By ordering at the bar, we’re compelled to move around and interact socially
The craft beer tasting room is special place, I think we can all agree on that.
Since they first started popping up after finally becoming legal in 2012, tasting rooms have had a distinctly different vibe than bars, pubs and brewpubs. There are families, dogs, board games and, most importantly, conversations. Tasting rooms are the collective living rooms of the communities they represent.
Many of this province’s drinking establishments have long been inspired by the UK’s ubiquitous pub culture. But having formerly tended bar in England, I can tell you our B.C. versions are but pale comparisons and are missing many of the key elements that make the pub such a cornerstone of British culture, namely, bar service.
Why does bar service matter, you ask? That’s a brilliant question—and you’re brilliant for asking it. Very good-looking, too.
By being forced to order at the bar, we are compelled to get up and move around the room, instead of being chained to our chair or bar stool. This is important. This increases opportunities for social interaction, whether it’s chatting with someone in line at the bar or walking past a table and striking up a conversation with someone you recognize. Of all the social engineering tricks to force people to be more social (like communal tables and not having any TVs), bar service, in my opinion, has the biggest net positive impact on the atmosphere of a drinking establishment.
In a table service situation, we’re confined to our seats and really only get up from the table to pee or leave. Table service creates silos of social alienation—we don’t interact with anyone other than those we arrived with. This is also by design, of course.
An archaic hold-out from the post-prohibition beer parlours of yore, table service was mandatory for many years in B.C. as it was believed that keeping patrons pinned to their seats would reduce violence, promiscuity and (gasp) even dancing. Even if you wanted to change tables, you weren’t allowed to take your drink with you—your server was required to move it for you.
Thankfully, we live in slightly more enlightened times. Slightly.
So why would any craft brewery opt for bar service, then? Surely, there are labour savings in not having to hire servers. While that’s true, more than one brewery owner has told me that switching to table service has increased their sales, as it allows them the ability to upsell the customer. Sadly, the mighty dollar wins out. But let’s not kid ourselves, these are businesses, not public institutions.
Unfortunately, Covid has destroyed much of what makes craft brewery tasting rooms so special. Bar service has been replaced with table service to cut down on transmission. Communal seating is right out. And, understandably, parents and kids are opting to stay closer to home these days. At least they haven’t started installing TVs.
The pandemic will end and life will return to normal(-ish) and when it does, I sincerely hope craft breweries return to bar service. Tasting rooms are an important part of the cultural fabric of our community and bar service helps make them unique social spaces. Please don’t let bar service become another Covid casualty.
You must drink here
Here are just a few of our favourite craft brewery tasting rooms from across B.C. offering bar service and guaranteed good times and great beer. Why not try them all this summer!
Whistle Buoy Brewing, Victoria
Brassneck Brewing, Vancouver
Kettle River Brewing, Kelowna
Sooke Brewing Co., Sooke
Strange Fellows Brewing, Vancouver
Twin City Brewing, Port Alberni
Wheelhouse Brewing, Prince Rupert
Beere Brewing, North Vancouver
Storm Brewing, Vancouver
Foamers’ Folly Brewing, Pitt Meadows
This story originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of The Growler, out now! You can find B.C.’s favourite craft beer and cider guide at your local brewery, cidery, select private liquor stores, and by subscription here.