Tuesday, 4 June 2013

You Can't Sit There

A few weeks ago in London, in Craft Islington to be precise, a few of us encountered that most annoying and anti social of things in a public house.  There, in the middle of the afternoon, in a fairly quiet pub - well it was until we arrived - was a sign on a table -  more than one table in fact - "Reserved" it said.

Now I can understand it a bit.  Well just about if it was a gastropub where drinkers are a bloody nuisance, but this is a wet led beer emporium.  Food there is scotch eggs and exotic cold pies. As it happened there was lots of other tables, so it didn't matter.  The sign did though sensibly say that it was reserved from a certain time and that customers could feel free to use it up until that time, but it warned, ominously, that the chairs were part of the reservation.  No nicking them then!   I suppose it is a sign of the times and how middle class pub going in some places has become and is in this case a reflection of just that, as well as time and place. I'm guessing Craft Islington gets busy with hipsters of a Saturday night.  Still seems wrong to me though.  A pub is first come first served in my book.

And so to Prague.  Following up Mr Dredge's recommendation we hoofed out to Restaurace Kulovy Blesk.  It wasn't that hard to find once we'd nicked a wifi signal from Starbucks and as Mark mentioned to me, an unusual place.  The outside beer garden was empty and the bar abandoned, but we went on downstairs to find a neat little old fashioned bar.  We looked around. It was empty, though a barman leapt out from nowhere and ushered us into and through a second room, empty again apart from from two Czech guys talking gloomily over a beer.  All tables except theirs had reserved signs on them.  We were taken into another room with two more beer scoffing denizens.  It wasn't big.  Maybe six tables.  All except one had a reserved sign on it.  E remarked (no English was spoken) that this table for two must be our destination and headed to it. With incredible fleetness of foot, our guide headed her off at the pass and with a triumphant flourish, furnished the only unreserved table with a reserved sign.

Now I could say Dear Reader that I knocked him out at this point and he may be lying there still, but with great forbearance, I didn't.  He turned and went to a closed door.  It was a further small room, with about four tables.  You are ahead of me now aren't you?  All had reserved signs on them, but one tiny table by the door was indicated and the sign removed.  We'd made it.

As Dredgie says, the beers were good and interesting:  Matuška Raptor, Kocour Sumeček, and lagers from Chotiviny and Konrad.  We stayed for a hour and a half, along with the other guys. Well they were there.  The waiter/barman having dealt with the reserved situation to his complete satisfaction, was very pleasant and if the till receipt is to believed, was called Veronika.
Nobody else came in the whole time we were there.

We also took up Mr D's other suggestion of Nota Bene, where we ate. Modern, pleasant, good beer, no oddball behaviour. That was the only disappointment.  The bar had been set high by Kulovy Blesk. Both were blessedly non smoking.


Curmudgeon said...

Yes, a bête noire of mine too.

bailey said...

Hmm, yes, a bit surprised they have reservation at the Craft Beer Co given that it's not a food-led place.

Having said that, it beats the Stammtisch system, doesn't it? Or, worse, the thing I've occasionally seen in pubs in my home town where a particular table is reserved for a party of regulars who always sit there, but there's no sign and no warning, until they turn up and glower at you.

Tandleman said...

B&B. I'm not sure it does. At least then you understand that it is for the pub's bread and butter customers. I don't object to that and wouldn't here, though where would you draw the line I suppose?

steve lamond said...

could easily have been a table reserved for a ratebeer gathering or suchlike, that happens every now and again at the crafts...preferential treatment for regular customers

Cooking Lager said...

It is getting more common. My german teacher arranged for an end of term goodbye drink and reserved a section of a pub. Just for a drink. Most odd.

My boss reserved parts of trendy bars with a rope barrier for the after xmas dinner piss up. That was nicer as the grog was free and I had a skin full and I hadn't even started working for them yet. My kind of folk. It's becoming the done thing.

I believe CAMRA even reserve whole rooms of pubs and moan about any music coming from the other rooms and keep the locals out.

