Wine & Food

    Keep self-pouring beer pumps out of our pubs

    11 January 2017

    There is a new scourge of the pub: the self-pouring beer tap. As the son of a former publican, I’m convinced that it’s a dreadful innovation, and not just because I appreciate precisely 20mm of head on my Guinness.

    Last month, there was frothy talk of self-serve pumps thanks to Barclaycard temporarily installing one in a London pub. It drew attention to contactless payments for booze via something called Pay@Pump technology, which aims to reduce queuing time and facilitate faster transactions.

    ‘I’m sure everyone has been stuck behind the person who orders the most complicated cocktail on the menu or a round of 10 drinks for their group of friends,’ Tami Hargreaves, from Barclaycard, said at the time. ‘When people told us that waiting time was one of their biggest annoyances, we wanted to help solve a common problem with a simple solution.’

    While British boozers adopting self-pour taps en masse is still very much hypothetical, in America the technology is closer to being implemented. A new rule allowing the use of self-service taps in bars and restaurants has, for example, just been approved in West Michigan.

    A majestic site (Getty)

    A majestic site (Getty)

    These automatic beer taps would be just about acceptable in some settings, such as a God-forsaken Leicester Square night club or an airport at 4am. Speed, like patience, can be a virtue. But given the way all other technological advances are going, our trusty bar staff may at some point in the future become an endangered species. If they are all eventually replaced by machines, who will village locals talk to on quiet Tuesday evenings? What are second year students going to do for extra cash? Imagine our pubs without hand pumps and curved brass taps.

    Thanks to my dad’s publican past, I see the industry through rose-tinted spectacles: I spent many summers in his pub, The Racehorse, in Oxford, learning how to pour pints and dishing out complimentary doubles to Frank Sinatra tribute acts. At times, I hated the place (during 10-hour shifts, mostly), but looking back I can see working there was a rite of passage, bound by camaraderie and steeped in tradition.

    And tradition is so important. I don’t mean to get all Nigel Farage with this, but do we really want to hurt British pubs even more than we already are? We need to be wary of the self-pour threat. Really we do. If we purposely, or mistakenly, kill off barmen and women, pubs will still exist, but their souls will have died.

    Josh Barrie tweets @joshbythesea