/ Food & Drink

Would you pay to pour your own pint?

Pint pouring

A new self-service draught beer system allows customers to pour and pay for their drinks directly at the beer tap, but would you pay to pour your own pint?

Venues across the UK and Ireland now have the option to install new technology that would allow customers to pull their own pints from a 16-tap self-serve ‘beer wall’, and pay with credit or debit cards, or contactless mobile payments.

The University of Reading has already introduced the self-serve taps in its student union, with the university saying the move has increased its capacity to serve more customers, as well as delivering a faster service.

But how would you react if one of these beer walls was introduced in your local?

Perfect pint pouring

Pouring and serving the perfect pint could be could be considered an art. Stella Artois has a nine-step pouring ritual, there’s a plethora of YouTube videos on how to pour the perfect Guinness and if you’re skilled then you could test yourself in a pint pouring contest. It’s annoying when you get served a badly poured pint, but at least you can ask for another if a bartender has poured it for you.

While the convenience of these self-serve beer walls shouldn’t be overlooked, and in a society where we’re rapidly moving away from cash payments and introducing AI and robotics in place of human staff, it seems like a logical progression to take the same approach in our bars and restaurants.

But as a former bartender myself, I’m 50/50 on whether I’d welcome this technology in my favourite bars and boozers. The customer in me, who turns into a bit of a hothead after waiting at a bar for ages whilst watching everyone around me get served first, would love to be able to skip the queues and pull my own pint.

Whilst the novelty of pint-pouring is a bit lost on me after having spent my university years serving drinks in my student union, I can’t argue that it wouldn’t make me a little nostalgic for the fun I had whilst working there.

Pub practicalities

So will this take off in pubs? I’m not so sure. When I think about some of the more stressful aspects of bar work, I can’t help but be slightly relieved we didn’t have to worry about the difficulties a self-service bar might bring to the job.

The biggest question for me is, how would bars ensure that these self-service taps were only being used responsibly and legally? It’s difficult enough to ensure that under-agers aren’t pulling a fast one by getting their older mates to buy their drinks, so offering self-service taps are likely to complicate this further.

Would you welcome the introduction of a self-service beer tap in your favourite pub? Do you think this will improve or ruin the customer experience in your local pub?


I think I’d miss the interaction with the barmaid. Part of the pleasure of going to a pub is the social atmosphere.

I do wonder why we complain about university costs hitting impecunious students hard, and yet their beer consumption seems to be a thriving industry.

I’ve pulled pints and with modern beer dispensers for the current fizzy beer-flavoured drinks I see no real problem. I’m not normally a beer drinker, but when I do I go for naturally brewed real ale. Our local brewery sells this in boxes fitted with a simple tap; nothing to pull there.

Yes, I agree Malcolm. I would miss the social aspects. My friends always have a habit of talking to bouncer and barmen. I used to find it annoying – I’d just want to sit down, but now I like it, especially when it means we get served quickly!

Also, I would be rubbish at pouring a pint – I think I’d have to leave it to the professionals.

I have not heard of the term ‘beer wall’ before but we have been been hearing about self-service beer for years. This is from 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-16613244/pub-installs-customer-operated-beer-dispenser

I’m not interested in keg beer or lager and have walked out of pubs that don’t have real ale. I used to pull my own pints when staying in a friend’s pub. It’s much easier if you have proper line glasses, so you can have a pint of liquid plus the head.

Self-service soft drinks dispensers have been a feature of family restaurants including Pizza Hut and Toby Carvery for a while now.

They seem to be popular because you don’t have to wait for one of the few very busy staff to bring your drinks to you.

Very true! I also like them because can try different flavours – my favourite at the moment is grape sprite, or strawberry coke!

In the pub context, if all you’re interested in is having alcohol, the machine is a perfect solution. If you are interested in the pleasure of having a nice drink or a few, stick to the humans. One of the great things we enjoy when we visit foreign countries, especially England, is to go to the pub and try the local beer, including asking for advice and having a chat with the bar staff if they are so inclined.

However, I hope they never introduce a machine that says, time’s up, drink up and get TF out of here. Humans aren’t 100% pleasurable to interact with.

Urgh no, I don’t like the idea of pulling my own pint!

I love the social side of going to the pub and talking to the staff. Especially craft beer pubs and breweries, staff tend to be really knowledgeable and tell me about new or local beers I should try out depending on my favourites (I love a good IPA if you must know)…

Katie88 would love the little micropub in town. As long as you are happy to discuss beer or even show an interest, everyone is happy to chat and sometimes the person behind the bar runs a brewery not far away. Proper IPA too – none of the 3.6% ABV nonsense – and dispensed in half-pint line glasses, or in pints if you must.

There is a notice behind the little bar to say that they don’t have WiFi and customers should talk to each other.

I can get behind the no-wifi rule!

Not being a beer aficionado I know little about it. However, I understand IPS is India Pale Ale, brewed originally in Burton to have a long life to withstand the passage to …..India. My local brewery also produces real live beer that has a shelf life of around 10 days and that tastes of hops, not fizz. It would not get very far before it went off.