Don't have an opinion on it myself. If a place has reserved tables and no free one, I spend my dollar elsewhere. I am unlikely to return at another time. It is there business, it is my wallet of cash. If it also involves waiter service then I vote in favour of middle class pretention.

Tandleman said...

Trendy bars are only public houses by legal definition. They are a far off land of which I know little and care less.

CAMRA are a right shower of bastards, so ignore them. Or bring your scotch egg in and talk loudly about lout. That'll teach them.

Sue said...

Most of the tables in the conservatory at the Baum on the 23rd May (prior to the informal branch social at the Flying Horse which was so informal no-one else showed up apart from JMR and he was there for other purposes) had 'reserved from' signs on them.

Phil said...

I do feel that pub seating ought to be a free-for-all - unless there was a CAMRA branch meeting there, of course, in which case a table reservation is perfectly sensible and all part of providing a good service. That particular Reserved notice is a particularly irritating variant - I don't think there's any need to reserve chairs, however politely you do it.

As for Prague, I've said it before and I'll say it again - these Czechs are crazy. Great blackboard, too. I'm not too well up on the local currency, but "USA 0.2" looks like a bit of a bargain in among the 12s and 15s.

Tyson said...

You can now book tables at certain Wetherspoon pubs; so the times they are a changing.

Chap said...

In Germany you often see signs that a table has been reserved from a specific time. People don't treat it as a warning off, but as an invitation to use the table up to that time, and from what I've seen, they leave it with good grace when their time is up. Seems eminently sensible and courteous to me. But I loved the Fawlty Towers style reception at Kulovy Blesk.
Phil: I think you'll find that the numbers 12 and 15 and so on are degrees Plato, and the 0.2 is telling customers that the Dogma ale is served in 0.2 litre glasses.

BeerCast Rich said...

My Dad was once told to 'f-off' in no uncertain terms from a well-regarded York pub, for having the temerity to sit on the barstool invisibly reserved for the purposes of the landlord, in between serving customers.

Needless to say, nobody from my family has been in there since.

And to the matter at hand, I agree totally Pete, reserving tables in pubs annoys the hell out of me too. My other half wanted a Friday night after work at a place here, so I advised her to make a booking (against my better judgement), but when she phoned on Wednesday lunchtime, all tables for Friday night had already been reserved...

RedNev said...

Reserved places in pubs aren't something I come across often, except for special events such as post-funeral gatherings, which no reasonable person would object to.

I'd have walked out of that Czech place, Tandleman, on seeing the second room full of reservations. Losing business might make the necessary point.

Gueuzel said...

This really annoys me too, and I think I can go one better with the following... I was in a pub in Westminster on Friday afternoon and sitting on table in the sun in the "garden". After about 30 minutes a member of staff came out and, without a word, plonked a "Reserved from 5:30" sign on our table - and then stuck it down with a roll of gaffer tape for good measure. Wordlessly, she moved on to do the same to the next (also occupied) table. I could think of no finer way of telling us to F off. So I did.

Chris Emma said...

I've been sat in the back room of Craft in Islington on a Friday night where every table (barring two small ones) was reserved from 6pm. People kept coming in from the other room to look for spare chairs. They completely ignored the spare chairs at the empty reserved tables and kept coming up to bother the group sat at the other (non-reserved) table for spare seats. Why would you go and argue with some strangers about whether they need all of the seats at their table when there are about 20 stools that NOBODY is anywhere near?


BeersManchester said...

Agree with most of the above.
For me, it's simple Peter. I walk out.

There's plenty of good beer out there and I want to be treated like a customer, not an outcast or outsider.

If my wallet is prohibited from touching a seat, it opens elsewhere.

(And I'll write about it. Twitter loves that kind of stuff!)

RedNev said...

I agree completely with the previous comment. My money pays their wages just as much as the money of those reserving the tables - well, it would if I were willing to accept such poor customer service, but even the best beer does not excuse bad treatment. To quote: "It's the offer Stupid! Forget that at your peril. The future belongs to pubs that really do make it worthwhile to go there."

Erlangernick said...

No lovely, soft, grassy 10° lager there? Pity.

E went along?

Tandleman said...

