It’s a Thursday evening and I head to the pub with a few colleagues for some much-needed respite after a long week. We stand awkwardly by the bar – there are six of us and a full round will cost the same as the deposit on a Nissan Micra.
I covertly pick an ally, who will be my “round partner” for the evening. But now someone else appears and offers to buy me a drink. They have disrupted the system. I agree due to social anxiety but have now foolishly entered a reckless round of three. When it’s my turn I spend a heart-crushing £33.50, knowing that this could have bought me lunch for a week, a new pair of jeans or at the very least that Specsavers eye test I’ve been avoiding.
Inflation has made buying a round of drinks untenable, especially in the capital. According to research from the consultancy CGA, the average price of a pint has risen by more than 70 per cent since the financial crisis in 2008, from £2.30 to £3.95, with the most expensive pub in London averaging £8.06. For spirit drinkers it’s even bleaker: the cost of a gin and tonic has reached £10 in London according to UK Hospitality, partly due to a sharp rise in the prices of mixers.
Pubs are not to blame; they have been hit by the cost-of-living crisis, facing serious hikes in material and operational costs, with some seeing their energy bills hit £30,000 per quarter. But I can’t help but miss the camaraderie that came from round-buying. Those of us older than 30 will remember the heyday of post-work drinks. They would happen on Fridays (not Friday’s biggest impostor, Thursday), almost always involve cheap lager and normally some salacious gossip. Five drinks would cost roughly £15. Everyone’s head would hurt the next day, but their bank balances would be relatively unscathed. People stuck around for hours because it was enjoyable, affordable and reciprocal.
Now the vibe of post-work drinks has changed – the big friendly beer circle has been replaced by silos. People either buy one then leave, or conspiratorially pick a favourite friend to partner up with, like choosing a PE buddy in primary school. Although exacerbated by recent economic events, the trend has been creeping in for a while – a 2017 YouGov survey found that only 26 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds opted for rounds, compared with 62 per cent of those aged 65 and over.
Of course, there are benefits. Drinking less is better for our health, our bank balance and frees up our time for more wholesome hobbies. But whether it’s a lager or just a diet coke, there’s a collective enjoyment and generosity that comes from buying each other drinks. In my twenties I formed some of my closest relationships from long stints at the pub after work. I hope we can find some way to reinstate this reciprocity, even if it’s through coffees rather than beers. Because honestly, how do you make new friends without it?