A woman walks into a pub

This post is a bit of a moan. If you don’t fancy reading a bit of a moan, look away now. 

A woman walks into a pub – the lounge bar of a backstreet local. It has a long behind-the-bar area which runs the length of both public and lounge bars. There is a man seated on a barstool in the lounge with a full pint. The female bartender (I’m trying to wipe out the term barmaid) looks up and sees the woman who has just walked up to the bar but does not make eye contact with her or speak to her.

A few minutes later the woman’s husband also walks into the pub and stands at the bar. The bartender looks directly at him and says, “I’ll be with you in sec.”

Eventually, having served the customers already waiting in the busy public bar, she comes to the lounge side and says, “Who’s next?” even though she has seen the woman walk in before the man and the other man, still seated at the bar, is clearly not yet ready for another pint.

“I’m next,” says the woman, orders two pints of Wadworth 6X and pays for them. When the bartender comes back with the change she heads for the woman’s husband to give it to him before correcting herself.

Woman walks into a pub drawing

Scenes like this one don’t happen to me as often as they used to but are related to the still irritatingly common ‘women at the bar are invisible’ syndrome – a form of apparently intermittent blindness suffered by bartenders who only seem able to see male customers. (Perhaps their female customers have been waiting so long they have literally become part of the furniture?)

I let this most recent example pass as I didn’t want it to spoil having a pint with my husband, but I knew – as do all women who have experienced this – that I hadn’t imagined it and that it amounted, at best, to very poor customer service and at worst to sex discrimination. I’m not equating it with the pay gap or other unjust things women suffer in the workplace – just using the phrase literally – discrimination on the basis of my sex. Men will be served first even if women are ahead of them in the queue for the bar.

As women are often still, illegally, paid less than men; sacked for becoming pregnant or not hired in the first place in case they become pregnant as well as having to endure a catalogue of other ill treatment based on being female, I doubt that discrimination at the bar will be eradicated ahead of these much worse examples of sexism any time soon. A word to the wise publican though: Make sure your bar staff aren’t doing this. In times of so many pubs apparently at risk of closure automatically sending 50% of potential customers to the back of the queue isn’t the smartest move.



  1. Shouldn’t happen and not sure it does that much (albeit once is once too many). Then again I’m a bloke so what do I know?
    Bartender! Nah too American English that one can you think of an other alternative to Barman/maid?

    • It is, mercifully, not a completely regular thing but not as rare as you might imagine. How about ‘barkeep’ instead of bartender then?

  2. Kind of hard to be told that this sort of nonsense still goes on isn’t it? Even more bizarre to me at least that another woman did it. Does that make it worse or not? I really don’t know. Probably indicates that these are deep seated prejudices. Or bad habits? Again I don’t actually know.

    Now Sophie. Bartender just won’t do. Americanisms such as that are best left in America and in that context somehow seems to fit there. I like barman and barmaid and don’t believe it sexist, just factual and more importantly to an old fart like me, traditional in its own setting. Unlike manageress which makes me rage.

    Complicated old world isn’t it?

    • Thanks for your comments Pete. It does stick in my craw a bit that it was a woman who treated me this way – but having written my undergraduate dissertation on the subject of female solidarity (does it actually exist?) I have a realistic view of such things! As for a suitable title for those working behind the bar I dislike barmaid because it isn’t parallel to barman. I’d be fine with ‘barwoman’ but the inclusion of ‘maid’ seems anachronistic in an age where we should be beyond making gratuitous references to/judgements about a woman’s sex life. Thanks again for reading. S

  3. I quite like “bartender” or “bar keep”.

    As it happens, I rarely carry money if Ann is about. And often Ann pays with her card. It’s all the same money, same account, and anyway, if was in charge of the money things would soon go terribly wrong.

    The number of times Ann has handed over the credit card and I’m handed the pad to enter the pin, or I’m given the change when Ann has handed over the note is more than just chance. This isn’t just pubs either, mind, and the mistake is rarely made the other way around.

    • At least someone is with me on the titles for bar staff issue! I am also enjoying the image of you as being like the Queen – in that you rarely carry money around.

  4. Couldn’t help but come back to you on this point “but the inclusion of ‘maid’ seems anachronistic in an age where we should be beyond making gratuitous references to/judgements about a woman’s sex life”

    I wonder? Do people really make so much of a connection on the basis of the appellation “barmaid”? It hasn’t occurred to me to do so. Isn’t it just a title, admittedly anachronistic, but not surely judgemental in normal usage and to the vast majority of users. Incidentally, I don’t think you could rule out sexual references or speculation by anyone, whatever barstaff are called.

    As an aside, I was rather taken aback last year in Spain to hear female waiting staff being referred to by the male owner as a La Chica. The Girl.

  5. I’ve had it the other way; many moons ago in the West Side bar in Nottingham. A terrible little place that used to pack out at the weekend and play stupidly loud music (you know the type of place). It has since closed down.

    I stood at the bar for 45 minutes, watching women not just getting served before me, but getting free drinks. The card machine was broken and so everyone just started to pretend they had no cash, the feckless Bar-boy had no chance. Eye contact was made, “I’m next”, was shouted. Above the noise of the bar and being the only bloke trying to get served, I was actually invisible. I never went back to the West side bar after that point.

    I’ve not experienced women being invisible. I’m perhaps lucky that respect as other than the West Side bar, I must have been to enlightend drinking spots. (although I can tell you they haven’t all felt like that)!

    Anything that make another human being feel small is objectionable behiavour. So you have solidarity from me.

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