In March of 2017, pub chain JD Wetherspoon introduced its "order and pay" app, which – predictably – allows people to order and pay for food and have it sent to a specific table at a Spoons of their choice.
The app was seemingly made to solve a problem that wasn't really that much of a problem. Instead of going to the bar, waiting maximum five minutes and ordering a drink, you'd now wait five minutes for table service. Big whoop. Mind you, the app did inadvertently generate something actually new: when people cottoned on to the fact you could use it to buy, say, a glass of milk and a portion of peas for a table at any given Spoons throughout the country, it resulted in a stream of social media posts begging for free drinks from friends and followers. Content round-up merchants loved it.
"We are delighted that our order and app pay is being used by people to buy food and drink for their friends in a Wetherspoon pub thousands of miles away," said Spoons spokesman Eddie Gershon when the loophole was first discovered, last summer. "It must be great to be in one of our pubs and have a drink delivered to your table by a good-hearted friend who isn't even with you."
Eddie, baby, you better believe it's great. It's the latest craze sweeping the nation! And something I had to test for myself, to see what it might teach me about friendship, giving, receiving and my own drinking problem. But, like, my funny drinking problem!
Also, because this has already been done a bunch of times by thirsty, cheap civilians, I thought I'd add another angle: I would have to eat and drink absolutely everything sent to me, a bit like an interactive Man v. Food, only with Apple Sourz and boiled eggs, rather than hot wings that give you severe internal bleeding.
So there I was, tweeting the pub name and table number (The Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington, table 10), essentially asking some friends, but mostly complete strangers, to pay for me to get pissed.
In my sober state, it made me feel fairly uncomfortable. Would I ever try to solicit free drinks from strangers at a bar? No. Would I ever demand that my friends pay for every element of a night out? Also no, because I am not a wanker. In both cases, not only would I feel embarrassed, but also completely undeserving of any booze-themed charity. But maybe I was overthinking it; maybe it's just harmless fun.
Either way, someone had ordered me a bowl of warm peas and a pint of Kronenbourg, so things were off to a good start.
Soon, it seemed my friends – and, more importantly, my Twitter followers – had caught wind of my pub location and table number, because the orders started getting zanier. A bowl of ice cream! A Robinson's Fruit Shoot, a Jägerbomb and a child's smoothie! A fried egg and three blue cheese dips!
This was a buffet of banter, and I was forced out of principle and loyalty to my many anonymous patrons to work my way through everything that arrived in front of me. I was kind of shocked anyone had ordered me anything, but also very grateful that they had; this write-up wouldn't have been all that fun if I'd just had a half of Guinness and a portion of chips.
After that initial boom of snacks, interest in food clearly ran dry, because what followed was tray after tray of straight liquor, pitchers of cocktails and alcohol that reminded me of underage drinking – a Newcastle Brown, a Hooch, a can of Monster Energy.
Was I able to get through every drink ordered for me? At this point, yes, but I was quickly very pissed – which inspired some smoking area philosophy about how technology has changed the way we give and receive.
We don't know our neighbours, but we support the GoFundMes and Patreons of people we like on social media. We'd rather skip a birthday drinks in favour of ordering a friend a shot via a chain pub's app. Some will criticise this – and, admittedly, it can be jarring to see already-comfortable people hurled a bunch of free cash when there are others who are much more in need of the money, even if they don't make excruciatingly dull podcasts. But when crowdfunding is used to pay medical bills, or help a family fly a loved one's body back from another country, or keep a community centre up and running, it shows an empathetic side of human nature we rarely see elsewhere – and that's something that should be celebrated.
Anyway, none of that applies to me at all, because at this point I'd just been crowd-funded 15 shots of sambuca.
I could tell the bar staff were starting to get annoyed at the endless flow of drinks being ordered to table 10. I told them in the most coherent sentence I could manage at the time that it was my birthday and my family were sending me drinks because they couldn't be with me. Which was fine, they said, before refusing to serve me the three pints of milk someone had just ordered. And for that, I thanked them.
As an anxiety-inducing Tetris stack of shot glasses and beer bottles started to build up in front of me, I began handing them out to anyone who'd take them. I had failed the challenge I'd set myself, but I also didn't want to die. Generous followers, I apologise for putting my life above content.