View Full Version : Woolpack Dave's Beer and Stuff - The Art of Last Orders

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05-02-2011, 22:24
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It's 2am. I have to be up at 6:30 so that I can be awake enough by 7:30, and have the grill, hot cupboard and oven hot enough to cook breakfast for these bastards. They drove up from London, got stuck in awful traffic on the M6, have had a busy week at their desk jobs and want to unwind. They did phone ahead to warn us they would be late and to ensure they could get a few drinks in; it's a stag weekend after all and many beers is one of the things they want to do.

The crack is good. These guys are respectable beer appreciators and are even drinking the 5%+ beers that our local reserved clientèle steer clear of; they have time to make up. I'm enjoying it too and ignore the voice that declares that I will regret this in the morning and will be far too grumpy with my kitchen staff for anyone's good. "Any chance of another?" they are residents and I could serve them all night, quite legally, although I could rightly refuse too. What harm would it do? We're all having fun, I can sleep in on Monday when they have all gone home.

I now no longer have the responsibility for closing a bar. As an ex-licensee I often feel guilty about any criticism levelled at a bar or pub when it decides to stop serving. It can be frustrating for punters when they fancy a drink to be refused service even when it is known what time the bar closes.

The other evening I was in a bar, a bar I am very fond of, drinking some very nice beer. It was getting late and I knew this. My assembled friends pointed out that if I didn't hurry up the bar would shut. It was about 5 minutes to eleven, my glass was empty and I did fancy just one more before I left. The bar staff had been cleaning and intermittently serving for around the last half an hour. I stood patiently at the bar hoping the bar staff would notice me.

Information, I am told, is what helps difficult situations. I was told this by a counsellor who happened to be staying at our pub on one occasion. He was a sort of headologist listening type person, rather than an ineffectual local politician type person. I had been talking to said psychologist practitioner about the stress of delivering hospitality and in particular the utter dread I had started to feel before service when we expected a busy night. Everyone wants food quickly and they always all turn up at once. An hour waiting for food becomes unacceptable in these days of fast food. "Explain up front that it's busy and most people will be happy to wait"

I'm not sure we ever got our food service the way I thought it should be, and on the evening I had been given the gem of advice to chill out and just tell people they might have to wait I had been happily chatting with my customer come shrink. I suddenly realised it was close to service time and must have visibly panicked.

Dealing with last orders when the bar needs to shut can be equally as traumatic. It's not a skill that comes easily, especially to one who likes to drink a few and also dislikes being told to stop. Often I'd casually mention that I'd like to go to bed and the current purchase would be the last. A common trick by my locals turned friends was for one to point out that the speed so-and-so was drinking he would easily finish a half. "while your at it, might as well make it a pint" and so it would go on.

You have to be brutal if you want to go to bed before you have to get up. When it's the last one it has to be the last one. It is important to make sure they know, before the bar closes, that it is now time to put in the last order. Everyone in the bar has to know this. They really, really do have to know this. Upset drunks is the alternative. Drunk people tend not to be reasonable. Not even a little bit.

So, the other night, when the staff seemed unable to make eye contact with my patient puppy dog look I finally, after several minutes, asked "have you stopped serving?", "Sorry, yes" came the reply. It was a reasonably polite and firm reply. My ex-licensee voice told me that it was OK and I shouldn't get upset. It didn't work. I hadn't been told that I needed to buy my last drink. No bell, no "Last orders at the bar please", not even a quiet word to the few people left. I have to admit to being quite annoyed. I was annoyed because I wasn't warned that the bar would close.

The good news is that the next day, when talked to the manager, he confirmed that a quiet word should have been said to each table before the bar closed. I'd have been happy with that, even if closing before advertised time; providing I managed to make my last purchase, no problem. I am assured that it will not happen again. All's well that ends well.

I'm told that in beer specialist beer bars there does tend to be an expectation that the punters will know what time the bar closes. I think this is a poor show.

People need information, we all do, let us not unlearn how to deal with last orders.

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