When the first JD Wetherspoon opened for business in Muswell Hill, North London, in 1979, a then 24-year-old Tim Martin could never have imagined the empire he was on the verge of creating. Some 900 sites later and the Watford-based chain’s seat at the top table of the UK pub market is beyond dispute. The company has nine pubs under development in its current financial year but plans to open 30 in total before the 12-month period is out. And while JDW is still offloading sites that no longer fit its strategic requirement, the pace at which new launches are taking place suggests its target of 200 new pubs by 2020 is well on track.
The chain is not without its challenges, as Tim noted in the company’s most recent address to investors. Government announcements regarding the living wage have added considerable uncertainty to future financial projection in the pub trade, while the “huge” VAT and business rates disparity between pubs and supermarkets remains a fierce bone of contention. What is not in dispute is the rip-roaring growth in food sales that Tim has overseen during the last decade. Seven years ago, the group made 30% of sales from food and more than 65% from bar sales. Now it’s 37% and 60% respectively, and with the gap narrowing year-on-year the day when food sales outstrip the bar takings may not be as far away as many people think. With 50 million Lavazza coffees and teas, and 24 million breakfasts, sold per annum, Wetherspoons’ breakfast offering deserves a special mention — research from CGA Peach even shows it sells more breakfasts than Caffè Nero or Pret a Manger. “Our aim is to triple coffee and breakfast sales over the next 18 months,” says Tim.
With food sales rising, it is integral that JDW continues to invest in its kitchen estate. Gone are the days when a microwave and fryer were enough to cope with peckish customers hungry for a nibble to go with their pint. “It is an organisation that purchases on quality and specification rather than out and out price,” says one supplier to the chain.
“With the gap narrowing year-on-year, the day when food sales outstrip the bar takings may not be far away”