A proper IPA is heavily hopped and strong by UK standards – 5% ABV plus. I can particularly recommend avoiding GK ‘IPA’, 3.6%, a popular bland beer. I would avoid it even if I could pour pints of it myself free of charge.

I can see this working at festivals and big venues (serving insipid Euro fizz) where the large sales volumes can justify the cost of the equipment but any self respecting publican will realise the need for interaction with the customers. Also, like self-serve supermarket tills (I hate them), there will still be a need for supervision and trouble shooting. Will there also be self vending of bottled beers, cider, spirits and mixers etc?

Years ago my eyes were opened when I went to a real ale pub, and tasted such a variety of lovely beers. The CAMRA movement had struck a blow against the big brewers. However over the years I’ve come to realise its what they put in it rather than other factors. To me draught ale is a fallacy, the way its kept, and drawn up to be served is more a matter of space utilisation than taste preservation. It could be delivered, racked, settled, then just tapped out of the barrel into the glass. I drink mostly at home and drink bottled beer, but its the excellent tasting beer of the independents, those who were the stalwarts of the real ale revival.

Shaun says:
14 October 2017

A beer wall is not really for the pub to which one goes for the social interaction. It should work in the large drinking emporia where the idea is to, as they say here in NI, get blocked, or bluttered. A similar idea was tested in Belfast some years ago where a group could book a table with a tap for a period and serve themselves. Don’t think it really caught on. Perhaps the second iteration will do better, but I will stick to the pub where I can talk to the staff. They are better able to judge when I have had enough than I am!!

As the bars will have a much lower outlay, without having to pay for barstaff are they prepared to reduce the cost of a pint,Also who’s going to get you your bag of crisps etc or will they be in those UGLY vending machines as well YUK what a thought.

It could work in some circumstances and would be nice to have the choice to use the self-service when in a hurry. By ‘in a hurry’ I mean times when you are meeting friends in a pub, but you may only have an hour or two till your last transport home. I’ve been in such circumstances where I am visiting friends in another city and trying to squeeze as much into my day there as possible. I resent wasting precious minutes (5,10 or more minutes in a busy pub) waiting to be served, when i could be back at the table chatting.

The social aspect in regard to interaction with the bar staff mentioned above I find to be extremely rare, or at least it is rare to be satisfying. Even in real-ale pubs the staff are normally far too busy to chat to customers, or conversations are constantly interrupted by other people needing served. If the pub is quieter and a chat to the bar staff could be theoretically feasible, then more often or not, the said bar staff are spotty teenage oiks who have not developed a personality yet, have nothing of interest (to anyone who isn’t a teenager) to say, or have their heads buried in their phone in between pint pourings.

That’s not to say that I have not had interesting dialogues with bar staff; when I used to work nightshift 4 nights on, 4 nights off, I could find myself having a few pints in pubs during a weekday and then I did have quite a few long-ish chats with more mature and some younger bar staff. In such cases, you just wouldn’t use the self-serve option; I believe it would always be an option as there would always have to be bar staff present for legal and security reasons.

So in summary, as it would always be an option rather than compulsory, I think they would be a very good thing to have in pubs.

Many supermarkets have replaced some of their tills with self-service ones and in some stores there can be no option other than to use the self-service tills later in the evening. I wonder if the pub companies would find it more profitable to focus on providing self-service beer and other drinks. They still have a responsibility not to provide alcohol to people who are drunk.

Nor those under age. I’ve stayed in places with honesty bars. Perhaps that is the next stage (monitored by CCTV of course 🙁 ). What are all these ex bar staff going to do – along with the ex checkout ladies (and laddies)? Why do we pursue so many developments that put people out of work? Are we afraid of employing people? (some might say the labour laws might have this consequence).

Dougllas Crook says:
15 October 2017

I can’t see you being able to pick up a glass to fill. It will have to be disposable plastic. No, thanks!

Wiggers says:
15 October 2017

As a member of CAMRA & a volunteer at beer festivals, I am repeatedly told that to serve someone who is suspected to be drunk and/or under age, I am personally responsible & liable to be be prosecuted, etc.
Who is responsible in the these circumstances in the above scenario?

I suggest that you contact CAMRA and ask for written advice. Younger people should carry a card showing their age and decisions about whether or not to serve someone who seems intoxicated can be referred to the duty manager or their delegate. I cannot find information online, but it may only be available to members.

This site might help: Vhttps://www.gov.uk/government/collections/alcohol-licensing-guidance and https://www.gov.uk/guidance/alcohol-licensing#temporary-events

As far as I can see, a designated person will hold the licence and be responsible for the sale of alcohol.

I think this is a step backwards for the pub. I would prefer to see us move towards the option of table service like the rest of Europe have. However, perhaps this could be an option for extremely busy bars like nightclubs, concert venues or festivals but I’m sure we would also see an increase in antisocial behaviour if it increased the rate at which people are able to drink.

Shugg says:
24 October 2017

This would be illegal in Scotland, quite correctly, as it’s irresponsible.