The publog – post its mass excursion to France – has been given time to consider yet again the difference between English and continental drinking habits. This time the focus no longer lies with the regulations – in some of the places we were at you would be hard pushed to get a beer after ten in the evening. Instead we should look at the establishments where drink is served. The difference after all between pub and caf’ culture may after all simply lie in the difference between a pub and a caf’.

First let us admit that there is nothing that all cafes have in common, just as pubs can range massively. From the swankiest high street venue to the lino-tabled PMU betting tabacs all these joints serve alcohol and other beverages to your table. Where you are sitting will affect the price of your drink, and you might be surprised how pricey spirits are. But if we boil it down to the one significant difference between the pub and the caf’ it is this table service. And hence table billing.

Table billing makes the link between caf’ and restaurant impossible to ignore. To the British patron this instantly makes a caf’ appear classier. However this is not the most significant aspect of table service and billing. Firstly because your order is now at the whim of the waiter you have to wait for him to take your next order. As the whole group rather than an individual is responsible for payment this makes round buying impossible. Therefore the imperative in pub drinking to buy a round when the first person has finished their drink is removed. As the waiter only comes over when the last drink is near finished this produces an opposite situation to that in a pub. In a pub the drinks are bought at the speed of the fastest drinker. In a caf’ – the slowest drinker is king.

I see this as a fundamental difference and many will say that this is a good thing. Pace is slowed down, drinks are taken leisurely – and as one of the slower drinkers I should approve. And I do – when I am in a caf’. But a caf’ is not a pub – and the edge of pubs is the round buying, is the oddly competitive edge to the drinking, the rules. This publog is not about enforcing pub rules (cf the discussion below on standing up) but to discuss them. And caf’s seem too easy to suss. The rules are those of a restaurant, which is a different kettle of fish altogether.