A Good Beer Blog


Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


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Knut -

I visited a brewpub near Oslo a few months ago, which is a part of a restaurant complex. The lady behind the bar was new to the business, having previously worked in a Kindergarten. Nothing wrong with that, she was able to pour nice pints. But she also confided that she didn't like beer - her tipple was sweet industrial cider.
Of course it is the management, who hires people that will never be able to offer a decent level of service, who are to blame. They have hired an excellent brewer, the beers are fine - why not do the final little effort in finding people who are enthusiastic about the quality products?
It's probably me being old fashioned. But, other things being equal, I always return to shops or bars with comptetent staff, with pride and knowledge about what they are selling.
Be it shoes, beer or flowers.

Bailey -

I've got a fairly basic minimum requirement: to be dealt with as a human being and an individual. If I've had a bad day, I don't take it out on a barman; I don't expect him to take his bad day, or his disdain for "the herd", out on me.

Having said that, I agree that it is important to keep some perspective and to try to empathise from time to time.

Mitch Adams -

I own and run a pub, I have worked in pubs for the last 16 years. I have had some great bosses over the years who have taught me how to deliver great customer service, I have (hopefully) passed this knowledge on to my staff.

One of my favourite analogies is that being behind the bar is like being an actor. When you're on stage, it doesn't matter if your cat is sick, you had an argument on your way to work or with the previous customer, the show must go on.

Customers come in to bars and pubs for escapism, they want to forget about their troubles, and taking yours to work is not going to help them achieve that. Putting on a smile and offering them a taste of the beers before they buy might.

As a member of customer service staff in the hospitality industry the number one priority is that your offer great customer service with friendly hospitality. I understand that there are occasions when there is baggage that cannot be left at the door, it is on these occasions that we should swap shifts, talk to the boss, maybe book a few days off.

Being behind a bar isn't for everybody, it is a job that requires you to love it, warts and all. For those who just can't fall in love a career change might be in order.

I know I've been quite blunt, and I know it's not that easy to just 'get another job', especially in the current climate. I am lucky, love my job, I don't see why other people shouldn't strive for the same feeling. Their job is out there somewhere...

Pete Brown -

Alan, whatever the cause, if the reaction to a reasonable question leaves the customer feeling embarrassed and humiliated, the server is in the wrong job. As I went on to say in the piece, it's not that the barmaid said no - it's the way she said it, and the fact that she then walked off and refused to serve my wife.

I should probably also have added that I worked part time behind a bar for five years, so I've been there too. I had my fair share of assholes and customers who want to look tough in front of their mates/girlfriends at my expense. I suffered heavy verbal abuse and even threats of physical violence. And sometimes I lost it and answered back. But anyone in that pub who treated a customer with open hostility and contempt for no apparent reason would not have kept their job.

Alan -

It's the idea that one incident qualifies the customer to say get a new job that gets me. I don't think staff are actors, with respect Mitch, and I don't know how your wife carried herself at that moment, either. So I can't presume that this job is not right for this person on the information provided even if this incident was really bad. It certainly qualifies as cause for zero tip but if you don't tip out of principle or cultural norm, well, you don't have that part if the exchange. If they tell me I don't like the stuff I drink, say stout, I am fine with that. They are, after all, just a person working hard.

Frankly, Knut, if they are enthusiastic about the product I think they are trying to up sell me. Calm down buddy, I think. I actually prefer a bit of back and forth. One of my favorite bartenders, Kenny of 1986, would suggest something I might have said in our banter was the "fucking stupidest things" he's ever heard as he walked away. If I don't know Kenny, that's rude. Because I drank at his bar twice a week, it's charming.

The other thing is this. The places I go are places I go over and over. I like the people who work in those places. I don't pretend to cross the line and suggest they are friends any more than I expect them to be "on stage" but their efforts are appreciated and when they are busy they can get short. If there is a moment like that, I tend to acknowledge that they are working their butts off and to not worry.

But it can be worse than that. A few months back I was in a favorite place when one of the patrons decided to audibly complain that she got served after the customer two tables over even though she ordered first. She was an ass. So me and my table mates decided it was important to speak audibly about how excellent the meal was, the service was as usual and how she should slow down a bit as she was working so hard. Which she was.

I think you should have balanced the column with an experience from the perspective of the server, too, Pete. Sure your story is about a moment of really bad service and an unhappy experience but wasn't an available response to say "sorry you are having such a crap day. I was really only looking for a bit of help" to see if the moment can be recovered.

