‘One morning, I found a customer asleep by the toilets’: my life as a pub manager in badly behaved Britain

This is my first job out of university. I didn’t have any interest in working in hospitality; I needed to pay back my student loans while I looked for work that was more relevant to my degree. But I have found that I really enjoy it.

I work in what you might describe as an old-fashioned pub. It hasn’t really changed for years. We serve reasonably cheap food and drinks and have lots of regulars, who like to sit at the same tables. A lot of them come in for karaoke every Friday night and some are extremely competitive.

Once, after a woman sang Hello by Adele, another came up immediately and also sang Hello by Adele. They were really not getting along and, fuelled by sambuca, continued copying each other’s songs until each group of friends ended up screaming at the other. One group picked up the other’s coats and bags and started throwing them outside. Eventually, as one of them was singing Rehab by Amy Winehouse, another tried to grab the microphone, which smashed on the floor. The guy who runs the karaoke was going mad, because his equipment was getting destroyed. I have never seen a karaoke war quite like it.

On another occasion, three friends came in just before last orders. The next time I looked over, there were only two of them. I offered them plastic glasses to take away and asked if their friend wanted one, too. “Oh, he’s already shot off,” they said. The next day, I came in to open up, went down to the toilets and found him asleep in a small gap under the staircase. He crawled out, said: “Thank you!” and left in a hurry. That was quite a surprise.

The pandemic changed everything. I remember the last night we were open before the first lockdown – we were packed with people right up until closing time. No one wanted to go home, because they didn’t know what would happen next in the world. We had to remain closed for a good few months before the government relaxed the rules.

Everyone is still a lot more hygiene-aware. Some customers still wear masks to walk around the pub and lots of people sanitise their hands. One time, all the toilets were occupied and a customer came upstairs arguing that pubs should have a three-toilet minimum, due to the need for social distancing. I explained that I didn’t think that was how it worked – at least not now – but he stormed out.

We have had to put up our prices. A lot of our regulars are pensioners and they are always the ones who find it hardest to accept it when prices change. They will say: “No, it’s £3.60 for a pint,” and refuse to acknowledge that it has gone up.