Reserving a table at a pub makes you one of the world’s biggest monsters.
As pubs close across the UK at a startling rate – one every twelve hours, according to statistics – it’s perhaps no surprise that those who are lasting the course are trying to bring in a more diverse audience than is traditional, and the rise of the gastro-pub has led to almost every alehouse of a decent size opening a kitchen and expanding their food menu beyond the traditional pub fare to something that more resembles a restaurant, in terms of both prices and food. Well, fair enough, and we’re quite happy to take ourselves off to our local pubs for a nice lunch. But a pub remains a pub – for all the meals on offer, the main purpose of the pub is to sell drinks, especially in the evening.
Pub culture, of course, has changed over the decades, and will continue to so so. But some things seem essential elements of the pub, and the ability to just walk in and buy a pint has been a constant. The pub exists as a walk-in venue – whether it’s a pub crawl or a night out at a local boozer, the very essence of the pub is spontaneity, and the fact that it exists as a community asset and a place where all can go and find a place. But more and more places – particularly in London, it seems, but for all I know across the nation – are violating the trust of the traditional customer with table reservations.
Table reservations are a plague on pub culture, a horrendous interference in the way we use pubs. They are the domain of the non-pub goer, the middle-class dullard who is unwilling to accept to the etiquette of the pub – that it, turning up, queuing at the bar, getting your drink and if you are lucky or so inclined – because some people actually like standing at the bar – finding a table to sit at. For the neo-pub goer, such randomness is not acceptable. They would no more turn up at a pub and battle it out with other customers than they would go to a restaurant without a reservation. And many pubs, to their shame, have begun to cater to this passing trade, to the detriment of the regulars.
Go into many a pub now, and you’ll see notes on most tables, smugly telling us that ‘this table is reserved for Susan from 6pm’, or such. Susan might not be a regular – she might never have been to the pub before – but she’ll get to take precedence over the poor bugger who goes there week in, week out. If you are sat at her table when she arrives, you’ll be booted out – we’ve experienced being told to leave a table five minutes before the time was up, because the person who has booked it has arrived and demanded that they have their table immediately. This was bad enough. Seeing the two women then sit down with cups of tea was an additional slap in the face. Two pompous dullards drinking tea at a table in the pub in the evening – not even ordering food – while actual drinkers are pushed out of that space is nothing short of outrageous, and if pubs think that this will help them in the long term, I fear that they are very mistaken. A passing trade that expects a pub to remove every aspect of what makes a pub in order to gain their occasional custom will not help save the industry. More likely, it’ll be the eventual death of it, and soon, we’ll only be able to go out for a drink if we have a meal with it, have reserved a table and are happy with venues that have had every bit of atmosphere stripped from them.