I took a close look at the reasons given by pub company Stonegate Group for introducing so-called dynamic (i.e. higher) pricing in its pubs at peak times.
They say it’s about the cost of additional bar staff and bouncers, the cost of cleaning, the cost of plastic glasses and, mysteriously, “meeting and complying with licensing requirements”.
Oddly enough, nowhere does it say that this is at least partly about getting a little more money out of customers’ pockets at peak times when they might be a little less careful about what they pay for their alcohol.
Of course that can’t be the case. My mistake.
One could argue that we accept, albeit reluctantly, this so-called dynamic pricing from other companies such as railways and airlines.
But a pint is not a plane ticket to Palma or a train to Truro.
A pint is a pint.
Can nothing be simple anymore?
We always knew where we stood with the price of a pint.
For example, we knew it would cost a little more in fancy places.
And when drinking in the London area you often need a second pint to make up for the staggering price of the first pint.
But at least we knew the price of the thing wasn’t changing.
We never had to wonder if the price of the next pint would be higher because the pub had become a little busier.
Or that if we waited another minute or two the price might go down as a few large groups were leaving.
What kind of madness is this?
We have enough reason to worry, even if we don’t have to take these variables into account.
And of course that’s the beauty of it from their point of view: we won’t notice, so we just pay.
I don’t know where this nonsense ends.
I can imagine a dystopian future in which the prices of the beers on offer are displayed live on screens behind the bar, such as share prices on the stock exchange or betting odds at bookmakers.
“Fast!” Someone will shout: “Stella is down to £4.90.”
And a crowd of bettors will crowd the bar, at which point the dynamic pricing will of course come into play and the Stella will shoot past the five pound mark again.
Soon, bars will have neon signs reminiscent of gas stations.
Instead of unleaded petrol and diesel prices we have current prices for bitters and lager which, unlike petrol and diesel, may well have changed by the time you go in and get to the bar.
Okay, I just remembered: Uber has this thing they call price increases when demand for a taxi is, as they claim, high.
But the same applies here: a taxi ride is not your favorite drink.
For one thing, Uber warns you, at least before booking, that prices are skyrocketing.
Yes, Stonegates pubs may leave signs everywhere, but to be truly fair they need to indicate that prices are temporarily higher at the point of sale and indeed at the entrance to the pub.
The bouncer’s job used to be to look you up and down to assess whether you would cause trouble.
But now they have to say, “Just before you come in, sir, may I point out that prices in this place are currently skyrocketing?”
“I can only let you in if you confirm that you are okay with this.”
If you can think past all the madness, there is a serious point here.
In some ways, it’s getting easier to be an informed consumer – the internet lets you compare prices on all sorts of things in an instant.
But the simpler it becomes in this respect, the more complex it becomes in others.
Trying to compare gas and electricity prices and rates can be confusing. Also mobile phone contracts.
And don’t get me started on the fine print of insurance policies.
Comparing supermarket prices is a delicate matter, and even assessing the cost of similar items offered in the same supermarket is not easy.
Some are expressed per kg, others per 100g.
Help! I need something to drink. Oh wait, I’m not even sure how much more this is going to cost me.
Oscar Wilde wrote 130 years ago: “Today people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
I’ve got news for old Oscar – now it’s even worse.
It’s not just that we don’t know the value of anything – soon we won’t know the price of anything either.
If they can change the price of a pint before our eyes, then surely everything else is up for grabs too.