Cheap drink can get pretty expensive

  • Post category:News

The thing about cheap drink, is that there tends to be drink involved.

When you’re talking about cheap food, or cheap petrol, you’re usually talking about a finite quantity – you can only eat so much, there’s only so much fuel you can pump into a tank.


But with cheap drink, a different dynamic comes into play. It has been known, for example, for a person to go out with the firm intention of consuming only a few pints of cheap drink, only to find that the drink, of its very nature, is compelling him to exceed his budget, to squeeze in a few more pints, and maybe a few on top of that.

The ‘Welfare Wednesday’ initiative at the Liz Delaney pub in Coolock may have had the stated purpose of helping unemployed people to cut down on their alcohol bill for the month, but then in certain convivial circumstances that bill has the potential to rise exponentially – we Irish are a spontaneous people.

So while the offer can seem pretty simple, the situation on the ground can become quite complicated.

There is also a matter of timing here. January is traditionally a quiet time in the pub, with drinkers taking a rest after the orgiastic boozing of the Christmas period.

Dry January has become a slogan, even an institution, based on the idea that everyone needs to take a look at their relationship with alcohol, and that January is the perfect time in which to reflect on the matter in a state of sober tranquillity.

It is complete nonsense, of course, because anyone can give up the drink for a month, as long as they know that there is a great reward at the end of it – a drink.

Indeed Dry January is damaging overall to the project of education on alcoholism, because it can give the drinker the delusion that he is not dependent on the drink, when in fact he may be engaging in a mere tactical withdrawal. And such delusions are at the very core of the addiction.

So a cheap drink promotion in January adds another layer to an already complex proposition. A person may have sworn off the drink in a haze of post-Yuletide self-flagellation, only to be confronted with this amazing offer.

He may feel terribly frustrated that he is walking away from such an opportunity, on account of a decision he made in a moment of weakness, when he did not have the full facts at his disposal.

Indeed that feeling of frustration itself may drive him to drink, and at €3 a pint, things may start to get out of control.

A further complication arises from the fact that many people are broke in January, and that any money spent on drink, cheap or otherwise, is likely to exacerbate that problem.

Given all these nuances of the cheap drink game, that policy of the Wetherspoons chain of charging €2.50 for a pint, seems like a crude corporate stroke, bringing the ways of Aldi and Lidl to the once-mighty civilisation of the Irish pub.

I am thinking in particular of a poster I saw outside a pub in Arklow a couple of years ago, advertising a meal with six pints and a big screen showing the Monday Night Football, all for €20.

And they say that the Irish pub is not responding to the demands of the modern world?

Here we had a finely balanced deal. After the weekend, with all the drinking that that would imply, a man might feel that he couldn’t justify heading out again on the Monday for another crack at it.

Yet he is presented here with a solution to this great moral dilemma – essentially, he can tell himself, and anyone else who cares to listen, that he is not really going out drinking at all, he is going for a meal. And that at €20 for an entire evening of all-round entertainment, he is not really spending money, he is making money.

Perhaps to the more delicate European palate, to your Frenchman for example, the idea of a “nosebag” accompanied by six pints and a game of football might seem a tad brutish.

But that is his problem, whereas the man with the plate of roast beef in front of him, and six pints of porter and Aston Villa and West Ham on the way, is perfectly at peace. He can even claim that there is a moral dimension to the evening , that the town is usually so quiet on a Monday night, anyone who goes out there supporting a local business is engaged in a kind of community activism.

It only starts to get a bit fuzzy, again, because there is drink involved. With six pints inside him, a man may not be functioning in an entirely pragmatic way. Certainly within the parameters of the €20 special offer he has reached his quota for the night, and will now ideally go home.

But then the man with six pints inside him, is often reluctant to go home just yet. Many of us have known that feeling, and when it strikes, usually we don’t mind spending more than perhaps we had planned, in order to buy that seventh or eighth pint that the six pints already consumed are demanding.

I just wonder if the publicans know this too.

Sunday Independent