“I can’t do fractions!”

by Steve Renshaw

Recently, I went to an award-winning pub/restaurant for a celebration lunch. We arrived early so I could enjoy a pint before the meal. We had a tab, so I didn’t notice the prices until we got home and I looked at the bill. My pint cost £3.30 – about average for this part of the country – but my wife’s half of the same beer was £1.80. So, had we bought two halves, they would have cost 30p more than a pint.

This year’s CAMRA National Annual General Meeting passed a motion noting the “distasteful” practice that some pubs operate in charging consumers more for a half pint than the proportional cost of a pint. Although this is not illegal, the membership instructed CAMRA’s National Executive to mount a campaign against the practice.

Fired up with campaigning zeal (and three pints of beer), I composed an email to the landlord of the pub we had visited asking, politely, if he could justify the beer-pricing policy. A couple of days later, I received a considered and comprehensive response.

This was, he told me, the first time the issue had been raised. He pointed out that, with wine, non-proportional prices are perfectly normal in all pubs and restaurants. A small glass (125 ml) will be proportionally more than a medium (175 ml) which, in turn, will be more than a large (250 ml). And a bottle is always cheaper than three large glasses. Are wine drinkers less penny-pinching than beer lovers? Or is the maths too difficult?

Of course, when we go to the supermarket, we expect larger packs to be proportionally cheaper than smaller ones. But that doesn’t apply to products sold by weight, such as meat or vegetables, or products sold by capacity, such as petrol. And, if we are applying the “buying in bulk” principle in the pub, would I get a discount for a round of three or four pints?

The other economic argument for the half-pint premium relates to the fixed costs linked to serving a drink. The costs of service, washing up etc are the same whether it’s a pint or a half.

The landlord finished with a warning of the unintended consequences that might result from CAMRA’s stance. Pubs might simply increase the price of a pint to twice that of a half, rather than cutting the price of a half. Certainly, had I been charged £3.40 for my pint and £1.70 for my wife’s half, I would not have batted an eyelid.

As with the full-pint issue (where beer drinkers expect to have their drink topped up when the frothy head has had time to settle), the half-pint premium generates a disproportionate level of resentment among many pub-goers. And it does penalise moderate drinkers and women who do not feel comfortable with a pint glass.

And what about the beer? I drank Lion’s Pride (3.8% ABV) from Milestone Brewery. It’s a well-balanced, copper-coloured session bitter and was a good accompaniment to a delicious meal.