In some pubs around the country you can occasionally spot a remnant left over from when pub society moved at a more leisurely pace. I am of course referring to the apparatus known as the 'bell push', a device used to summon a waitress in the more select rooms of a public house. The system was simple and probably worked without too much fuss for several generations but in 1963 a pub in Bromley Cross in Bolton decided that something more sophisticated could be employed. The Flag Hotel had no doubt been approached by the proprietor of a local firm called Millington & Boardman of Darwen who was keen to showcase the latest in a long line of innovative plastic products. The pub, as far as we know, was the only one in the country to adopt the 'Genie' drink ordering system, quite for how long it remained is not clear but it seems obvious that it wasn't a great seller!
How it workedAt every table in the lounge a special selector unit fitted with a telephone dial would be placed. All of the items on the drinks menu such as beers, spirits, cigarettes and cigars were given a two digit code, for instance if you fancied a shandy, 75 would be dialled and if your preferred tipple was a Babycham then dialling 17 would ensure you got it.
The information was relayed back to a control box behind the bar and a printout was produced in the form of a ticket showing table number, list of items and price for each. When the order was completed the machine automatically totalled the price. If anyone required something not on the menu then double ‘O’ was dialled, this would then call the waiter and the item could be ordered ‘manually’.
The manufacturers obviously saw the Genie as the future of drink dispensing but it just didn't catch on for whatever reason. I suspect that the apparatus had its faults and from my experience of working with electromechanical telephone systems there was probably a high maintenance factor, it probably made a bit of noise as well.
If anyone knows of other curious drink dispensing equipment or if any other occurrences of the Genie have come to light we'd love to know about them.
Picture Left: Landlord John Dobson serving drinks to his wife and daughter Joan who have just used the Genie to order. [Photos courtesy of Joan Smith]
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