen minutes. Astonished, aggrieved, they say: “Excuse me, but we were actually sitting there. We had beer left to drink.”

The new party at the table is mortified, even if it is plain that they know they’re being treated like mugs.

Reluctantly, they surrender the table and, through gritted teeth, say: “Let us buy you a drink…”

The bar staff, perhaps aware something odd is going on, step in and offer to replace the drinks on the house.

If it’s a scam, it’s a small one. What did they get? Most of a pint each. But when a pint costs more than a fiver, perhaps it’s worth it.

Maybe they do this every time they visit a pub, getting four or five free drinks over the course of an evening.

And if it’s not a scam… what on earth were they thinking?

We all know the rules.

You leave your coat. You leave a book on the table. You put a beer mat over the glass. You say to the people on the next table (us): “Can you keep an eye on our table?”

A nearly empty glass on a table only holds it for five minutes. Even a full glass probably only gets you twenty.

Pub people – was this a scam, or just bad manners? We’re intrigued to know about any low-level fiddles you’ve encountered.

14 replies on “Is “We were sitting there” a scam?”

Never seen this but table “holding” is a hazard of solo pub visiting. After a couple of pints in a pub you’re going to have to leave the bar to empty your bladder – unless it has a gargantuan capacity. So do you signal your intention to return by leaving a significant amount left in your pint – and risk bar staff or other customers swiping it?

It all depends on how busy the pub is. Unless there’s still several tables free, I take the nihilistic attitude of never leaving beer alone that I want to drink. If I leave the bar and return then it’s a pleasant surprise if the table is still free. Posession is at least nine tenths of the pub table law.

What has complicated matters in recent years is smoking outside – where unlike toilet visits a whole table may move temporarily outside with the expectation of returning several times. Even then one or two of the party often stays to hold the fort.

So sounds like quite a scam and one that may pay for a packet of cigarettes if done repeatedly over a night.

have been to places seen it happen but they only replaced the drinks with halfs

Very much depends on how long it takes for two fellas to smoke a fag, the only legitimate reason I can think of for an extended two-man absence from a table like this. As a non-smoker I’m guessing at 5 minutes but maybe they’re pipe smokers or neglected to roll their own before leaving.

Personally I’d either have just said sorry mate the table was empty when I got here 15 mins ago then totally ignored them.

I’m fascinated by ‘free drink’ scams, if that is what this is. I remember you posting about one that had quite a elaborate setup, but basically involved getting the bartender to trust you enough to pour a shot and put it on the bar, then downing the shot and legging it without paying. Then there are techniques for leaving without being seen – the narrator in a James Kelman story refers to someone doing “the door thing” and thinking nobody saw him, and I’ve always wondered what it was. It seems like an awful lot of effort to go to for a free drink. Still, there but for the grace of God – I’ve had moments of feeling like I’d kill for a pint, and I’ve been hard-up enough not to be able to afford a(nother) pint, but happily never both at once.

getting the bartender to trust you enough

Just to clarify, that’s the impersonal ‘you’ – I’m not suggesting it was you who were doing the shot-on-the-bar scam!

Yes, it does look rather scammy, although it’s a lot of effort for relatively little reward, and you can only pull it off once per pub. I think some people just enjoy the thrill of the chase.

As others have said, keeping your table is a particular problem for solo drinkers, which is where the Wetherspoon’s app comes in handy.

And leaving a coat isn’t a guarantee, as I remember once having that unceremoniously shoved to one side by a large group while I was using the toilet.

I’ve also more than once had my place setting for breakfast cleared away in a hotel while I was up using those interminably slow self-service toasters.

“As others have said, keeping your table is a particular problem for solo drinkers, which is where the Wetherspoon’s app comes in handy”. Maybe.
Half way through one of Tim’s breakfasts I went to the bar for another pint, which actually didn’t take many minutes, and returned to find my plate had been cleared, which surprised me as tables usually remain uncleared for ages. I reported this and a full replacement breakfast was provided quite quickly. So, though it wasn’t my intention, I had one and a half breakfasts for the price of one. That wouldn’t have happened with your app thingamajib.

The issue with the toaster has happened to me on a couple of occasions, and in different hotels.

I always leave a beer mat over the glass. In the absence of a mat, a napkin will do. It’s a universal sign for “Don’t touch, I’m coming back.” Also frees the bartender from worry that you skipped.

I was somewhere on a recent European trip (either Germany or Slovenia, I think… maybe Belgium? … it was a business trip to a lot of places in not a lot of time) where I headed off to the toilet, putting my beer mat on top of my glass, only to find that my glass had been removed when I returned. When I asked, the bartender explained that in their country (I realize this would be a better/more helpful anecdote if I remembered which country I was in), that was a signal that I was done with the beer. They happily replaced it, but it was the first place I’d ever been that the signal wasn’t understood as “I’m coming back for this”.

The fact that they took their coats makes me ask a simple question, how was the weather? If it was a dry, reasonably warm day I would assume those people have left and are not coming back. If it is pissing down then I am likely to be more understanding. If there is no other indicator of current use of the table then I’d shift the drinks to an adjacent space and if folks come back I’d point to their drinks and invite them to finish them elsewhere – it helps being 6’4″ to be honest.

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