Pub Life: Do Barmaids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The dark windows of a pub.

A conversation between two members of pub staff, overheard as they pulled our pints, and prompted by the insistent ringing of the phone.

I hear that sound in my head when I’m at home trying to get to sleep sometimes.

Ha, same! And after a busy weekend I have nightmares about managing queues and people making complicated orders.

Me too! And have you heard [colleague]’s thing?

No, what’s that?

She wakes her partner up in the middle of the night shouting out loud, ‘Who’s next then, please?’ Three or four times in one night she’s done it.

Wretched Hives of Scum and Villainy

Illustration by Andrew Young for the Beverage Report by Derek Cooper.

Derek Cooper’s The Beverage Report (1970) has an entire chapter dedicated to detailing the various ways those working behind the bar can rip-off their employers and customers; how landlords can rip-off the brewery and customers; how draymen can rip-off landlords and the brewery; and even how customers, given half a chance, can rip-off the bar staff, the landlord and the brewery.

Here’s one example:

A barman of some experience told me: “Say you’ve only got one bar and one cash register. Right! You take an order for a round of drinks, it may come to 8s 6d. The customer gives you a pound. Now two simple fiddles are workable here. Either you decided to cheat the till of cheat the customer. If you’re going to cheat the till you have to be careful. You mustn’t let the customer see you ringing up less than 8s 6d. So you may ring up 6d, almost instantaneously correct yourself openly — you say something like ‘Oh, I’m going mad — that was 8s 6d wasn’t it’ and then you ring up 3s 6d. See what I’m driving at? He’s rung up only 3s 6d so he can pocket 5s 0d. The customer gets the right change, the till gets the right change and he gets the difference.”

The bar staff interviewed reported that they especially prized the kind of customers who didn’t count their change, thus marking themselves out as well-off and careless. You won’t be surprised to hear, though, that they also claimed to reserve their nastiest tricks for the rudest and most annoying characters.

Of course, it goes both ways. Cooper has several stories of pubs being cleaned out by light-fingered customers, and we once saw with our own eyes a three man team pull a perfect short change con with distractions in the Pembury Tavern about five years ago.

The moral? No-one on either side of the bar should trust anyone or relax, even for a moment. Er, wait, that can’t be right…

Fantastic period iIllustration by Andrew Young scanned from our copy of  The Beverage Report.

Weird bar staff quirks

Here are a couple of oddities we’ve come across lately.

1. The barman who warned us not to mix the sediment from our St Austell clouded yellow into the glass with the beer or we’d “end up very poorly”. That’s clouded yellow. It’s a British take on a Bavarian wheat beer, and the bottle advises that it can be served with or without the yeast sediment mixed in. Yet more evidence of the British fear of suspended yeast and its supposedly poisonous qualities.

2. The barmaid who thought we weren’t looking when she held a sparkler near the pump in the last few seconds as she pulled the pint to lively up the head. She didn’t attach it, she just held it in place while she put the finishing touches to our pints. Without this bit of weird jiggery-pokery, we suspect they would have been completely flat.

UPDATE 27/07/2012: we spotted another barmaid in a St Austell pub doing more-or-less the same thing with the sparkler only, this case, she stopped when she had the glass two-thirds full, fixed the sparkler properly, and then finished the pint. We asked why and she said: “Because Proper Job is a bit lively. If you leave the sparkler on the whole time, it gets too much head. This is the best of both worlds.” So, there you go, we got it wrong first time round.