To most punters these days, the idea of getting your phone out at the pub to check a message or email is, well, small beer.
But at one chain of alehouses, this sort of behaviour could soon be firmly off the table.
The notoriously secretive owner of the Samuel Smith’s brewery – Humphrey Smith – has apparently told staff to actively discourage drinkers from using phones or tablet computers in his establishments, and may be about to ban the devices altogether.
The brewery owns 300 pubs across the country, and the 73-year-old is said to regularly turn up incognito to check up on staff.
Humphrey Smith, 73, (pictured) who owns Sam Smith’s brewery’s 300 pubs across Britain is believed to have banned the use of tablets and phones in his pubs
He has long forbidden jukeboxes, slot machines and even televisions – and now, in his latest attempts to preserve the art of genial pub conversation, he is said to be turning his wrath on electronic devices.
At the New Inn in Stamford Bridge, North Yorkshire, a ban already appeared to be in place.
When a Daily Mail reporter attempted to use a tablet computer, a member of staff informed him: ‘You can’t do work on your electronic devices in here because Mr Smith doesn’t like it.’
A protest that it was only to check a few emails cut no ice – with the employee explaining: ‘Sorry, but Mr Smith does check up on us and we could lose our jobs if he was to find out.’
At the Victoria Hotel near the seafront in Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire, we were told the eccentric businessman had turned up incognito. Staff would not speak about what happened, but drinkers last week said Mr Smith had been horrified to hear people using mobile phones in the main lounge.
‘He was dressed down in ordinary clothes, a bit scruffy really,’ said Kevin Brown, 64.
‘It was just a few people, about three of them, one using a mobile phone to talk to someone and the other two using a mobile and a tablet – I think to catch up on that day’s racing from Cheltenham.
‘They weren’t being loud or anything but the old man heard a noise and went to investigate and realised the phones were the culprit.
‘Apparently he wanted them banned immediately but the staff quite rightly told him he couldn’t do that. Phones are a part of life now, everybody’s got one.
‘The fear now is that he has gone away to think about it and could issue a ban any day.’
Staff at another pub – the Bispham Hotel in Blackpool – confirmed they had heard a ban was on the way, but refused to elaborate.
Across the north of England, stories abound of an anonymous scruffy pubgoer suddenly revealing his true identity – then sacking bar staff on the spot for overfilling pint glasses or giving incorrect change.
When a reporter tried to use a tablet at the New Inn in Stamford Bridge, North Yorkshire, a member of staff told him: ‘You can’t do work on your electronic devices in here because Mr Smith doesn’t like it.’ A member of bar staff pours a pint in the Anchor Tap in Southwark, London
According to a TripAdvisor reviewer, Mr Smith ‘lost the plot’ at one of his Edinburgh pubs after discovering it was selling mince pies even though they weren’t on the menu.
Mr Smith’s determination to uphold behaviour that would have been acceptable to the original Samuel Smith when he founded the brewery in 1758 was dramatically illustrated two years ago when staff were told not to serve punters who swear.
But the question of what exactly is banned does not appear to be consistent across the estate. Mr Smith has reputedly barred motorcyclists from drinking in the Royal Oak, in Ulley, near Rotherham, claiming they were ‘undesirable’.
However, not everyone opposes the old-fashioned atmosphere in his pubs. One regular at the New Inn said: ‘I like the old style of the place. You can read the paper and have a natter for entertainment. Who wants music or the TV blaring out?’
Locals at the Victoria Hotel were also largely content to put up with his approach to hospitality. ‘You can get a pint of mild in here for £1.34 and a pint of bitter for a few pence over £2,’ said one.
‘How many places offer you that? Plus there are no jukeboxes, no televisions and no one-armed bandits so everyone talks to each other. It’s the way pubs were meant to be.’
Calls to Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire – from which barrels of beer are delivered in horse-drawn carts, and email is apparently regarded as a modern aberration – were firmly rebuffed this week.
Calls to Mr Smith’s office were yesterday put through to a senior employee who said there would be no comment from the brewery.