RedNev - It was amusing in Prague really. They couldn't have been nicer apart from the initial oddballery.

Seems I've touched a nerve with this reserved stuff though.

Erlangernick said...

About the reservations at German places. It's simple sensibility: a group (or a couple) wants to eat and drink, and that efficiently, of course. So, book a table, or at least part of a table.

The table's free until that time, so, use it!

Phil said...

Gueuzel's story reminds me of a slightly different story - of rudeness and presumption by a punter - which I told recently on another blog. So, apologies if you've read this already:

We were at the Turks Head on St Agnes, one of the Isles of Scilly; nice pub, decent beer, good pasties, great location. We were in the beer garden, chatting with the bloke on the next table (who was on his own), when a blazer-and-cravat type leant over to the bloke we were talking to and asked, very politely, if his party could have that table after he’d finished. On the face of it this was a perfectly reasonable request – other than being completely pointless – but the undertone was perfectly clear: would you mind most awfully supping up and getting your plebeian carcass out of my way? The guy was quite offended – he spent the next few minutes h’mphing and muttering about no way to talk to people – but he drank up and cleared off all the same. I hope I’d have the nerve to say something a bit different (“you can take this table and kick it round the garden for all I care, after I’ve finished“).

Cooking Lager said...

Seems none of you like reserved tables. My point about CAMRA reserving them wasn’t that they are a bunch of beardy bastards, in fact they are by and large nice old codgers with the odd weirdo thrown in for fun. For another example you might like to book a table in a pub, Mother’s Day. Take your old Duchess for lunch out. The old dear doesn’t want to be in and out of the car as you drive around different places looking for a free table. Book a table, it makes sense.

Booking a table is just forward planning. You do it for lots of things. Cinema, theatre tickets. A restaurant. If I were to tell you I expect to turn up on the fly at a national arena to watch an international rock act and get tickets from the box office you would think me mad. If you like that sort of stuff you plan it 6 months ahead. You are accustomed to that, it is the norm.

You all know that large numbers of pubs are really no longer pubs anymore. They have changed into restaurants. With that comes table reservation.

You guys appear to be stuck in a previous set of cultural norms of what pubs used to be like, when they actually existed. Those grotty boozers died. The businesses which replaced them changed to attract a new clientele of casual diners. They kept the pub theme so they wouldn’t have to change the wallpaper.

With that the cultural norms changed. You can book a table. You don’t take your glass back to the bar any more than you wipe the table yourself. The toilets are clean as is the carpet. Your missus likes the place and doesn’t feel intimidated by it. The cultural norms are international enough to be welcoming to foreign visitors. You ought to expect waiter service, but as the old joke goes. Why do you pay for British pub food in advance? Taste it and find out.

Some places do it well. Some badly. Putting reserved signs on already occupied table is one doing it badly. Stop giving a toss if it closes, stop blaming Tesco. A craft beer bar with uncomfortable seats will open to replace it and you can go out for a £6 pint.

Tandleman said...

Cookie - While your analysis is spot on as usual, it is nonetheless wrong in context in which folks are complaining.

If taking your Dear Old Mum out for a meal, then yes, you book a table in a pub that is all but name a restaurant. In a pub which is wet led and has only snacks it is inappropriate and that is the point. It may be of course that these pubs and the people that frequent them, see themselves differently. That may be true and is yet another point.

Is a craft beer £6 a pint joint different? Can it afford to offend? Maybe pro tem, but in the longer term, no surely?

Put a sign outside and say "If you want to park your arse in here, you mustn't pop in on the off chance. Book a seat". You could add "No Plebs" to emphasise the point.

Tyson said...

Cookie, hey, don't lump us all in with the grumpy old man CAMRA stereotype. I'm all over this reserving a table malarkey. I say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Better me sat with my feet up supping Oakham Citra than some spotty oik.

Cooking Lager said...

But Tand, it is only your out of date cultural norms that lead you to think a reservation for food yes, for drink no.

