Waiter service in pubs

waiter.jpgWaiter service in bars is one of those things you often hear British people complain about when they come back from holiday.

Queuing at the bar is so ingrained in our culture that the idea of a bloke in an apron bringing our drink (and expecting to be bloody tipped for it, too, cheeky sod…) is almost as upsetting as having to use a funny foreign toilet.

But we’d like to see a bit more waiter service in Britain, now. More and more, we’re put off going to particular pubs because we know we’ll have to stand in a crowd for what feels like 30 minutes, craning our necks, hoping to catch the eye of a barman. How much more civilised to pay a measly tip for the privilege of sitting on one’s behind while fresh glasses of tasty beer are brought to your table.

This would also save us the sight of tourists in England sitting glumly waiting to be served, too. And, vice versa, standardising across Europe would save your continentals from having to watch British people whispering awkwardly near the door:

“I can’t tell if it’s waiter service. Should we go up and order? Maybe we should go up. That looks like a bar. Oh, but look, they’re getting served at the table. Shall we go up?”

“No, Brian. That would be a breach of etiquette, and then they’ll kill us or, worse, laugh at us. Let’s just go back to the hotel and drink from the mini-bar for the next week until the holiday is over.”

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Picture by independentman, under a Creative Commons license from Flickr.

Are family breweries really such a great idea?

marcaurel.jpgThere’s been lots of talk in the UK press this week about inheritance, in the wake of Nigella Lawson’s decision not to leave her wealth to her kids.

In their coverage of the story, the BBC came up with a piece of research by Economist Nick Bloom which suggests that businesses where the CEO is the oldest son of the founder aren’t likely to be the best:

We looked at 5,000 companies and we found that around a third of medium-sized manufacturing firms were family owned. In about half of them the eldest son was the CEO. They are very badly managed.

There is a perception in the world of beer that family run breweries are good; breweries run by accountants and marketing people are bad.

Although there are some breweries where the heirs do seem to have a real passion for brewing, what happens if the son just isn’t interested in beer or brewing, or is rubbish at running a business? I was at university with the scion of a great British brewing family. He was the thick, boorish product of a boarding school; prone to shouting homophobic abuse at people for drinking orange juice, reading books, not vomiting enough and so on; and didn’t show very much interest in ale at all, preferring alcopops and pound-a-pint lager, from what I recall. He will almost certainly end up running the family business one day. I shudder to think.

People should learn from the Five Good Emperors of Rome. They chose their heirs from outside the family and trained them from youth. When Marcus Aurelius broke this unwritten rule and handed control over to his son Commodus, the Roman Empire began its long collapse and 2000 years later, we were forced to endure Ridley Scott’s abysmal Gladiator.

Are you an alcoholic?

allourbeers.jpgWell, that depends what you read and whose questionnaire you do.

This post started as a bit of a joke. A friend of mine who lives in the States was telling me about a questionnaire her students have to do about alcohol use which would have classified most Brits as alcoholics. Ha ha, we all said. And I thought it might be fun to post a crazy puritanical questionnaire compared with a “more sensible” one.

However, as I started going through various questionnaires I found online I found out that there was no particular difference between American and international questionnaires, and also that I drink too much according to most websites, and may be an alcoholic according to others.

In fact, the one questionnaire that puts me in the clear is American website Alcoholscreening.org. Although it thinks that I drink more than the average (American) woman, I’m below the levels typically associated with alcoholism. Other questionnaires are not so kind, and I’ve been told I’m causing myself health problems and should see a specialist immediately.

So should I worry? Part of the problem with these questionaires is that they’re often designed so that any negative answer indicates that you may have a problem. The Alcoholics Anonymous one is a good example. Basically, if you score yes to any of them, you MAY be an alcoholic. Apparently, I’m definitely an alcoholic, because I’ve ticked three; yes, I have (once) lost my memory, I have drunk alone once or twice, and I have felt remorse after drinking. Not because I’ve done (or failed to do) anything significant after drinking, but because I get awful hangovers and I’m the kind of puritan that regrets wasting time being ill.

In fact, guilt and remorse are a recurring theme in these questionaires. Admitting to feeling guilty about drinking and wanting to cut down occasionally are seen as indicators of potential alcoholism, which I find a bit weird. It’s as if just by doing the questionnaire you’re admitting you have a problem. That combined with the fact that “denial” is a key indicator is enough to condemn anybody!

