Saturday, 18 September 2021

Please be seated if you want a drink

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.

So far, so good, and as I turned the corner into Charcott, I noticed there were several groups of people sitting out in the garden, which is to the left of the pub. There was also a lone cyclist sat on a bench, directly outside.

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?

The front door was open, as is the case during a normal summer, so I stepped inside and approached the bar. There were four clips on the bank of hand-pumps, which caught my attention and whilst I was waiting for someone to come and serve me, I weighed up in my mind as to which beer to plump for.

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.

My face dropped when he informed me that I couldn’t stand at the bar, or even pay for my drink there, as the pub was operating on a table-service only basis. He would bring my drink over to me once I was seated. Somewhat taken aback, I said I would be out in the garden, and headed off outside, but not before telling him which beer 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.

“Dry” would be the best description, and I didn’t really notice the citrus flavours that were listed as an attribute on Untappd. The beer was quite drinkable, and perhaps I am just being over-fussy, but as my first pint of cask since returning from holiday, it didn’t exactly inspire me.

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.

So, a frustrating, annoying, and totally unnecessary experience, as by refusing me service and payment at the bar, what should have been a speedy and perfectly normal transaction turned into a complete farce!  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.

I’m wondering where the “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.

The pub seems to be majoring on food, and bills itself as a “Gastro-pub.” This is fine and may even be necessary in order to survive in an isolated rural situation, but to ignore the regulars who liked to congregate at the bar, whilst at the same time discouraging casual drinkers, isn’t perhaps the wisest of courses.

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.


retiredmartin said...

I applaud your honesty, Paul, and I recognise the difficulties in expressing frustration about a pub you inherently like.

The old boys on my visit about 18 months ago were the only customers, and I can understand why they wouldn't want table service.

I'd be happy to wear a mask but I want to pay for and take my drink away when I order it.

Careful though, expressing that view will get you branded a xenophobe and
Brexiteer by a certain landlord not that far from you.

Paul Bailey said...

I'm intrigued now, Martin. I've been called many things over the years, but never a Brexiteer, or a xenophobe. Any clues as to who this landlord might be, or which pub he runs?

I can understand some pubs might still be a touch nervous about people drinking, whilst standing at the bar, but not being able to pay for a drink at the point of sale is very strange.

Matt said...

Sod ‘em. Had some very good meals and plenty of average beer there, but if they’re treating customers like that, will make a point of not visiting again. Thanks for the heads up.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Matt. It’s all a bit strange, and I imagine this knock on effect of discouraging the casual drinker (intentional or otherwise), is responsible for what you describe as “average beer.”

Unfortunately, this has been my experience as well. Four cask beers, for a pub of this size, was always rather ambitious, and the fine-dining brigade aren’t really going to make up for the shortfall of serious beer drinkers.

Greengrass said...

Paul, what you say about the Greyhound is very true, in my post some weeks back I had a minor rant about the campaigners choice of pubs for the GBG in this area. You will notice this pub was not one of the possible candidates. This is definitely a food pub, a pub I had the pleasure of visiting today for a quick snack. The larkins that accompanied it was excellent. Unlike you I don't feel the need to go 'off piste' & try beers brewed by amateurs. What's wrong with the 'ever reliable' especially when only having the one.
I agree that if you have to return to work ale can make you lethargic , when I'm playing bowls I drink lager but again it has to be a lager brewed by professionals. There are many out there masquerading under names that suggest otherwise. I'm sure your Son would agree.
Getting back to the Greyhound if you are only having one pint, a better idea would be to jump in your car & go to one of the pubs I mentioned in my earlier post, it would be quicker & you would avoid the sheep sh*t.