I broke one of my own unwritten rules yesterday, the rule being not to have drink at lunchtime. As I’ve explained before, there’s a good reason for me not having even a single pint, primarily because it makes me feel sleepy during the afternoon.
Yesterday was going to be different though, and in some ways it was as, although I didn’t nod off at my desk when I returned from my lunchtime pint, the pub visit itself was not the experience I’d been expecting.
The Greyhound at Charcott was a rather obvious choice, being just over 10 minutes’ walk away from my workplace. Its situation in a tiny rural hamlet, just a short distance off the beaten track, is a major attraction, and in addition there is normally a good selection of beers available.
It’s a couple of months since I last set foot in the Greyhound, although if I want to be pedantic, it’s much longer than that, because on my previous visit in late June, the pub was operating table service only. As I sat outside in the garden, I had no need to enter the pub, but this time was going to be different – or was it?
Although fan of both Old Dairy and the ever reliable, and “must stock” Larkin’s Traditional, the 3.9% West Coast Pale from Three Acre Brewery caught my eye, so when the young man appeared behind the bar, I was all ready to order myself a pint. He asked, “Can I help you?” to which I replied that I only wanted a drink, and the Three Acre beer was the one I was after.
That instruction was primarily to save time, as I only get an hour for lunch and didn’t want to be hanging around outside waiting for someone to come and take my order. Several minutes later, the barman appeared, carrying a tray full of drinks – one of which was mine. As he placed the glass on the table, he enthused that this West Coast Pale was a good one. The beer had only just gone on sale, and my pint was the first one he’d pulled through.
That latter comment was sufficient to set alarm bells ringing, as without wanting to appear picky, or indeed obsessive, the beer in the glass certainly had that “just pulled through look” about it. The haziness seems missing from the photo, and the colour too was much more of a straw-coloured yellow, but more than anything it was the taste that was disappointing.
What was more frustrating was the length of time it took me to make payment for my drink. The barman had said that he’d set me up a tab, even though I’d told him, whilst inside the pub, that I would only be staying for a quick drink. I explained that I was on my lunch-break and needed to be back at work by 2pm, but despite this, no one came out to collect my payment. It was shades of drinking in Germany all over again, and that frustrating experience when all the waiting staff disappear, just as you are wanting to drink up and go!
Eventually a young girl appeared to take orders from two groups of people who’d recently arrived. I collared her on her way back inside, pressing a five-pound note on her whilst explaining me need to leave shortly all over again, but after taking the cash, she failed to reappear with my change. Just as I was about to leave, the barman appeared with my change, although I was quite prepared to depart without it.
It also significantly reduces the chance of me making future lunchtime visits to the Greyhound, which is a shame really, as when I look back just a couple of years ago, it was the sort of pub where one could stand at the bar and engage the locals in conversation and the odd bit of banter.
“old boys” whom one could almost rely on encountering there, have gone to? I mentioned bumping into one such character, a month or so ago in the Rock, at Chiddingstone Hoath, but, being a 15-minute drive away from work, it's not ideal for a lunch-time drink. I could, I suppose, always call in on my way home, but it's not the same as arriving there on foot.
More to the point though, is why the Greyhound has continued sticking with table service when for casual visitors like me, plus the much missed local “old boys”, it obviously isn’t working? Having to pay waiting staff, just to deliver drinks to customers, can’t make economic sense, and whilst I can understand a reluctance to drop all restrictions immediately (I wrote about this in relation to the Star at Matfield, back in July), it is now a full two months since rules about standing and ordering from the bar were relaxed.
A good pub is one that caters for all sectors, and all types of visitors, so it is hard to see why a pub that prides itself on the range and the quality of the cask ales it serves, should choose to alienate the casual drinker and dedicated beer lover.
Footnote: I feel quite bad writing those last two paragraphs, especially as I have watched licensees Fran and Richard rescue the Greyhound from closure, re-open it following a complete revamp and makeover that enhanced its overall character, and then build it up into one of the best pubs in the locality.The couple have put their hearts and souls into the pub, which is their home as well as their business, so why take notice of me, a casual and occasional visitor, rather than a dedicated regular. Isn’t it rather churlish of me to criticise, particularly as there might be perfectly valid reasons for staying with the table-service only approach?
In my defence, I am only reporting what I found and using it to illustrate what I see as the downside to table service. It works on the continent, and it worked as we started to come out of the pandemic, but I’m not convinced that it’s the future for the traditional English pub.