And, with respect, even if this was your wife who experienced it, your choice of reporting it as such puts we the readership in a corner from the get go. You set up the potential that you might now think I think poorly of your wife who I have never met and have to only assume is actually a patient person given your writing about yourself (joke-ish observation but not entirely so). But I appreciate you will know that is not the case.

Bailey -

Why don't we tip in the UK? Some would say that tipping equates to holding back part of someone's pay and then making them perform like a monkey for it every minute of every shift: that doesn't sit well. You'll often hear British people say that we don't tip because we pay people properly (note: defintion of "properly" up for debate...) in the first place.

Personally, I think if you've taken a pay packet on the understanding that you'll undertake a particular job, and it's been made clear to you that includes being friendly/smiling/making chit-chat, then you're kind of obliged to do it. Mitch's actor analogy reminds me of what a former manager of mine used to say: bad tempers and arguments stay behind the kitchen door. It's not "don't be human"; it's not even saying that a barman shouldn't (discreetly) give an arsehole customer what for; just that a certain level of professionalism is expected.

I really feel for businesses who work hard to build a good image and then have it ruined by one member of staff having an off day getting smart with the wrong person (such as a blogger or journalist).

I have less sympathy for businesses that pay people badly, train them badly and don't supervise them effectively.

Note that Pete didn't name the pub. Very honourable given that he's referring to a second-hand experience that, nonetheless, reminds me of many similar experiences I've had.

Alan -

With respect, low pay, no tips and staff as actors sounds a lot like McDonalds.

Bailey -

But the alternative model, as I understand it, is even *lower* pay, with bills stuffed into the garter to make up the difference.

Alan -

Not sure where the garter comes from as it's on the bill but you're getting to what I think are very important cultural distinctions. I have, frankly, never been as badly treated as in a snotty London pub where I was given no doubt that my accent allowed them to crap on my presence. I have, conversely, never been treated well as in another London pub where my pal was a regular and the owner and staff liked our presence... especially after we spent an hour talking with the old guy in the corner who the staff had assumed was deaf. He was just a sad old guy from Saskatchewan whose family told him not to come back after WWII. The dymanics of what is acceptable in a bar is bar specific and richly cultural. Frankly, Pete had written that column in a Canadian paper he would have been met with howls of derision. Think nicer Australians with a real moral egalitarian streak.

Bailey -

The garter was flippant -- I meant to suggest that, to my mind, the relationship between tipper and recipient (where the recipient is dependent on the tip to pay the rent, as opposed to considering it a pleasant addition to an adequate salary) seems a bit tacky to me.

Tips as gesture of gratitude: lovely.

Tips as component of salary: one way of keeping staff permanently on their toes, I guess.

Alan -

But that is cultural. That is not your personal view but that of your community more generally, right? I don't equate tips with wages at all. I tip waiters but also taxi drivers and hair cutters and people who carry my bags at hotels and train stations which is our cultural norm.

Bailey -

The issue is not what we as customers think the tips represent but whether their employers do.

As I understand it, in countries without minimum wage law (which we have in the UK), it is perfectly legitimate to pay a member of staff less than they could ever live on on the expectation they will make the rest up in tips. So, the tips are their salary, even if we, as customers, don't think of them that way.

That's an effective way of quality assuring each and every customer interaction -- make nice or don't eat this week!

Bailey -

Apologies, btw, for appalling typos and mangled sentences in above comments. Chasing a deadline and commenting on blogs at the same time. (Distraction helps me concentrate...)

Alan -

FWIW - We have both mini-wage and a culture of tipping. Think its a tad more complex.

Mangle away. Mia espacia commento esta sua espacia commento.

Merch -

Alan, I've enjoyed your blog for years, but I have to point out a big mistake you've made here.

"Frankly, Pete had written that column in a Canadian paper he would have been met with howls of derision. Think nicer Australians with a real moral egalitarian streak."

Where you typed "Canadian", I'm sure you meant to write "Ontarian". If Pete's column had been published in Alberta, it would have been met with howls of approval.

I spent ten years (or so I'm told) tending bar, first in a tavern where the bartenders weren't allowed to serve customers directly, then in a nightclub where bar tips bumped you into the next tax bracket, and I really don't see what tips have to do with Pete's article.

Bar staff don't have to be actors (though it can help to think of the job in that light) and they surely don't have to put up with jerks, but if they can't even be civil, then they are definitely on the wrong side of the retail equation. A customer may not be justified in saying "get a new job" following a single incident, but neither is anyone (server or otherwise) justified in behaving with unprovoked rudeness.

Alan -

No, I meant Canadian. I can't be responsible for your niche sub-set behind the firewall. I am all in favour of civility but that goes both ways - and you and I actually seem to agree on that.