How noble an idea is the round? A demonstration of friendship that makes both giver and receiver feel good. The giver for bestowing a gift, the receiver for receiving one. There lies within a mutual understanding of trust: if I buy you one, you’ll buy me one back, right? But this noble idea now seems under threat.
Recently, I have noticed more and more friends dropping out of this so sacred of bargains, either openly - declaring themselves “out!” and only buying their own drinks - or clandestinely, by ignoring their turn and waiting, drinkless, until someone else offers.
What is the reason for this? Surely, it must come down to cost.
Sharing drinks has always been an act of comradeship. The act of cheersing our glasses is powerful enough to end the longest of grudges. It shows we are not out to kill one another - quite literally, the tradition originally came to life as a way to splash each other’s drinks to show that neither was poisoned.
But drastic times call for drastic measures and the fear of getting caught out on a round now outweighs the joy of sharing. The promise that a round will pick up where it left off next time – that the round universe will find equilibrium eventually – has worn off. They are now viewed with scepticism and distrust. For if I am the one caught out, then there’s no guarantee I will get those drinks back in kind.
Well, declaring yourself out of a round is all well and good, but worse is the person who partakes of the drinks in a round but does not buy in. It’s one thing to offer to buy your friends drinks while they await their pay cheque, but to take and not give is heinous and forces a rethink of the round system altogether.
There is a serious point to this otherwise silly article. For some people I’m sure there’s a certain amount of malice, playing the system for free drinks. But for others, it is simply unaffordable. Perhaps there is a bit of fear about openly opting out of the tradition for seeming poor or a spoilsport. There’s a certain pressure to the round, which only grows the more rounds there are.
I still offer to buy a round when I’m out even when I don’t want to. I almost can’t help myself. It seems the socially correct - and British - thing to do even when I am down to the dregs of my bank account. The thought of going to the bar to buy just me a drink without offering others seems wrong. If someone in that round starts ordering cocktails there’s a part of me that momentarily despises them. They’re not playing within the rules. But the rules have been rigged. When a cocktail costs £15, what are you supposed to do? Force them to order a pint of bitter? Sounds like a formula for a lot of resentful and unhappy friends around a table.
If you’re three friends, and you have three drinks each that are roughly the same price, a round still works. Deviate away from that general equation and someone will feel out of pocket.
If you earn some massively inflated salary, you probably don’t care about any of this. But for the rest of us, it can be the difference between a £30 night and a £60 one and all you’ve had is two pints of lager.
Rounds may never have been fair, but they’ve never felt this anxiety-inducing. I was always happy to be a part of it, but I think it’s time to relieve ourselves of the pressure, at least for now. I have no doubt it will be back, but in the meantime, I, for one, will miss it – but, then again, I also miss paying a reasonable price for a good pint.