Norwich pub one of the first in country to accept virtual payment
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
A traditional Norwich pub was the first in the country to have a hi-tech system installed which allows customers to use virtual currency to buy drinks.
The White Lion pub in Oak Street is one of four pubs owned by Individual Pubs Limited which now accepts payment by Bitcoin – an experimental, decentralised digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world.
Bitcoin uses technology to operate with no central authority where managing transactions and issuing money are carried out by the network.
Former computer scientist and pub group founder Stephen Early decided to give the currency a go after having bought some in 2011.
He was staying at the White Lion when he implemented it at the pub which is now listed at bitcoin.travel – a Bitcoin business directory.
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Mr Early said: 'I started testing with my own Bitcoins on May 23 in Norwich. After a few days I was confident the system was stable and tried to put a listing for the pub on www.bitcoin.travel/ – but the listing was rejected.
'They told me the pub website had to describe how we accept Bitcoin so they could be sure the listing was genuine.'
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Mr Early added these before resubmitting the listing which was accepted.
Mr Early's three other pubs are the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, Coalheavers Arms in Peterborough and the Devonshire Arms in Cambridge.
He said: 'The first Bitcoin payment that wasn't from me took place in the Pembury Tavern on June 1 – slightly premature since I was still in Norwich and hadn't been to the Pembury to check it was all working properly. Fortunately it all worked well. We've now taken around £1,300 over the bars of our pubs using Bitcoins.'
It is hoped the novelty value of the system will mean it catches on, particularly in Norwich which is the only one of the four pubs where no-one other than Mr Early has used Bitcoins.
Ben Ackers, who runs the White Lion with his wife Becky, said he would be happy to see people trying the new payment system, which is much easier for his staff than card payments and with much less scope for human error.
He said: 'I think as a concept it will take off. This was the first till in the country to be able to use Bitcoin. This is where it was developed and we would love it to be used here – anything that gets people interested in real ale and proper pubs would be a bonus to any business in this trade.
'It's bringing together two completely opposite worlds –- on the one hand the social side of real ale, going down the pub and coming together and having a chat and the polar opposite of sitting on your own on a computer. Bringing these two worlds together is a very innovative concept and we've got a lot of respect for Steve for bringing together the two.'
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