Pint rights: How to make sure you get the pint you paid for

Pint rights: How to make sure you get the pint you paid for

Winter's upon us, and for me there are few better ways to shelter from the elements than enjoying a pint, bathed in the glow of a crackling fire in a cosy pub.

But I also like to know I'm getting the most beer for my brass, and I'm not afraid to say if I feel my pint's a bit big-headed. But that's not the case for everyone.

Some drinkers sadly put up with under-filled pints as they don't know that they can ask for a top-up. So to help, I've done some digging into your pint rights – and how to make sure your glass is way more than half full.

Pint of beer and the scales of justice

What does the law say?

Well, when it comes to the humble pint, the law is unfortunately about as clear as a cloudy cider.

Let's start with the basics. The Capacity Serving Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Regulations 1988 state that pints can be measured by the brim of a pint glass or a line measure – that's the line you get on larger glasses which indicates where a pint comes up to.

So if you buy a pint, you should get a full pint – but sadly these regulations don't say whether that pint should include the head. And that's the real question. The debate over whether a pint measure includes the head has been raging for decades, if not centuries – it was even discussed in the House of Lords at one point.

There's some law on this too – when the Weights and Measures Act became law in 1985, part IV, section 43 declared that "in ascertaining the quantity of any beer or cider... the gas comprised in any foam on the beer or cider shall be disregarded."

That seems to suggest you're entitled to a full pint of liquid plus head – but confusingly, this section was then repealed in 1994, so the legislation no longer stands.

The industry body the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) told me this was because while some drinkers don't see the head as an important part of a pint, others see it as essential and also a sign of how good (or not) it is.

Since the 1960s, various legal cases regarding short measures of beer have borne this out, with the decisions reached doing little to clarify whether the head is intrinsic to a pint or not.

So unfortunately while the law's clear that you should get a pint of something, there's no definitive answer on whether that should be just liquid or head too.

Glass of beer being poured

What are the industry's rules?

Due to the lack of clarity on pints rights provided by the law, the BBPA introduced its own guidelines – as agreed with the Department of Trade and Industry (since replaced by two newer departments) – in 1993. And while only the 20,000 pubs represented by the BBPA are obliged to follow these rules, it says they represent industry best practice and are intended as guidelines for bars and pubs outside its membership.

The Guidance Notes on the Dispense of Draught Beer by Free Flow and Hand Pull (yup, they're a thing) state: "A measure of a beer served with a head must include a minimum of 95% liquid."

Now, if like me you like a good head on your beer, that's fine. But if you don't, then for every, say, 10 pints you buy, you're actually only getting nine and a half.

Or to put it another way, if you pay £3.69 for a pint – the UK average according to the Good Pub Guide – you're losing 18p in beer.

Ouch.

But there's good news, too. The guidelines also state: "Requests from customers for top-ups should be received with good grace and never refused, subject to avoiding spillage of liquid."

That sounds more like it.

Pint of beer

Put your pint rights to the test

So here, in a nutshell, are your pint rights in practice:

  • You're entitled to a pint filled to the brim, or the line if your glass has one.
  • You should get at least 95% liquid.
  • If you don't want up to 5% to be head, you can ask for a top-up.

If you're not satisfied, simply head back to the bar – before taking a sip, smart guy – and ask for your glass to be filled up.

As the BBPA's guidelines say, pubs should be happy to top you up, so don't worry about bar staff thinking you're causing a fuss – you're only asking for what you've paid for, after all.

If you're refused, the BBPA says you can try talking to the management or even complaining on social media. City of London Trading Standards, which ran a campaign on this earlier in the year, says as a last resort you could even complain to your local trading standards office. But then again, that may not make you hugely popular if it's your round...

One last thing. If you're not sure whether your pint meets the 95% liquid to 5% head ratio, you can use the width of a Biro as a rough yardstick for what 5% looks like – though of course, it'll depend on the size and shape of your glass.

So there you have it. Enjoy your (full) pint and, of course, as we always say, please be Drinkaware.