You may say that Alcoholics Anonymous has a vested interest in making people believe they are alcoholics. So I looked for some neutral authorities. The World Health Organisation has several diagnostic tools, which appear in various forms on various websites. Here’s the version I did. I actually thought it was pretty good, as it goes through the amount you drink, but then seeks to analyse whether this is a problem or not. My result? I don’t have any alcohol related problems at the moment, but;

“Alcohol is probably slightly too important in your life and you may have the earliest signs of a developing alcohol dependency.”

Well, brewing is my hobby and I have a beer-blog, so yes, alcohol is important in my life. Or rather, beer is. That leads me onto another point. One of my personal indicators has always been that if there isn’t any nice beer, I tend not to drink at all. No shite lager, no vodka and tonic — I stick to the softies and spare the liver. If someone told me I could never drink beer again, I’d be gutted. If they told me I could never drink beer, but could drink other alcohol, this would not be a consolation. Oh, there goes the denial again.

Shouldn’t there be some recognition of these types of factors, rather than straight number crunching? Well, yes. If you look up technical definitions of alcoholism, they focus very much on your behaviour, not how much you drink. The Journal of the American Medical Association defines alcoholism as;

“a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations…It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial”

To finish with, I want to heartily recommend a brilliant article in the Observer, via Guardian Online (by Euan Ferguson) from earlier this month. As well as saying extremely sensible things about the current panic in the UK about binge-drinking, it has some “from the heart” guidance from an alcoholic as to how you really know. The difference between drink as a treat, and drink as a necessity. The importance of “the first drink of the day” to the alcoholic. The need to listen to the mornings, not government guidelines. There are just so many quotes that I want to reproduce here, as I feel it is bang-on about so many things.

“The great danger, surely, is that by telling everyone they drink too much (when, as we have seen, we have been following spurious guidelines for decades) we are left bereft of proper guidance. The tactics leave us more confused than ever. When are we drinking too much? Should I feel guilty? What’s wrong with a couple of glasses? Am I an alcoholic? Is there a difference? Oh yes. Yes, there is still a difference, between those who enjoy a drink and those who tip into hell. Our studies today show the difference, and it is, I would argue, supremely irresponsible for a government minister to attempt to blur the scare-lines.”

I can’t speak for how accurately he describes the life of the alcoholic (fortunately) but I can say that this article is also the best analysis of British drinking culture I’ve ever read.  Do go and read it.

Boak

Accountants and breweries

Accountants get a lot of stick from home-brew books, beer blogs and the like. Apparently we’re responsible for everything bad that has ever happened in beer, such as the move from cask to keg in the UK, use of rice as an adjunct, and the development of high-alpha (i.e low-flavour) hops.

I’m fed up with this laziness. Firstly, as anyone with any business experience knows, the job of the finance team is to support the goals of the company. If the company wants to sacrifice quality for profit, that’s the board’s call. And of course the board will take that decision based on (a) shareholder opinion (b) analysis of the market. So it’s all the fault of the consumers really…

Secondly, in my experience, real-ale lovers are well-represented within the accountant population. Maybe not that surprising given our reputation for being pedantic bores.

Thirdly, we just don’t have the (diabolical) imagination for the crimes we’re accused of.

Now the marketing team — that’s a different story…

Boak

Irish pubs in Spain

guinness.jpgI used to avoid Irish pubs, particularly when abroad, thinking they´d be full of tourists. Then I discovered that in a lot of places they´re actually really good places to meet the locals thanks to (a) the bizarre belief that Irish and British things are just inherently cool (b) the fact that they´re shunned by self-righteous tourists like me. So I became more tolerant, and stopped going into a sulk everytime someone suggested going to an Irish pub. But now I’ve been in a few here in Spain, I find myself very unnerved by the fact that they are, here at least, another weapon in the fearsome armada of Heineken International.

Salamanca has at least four Irish pubs and for various reasons I’ve now been in three of them. They´re all Heineken beasts so you get Paulaner and other delights such as Adelscott and Desperados. You may also come across an advert for the local Octoberfest franchise, a subject I blogged about a couple of months ago.

More sinister still (I find) are the various efforts to make the locals drink more and more. Special offers for large drinks, for example. Even the pub quiz turns out to be a syndicated marketing effort.

The very things about the drinking culture in Spain and France that the Government in the UK want us to emulate — moderation and smaller measures — are an anathema to people in the business of selling.

It’s not all bad news though — some of these Heineken outlets do have a guest beer from another brewer. Guinness. Sigh.