If the place is trying to attract a higher spending customer, they will adopt the norms that customer expects. For instance a high spending group of football players will book a table at a bar. Other high rollers might want to emulate them. It may keep the plebs out, but the plebs buy cheap beer and expect Wetherspoons prices. I know, I’m one. Why fill your gaff up with plebs if punters with money to spend want to book a table and enjoy a relaxed drink in a bar that isn’t heaving?

When you book the establishment may have data on all your previous visits. You booked, you paid by card. They know whether you are a high spender or budget customer. Or whether they really do have a table on Friday night or whether they are only free Tuesday. Brave new world. You don’t have to like it.

Tandleman said...

Ah the old "times they are a changing" argument. But of course you may well have a point, sadly.

DavidS said...

This one drives me nuts as well. Happens in an otherwise sensible and generally excellent beer pub (not gastro, not full of VIPs) near us.

I'm not even sure how much good it actually does them, particularly on friday nights when they'd be heaving anyway - where previously you'd head there early to get a table, now you either book a table for later in the evening or don't bother going at all because all the tables have "reserved from 8" notes on them.

RedNev said...

Yet again, Cooking Lager describes a world I just don't see. Most of the pubs I go to are not scruffy old dives, but they are primarily drinking pubs, and I very rarely see reserved tables. It's not even the present, let alone the future, if my experience is anything to go by.

I find this "the world's changing - get used to it or I'll insult you" approach to people commenting on developments they're not keen on a little disappointing. Drinkers in their 50s upwards will have seen many changes over the years: today's pubs are very different from the 1970s, with many cyclical changes in between. But, Cookie, a lot of those changes didn't stick; they're now discarded and long forgotten, and who’s to say current trends won’t go the same way? I don't share your absolute faith in the value of the new and the worthlessness of the old, because I've seen so many new things that have subsequently become old hat - but which at the time you'd have praised as the future, had you been around. There’s nothing more dated than yesterday’s new thing.

Erlangernick said...

Reminds me. I once reserved a specific table in a specific corner of an Oxford pub by phone. The chap said they don't normally do reservations, but would in our case, as it was a group of 9 (even including 3 minors), and it was in the afternoon. Helped to use the name "Hasselhof", of course.

It was a fantastic time.

Please don't hate me.

Cooking Lager said...

Now now Nev, no ones insulting anyone.

You are right that the cultural norms in 20 years will be different from today, as today is different from yesterday. The clock isn't going backward. The mobile phone & internet are not about to be uninvented and the social behaviour changes these devices enable yet to be fully realised.

Whether table reservation sticks or not I guess is down to whether punters like it. I guess some do, some don't.

If I were a futureolgist I would guess as the changing nature of money as a medium of exchange from paper and metal tokens to electronic data as something that will have a bigger effect than many expect.

DavidS said...

Although it's notable that the internet and mobile phones are generally pushing us in the direction of more spontaneity and less planning, which is a direction that I generally like. I can send an email round the office mid afternoon to see who wants to go for a drink after work, or text my friends at 8pm on a saturday night to find out what pub they're in.

Pre-booking tables goes in the opposite direction - away from spontaneity and towards detailed planning and having to arrange two days in advance that six people will be in a specified pub from 8pm or you won't get a table - and I think that's why it annoys people so much, not just that it's not "how it's always been and how it should be".

Cooking Lager said...

Not really Dave. I can be sat in a bar with friends discussing whether we want to go to another bar. We can chance it or in each of our pockets is a little device that has the full yellow pages on & on occasion can be a phone. We can phone ahead and see if a table is free. We might even be able to book on their website.

I'm not saying this is common practice, and from my observation the city centers are different from the surrounding towns but the possibilities are there.

Anonymous said...

As for booking tables, I'm all for it if the purpose is a meeting, and do it all the time for campaign groups which are effectively committee meetings.

That customers in separate rooms thing- I hate the practice in British restaurants of seating you at a table right next to the only other one in the place that is occupied, even when there are 20 others vacant.

As a paid-up CAMRA member, I do wonder if, according to Cooking Lager I am a 'nice old codger' or an 'odd weirdo'. Don't answer that Tandleman.

Dale Ingram, SWLondon CAMRA