Absolute filth

Just before I went to university, and was living at home with She Who Was Born To Worry and Little Sis, I managed to get a job as a barman working in a new pub in a renovated warehouse in Chester. To be fair, I wasn’t strictly honest when it came to the interview process. I may accidentally have suggested that I was pretty confident that I had completely messed upflunked my exams, and was going to need to take a year off. After all, no one was likely to take someone on with no experience of bar work, train them up, and watch them leave three months later.

Of course, my cover was well and truly blown a few months later when a picture of me and some classmates celebrating our exam success was printed in the local newspaper. But by then I’d found out plenty enough about the bar trade to get a job in any pub if ever I was to fall on hard times.

I’d like to say that all the lessons I learned were positive, but that would be a lie. Let’s just say that the management of the bar weren’t exactly scrupulous when it came to matters of consumer hygiene. Especially if it meant saving a bit of cash. If the wrong drink was ever poured, nobody was allowed to throw it away. Instead, it just waited on the side until somebody really did want that drink, and then it would surreptitiously be brought up from underneath the counter and proudly placed on the bar. And I always tried to steer clear of the kitchen if humanly possible. I went in a couple of times, and suffice to say that I never ate there even once afterwards.

The practice that horrified me most involved the barrels of beer that lay in the cellar beneath the pub. Every night, the landlord would collect up the slops that had collected underneath the beer pumps, take them downstairs, and empty them into the barrel of his choice. The fact that the collected drippings contained beers of all kinds, and probably every liquid from orange juice to gin, was neither here nor there to him. Let’s just say that the pub’s food wasn’t the only thing I didn’t consume.

Of course, it’s not just management that are guilty of unhygienic acts in bars and restaurants. From the chef who provides some of his – erm – ‘special sauce’ in the dish of a customer who has spent back his food one too many times, to the waiter who accidentally-on-purpose spills some water in the difficult diner’s lap, staff aren’t exactly innocent bystanders in the lack of cleanliness game.

That said, is it really necessary to make every American restaurant display a sign in their toiletrestroom proudly proclaiming that ‘all employees must wash their hands before returning to work’? I mean, if I’m in a restaurant, enjoying a foam of this or a ceviche of that, the last thing I need to think about is a collection of people who would be walking around with filthy toilet-soiled fingers if it wasn’t for a little notice on the wall. And to be honest, if you’re the kind of person who needs a sign to remind you to wash your hands, you’re probably not the kind of person who’s going to take notice of a sign urging you to wash your hands.

Maybe this is the first step in a series of restaurant and bar signs that do nothing more than state the obvious? Next time you’re in a swanky Michelin-starred eaterie, watch out for notices reading ‘employees must not scratch their arses when walking past a customer’s table’ or ‘please remember not to help yourself to a customer’s wine’.

As for a certain bar in Chester, the management have moved on and the name of the place has changed. But I still wouldn’t drink the beer, just in case…

15 thoughts on “Absolute filth

  1. Mat Morrison

    I did a stint as a chef in the early 2000s, and can give you a bit of a steer on this one.

    It’s the chef de cuisine’s (or in his place the sous’s) job to ensure that everyone (including the illiterate or non-English-language-reading potwasher) who goes to the lavatory washes their hands as they come back into the kitchen. That way, he or she knows for a fact that standards are being maintained. Chefs get used to this pretty fast.

    However, in those places where there’s no staff lavatory, and the customers might come into contact with the staff, it’s unnerving for them to see (for example) a chef zip up his trousers and leave WITHOUT washing his hands.

    Hence the sign.

    Don’t know if that’s going to put your mind at rest. Perhaps – given your early experiences – not. All I can say is that the kitchen I worked in was notably more hygienic than my (borderline OCD) mother’s. Certainly more than mine.

    But there WERE rats. You don’t get away from them in a kitchen, I’m afraid.

  2. Anglophile Football Fanatic

    Did I mention I love that you have a tag for HP Sauce? I started buying it a while ago, and the hubby refers to it as the Hewlett Packard stuff. I guess he just refuses to admit he likes a British steak sauce better than the good ol’ A-1.

  3. Cocktails

    I wish I hadn’t read this. It confirms my worst fears about a certain kind of hostelry. Did anyone ever complain about the beer and it tasting ‘a bit funny’ though?

  4. Expat Mum

    Don’t you also love the sandwich preparers in those Subway-type places? They all wear the plastic gloves, but they don’t change them for every customer like a doctor would. So how do we know where those gloves have been?

  5. Brooklyn

    messed up / flunked

    Thanks for the translation. Otherwise, we dumb Yanks never would have figured out what “messed up” meant 🙂

  6. Karen

    I work in a hotel with my boyfriend and he says the chefs and waiters NEVER wash their hands after the toilet… we don’t eat food they prepare.

    Do you know what I hate, seeing one of the chefs outside having a smoke, I just think thats disgusting, you know his clothes are stinking, his hands and he probably wont wash them! eughhh
    OUr boss actually had to tell the cleaners to wash their hands after smoking, as he would see them go straight back in and pick up a handful of clean towels!

  7. Almost American

    I think there are probably many, many establishments where if we knew what was going on behind the scenes we wouldn’t eat or drink there anymore. I was told the chef at the Adelphi in Liverpool used to keep an air rifle handy to shoot the rats.

  8. Dylan

    Mat – thanks for the insight…I never saw any rats in my time in the pub, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the shepherd’s pie contained some, to be honest.

    Mike/Cocktails – I think there are plenty of pubs who do this kind of thing, although dirty pipes is also why beer tastes a bit funny sometimes (marginally more excusable, but only just). I’m sure most pubs are scrupulous with their beer though…

    Expat Mum – Subway hygiene horrifies me in general…the coldcuts that look slightly green are the worst offender, I think.

    AFF – A1 steak sauce doesn’t even come close to HP. I mean, we’ve got some for a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ type incident, but you can’t beat the real thing.

    Brooklyn – nobody would use ‘flunked’ in the UK, so I was showing that I can speak American. Although, the way the markets are going at the moment, American may soon become as useful as Esperanto.

    Karen – see, I really don’t want to think about chefs smoking and then handling my food. Especially at Icelandic prices…

    Almost American – given the Adelphi’s chequered history, I’d imagine the air rifle was there for more than just the rats.

  9. GrahameD

    I’ve told people for years that *some* dodgy pubs top up their barrels with slops, and have never got anyone to believe me — to the point where I thought I’d dreamed it or something. Thank you for backing my up.

  10. Siobhan

    I remember watching a documentary in Scotland on this very subject: what waiters did when people complained — actually some weren’t even what you would call a complaint… and this is why I rarely speak out about something. It’s a wonder any of us eat anywhere.

    That pub sounded vile to the degree. Yuck. I think I was squirming behind my hand-covered face the entire time I was reading this.

  11. Pingback: A Brit Out Of Water » Blog Archive » Just one dollar can save a New Yorker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *