Published on December 6th, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour


The disappeared

There’s no limit to what people will steal from pubs, writes Vincent Zeller

According to leisure industry publication, The Morning Advertiser (MA), pub and restaurant customers pinch £186m of glass and tableware each year, with glasses the most common item to disappear. Costs obviously add up in extreme cases and there is little option for the publican or restaurant owner but to pass this “shrinkage” on to the customer in the same way as other overheads.

The MA reports that, apart from glassware, some of the items reported missing were a knitted baby Jesus, an urn full of someone’s ashes, a credit card reader, a goldfish from a tank (later found dead in a pint of cider), soap bottles from the ladies’ toilets, a six-foot inflatable penguin, and a signed photo of Nigel Farage,

The MA asked Robin Freer, general manager of St Mary’s Inn near Stannington, Morpeth, about the constant irritation. 

He said: “Luckily we don’t see a lot going missing from the pub, but over my years in the industry I’ve come across a few circumstances where we have been aware of it happening and had to deal with each circumstance differently.

“I think the best way to go about it is to make a bit of a joke; we don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable, but let them know we’ve seen them take the glass. Typically, people don’t want to steal from the people they know and like, so I think service is really important. That’s why we don’t see a lot go missing at St Mary’s; we have a very friendly team and want them to make connections with our guests.”

Over years of pub-going, however, we’ve come to accept there’s hardly a thing that customers won’t pinch from a pub. It seems the more useless the object, the quicker it will disappear.

Our long-term survey revealed some gems, including the obvious things such as pumpclips, ashtrays, light bulbs and toilet rolls. 

“You can hear them unrolling the toilet rolls from behind the bar here,” said one Gateshead landlord. “I once had a piano stool stolen. I had just got it done up and it was lovely.” 

A large clock once fell off the wall in the same pub. “Somebody just picked it up and walked off with it.” Neither object has been clocked since.

And you’d be surprised at the number of “respectable” people who get light-fingered after a few pints – with some of the more dignified professions having their unfair share of tea-leaves. A set of four bar stools and a table were once loaded onto a Newcastle United supporters bus following a post-match pint – so their now grown-up and respectable ringleader informs us.

We set up a confessional, starting with a work-study executive: “Air freshener cubes from the toilets. I really liked the smell, so I kept them in my handbag.

“And bar towels when pubs used to have them. They were easy, you just put your elbow on one, swivel round to talk to someone and flick it to the floor. You then bent down and popped it in your bag.”

The civil servant: “Our lass once shoved a bunch of flowers down the front of her trousers in a pub in Sunderland. Her mate did the same with a dinner plate in Cleadon.”

“Brollies,” chorused his two colleagues. “We lose that many of our own, we’ll just pick up any that are left lying around.”

The list goes on. “China dogs,” said an ex-publican from Ebchester (who apparently mentions them every time Antiques Roadshow is on). The black ball from a pool table; red lights from a Sunderland pub (the thief apparently had a fascination for flickering ones); the carpet from a pub in Whitley Bay; a stone of cheese from a Midlands pub; drip trays and signs and top-ups of beer when the barmaid’s back is turned.

Without condoning any of this pilfering, we must admit to a sneaky admiration for the elevator engineer. He had accumulated such a vast collection of bar towels over the years, he got his mother to sew them together to make a dressing gown. When the gown – or smoking jacket as it turns out – is drawn together, one lapel reads Marl while the other matches up with Boro.

Give some people an inch and they’ll half-inch it.

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Alastair Gilmour

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