Saturday, 14 November 2009

Tarnished Spoons

Not quite sure what prompted it, but during the past week I’ve been running a poll on people’s opinions of Wetherspoons. And it turns out you don’t think much of them at all! There were 43 responses, broken down as follows:

Love them: 2 (5%)
Quite like them: 6 (14%)
They’re OK: 15 (35%)
Not keen: 7 (16%)
Loathe them: 13 (30%)

The excess of “loathers” above “lovers” is very marked.

I have to say I am in two minds here. Wetherspoons have certainly revolutionised the urban pub trade and exposed the poor service and limited offer that once were par for the course. They are a well-run and highly profitable company. And Tim Martin is one of the few industry leaders who is willing to question the prevailing anti-drink orthodoxy.

But, on the other hand, on a personal level I seldom have much enthusiasm about visiting one of their outlets. They tend to be characterless, barn-like establishments with a shortage of both natural light and comfortable bench-type seating. Their regular beers are dull, and whether you find anything interesting on the guest list can be very hit and miss. They seem to have a knack of extracting the character from even apparently well-kept brews. Their food is unimaginative, mass-market, microwaved stuff done down to a price, and on a few recent experiences hasn’t even been decently presented (for example, I had a distinctly lukewarm meal last month). Their change of policy to admit children when dining has led to many of their pubs being dominated by the wails of infants at lunchtimes – they have become the chav mothers’ canteen.

And, as I posted earlier this year, while obviously they are fully entitled only to select the sites they believe will suit their formula, they refuse to venture out of their town-centre comfort zone and expose themselves to wider competition.

So it was a “not keen” from me. I’ll use them, especially if staying away from home, but if a Wetherspoon’s really is the best pub in a town, or even worthy of inclusion in the Good Beer Guide, then choice is pretty thin in that part of the world.

14 comments:

  1. Martin, Cambridge14 November 2009 at 18:07

    I was one of the two who love Wetherspoons, but I doubted most of this site's readers share my enthusiasm.

    Spoons is the first port of call if you have children, need a pint at 9am, or have that occasional urge for an early fry-up; not a place to take your wife for a special meal.

    However, my own experience across 500 or so Spoons is that ale quality is very good, certainly GBG standards. The standard range (Pedigree, Ruddles etc) is no duller than the ubiquitous Adnams/Landlord/Youngs in much of the South, and the guests get enough turnover to feel confident about quality.

    They also do more to promote real ale as anyone (unlike CAMRA, they enthuse about beer rather than banging on about full pints and tax).

    As you'd say yourself, each to their own !

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  2. Good points. I was a "they're OK". I have said it before and repeat it again. Good and bad can be found among them - like all pubs.

    Timbo has a lot of good points as you say yourself and the CAMRA point of Martin is a fair one in some ways too.

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  3. Unfortunately I missed the poll, sorry. I would probably have had to answer "they're OK". Although they are not my style of thing really, they are most definitely fit for purpose. They deliver a product that is to a cost and so makes them popular. I think that is hard to argue against.

    I worry about the effect on the traditional pub, as most are change of use examples and each one takes the trade off 5-10 "community pubs" but that's progress.

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  4. Wetherspoons... I agree with all thats been said: the lack of light, the hit and miss quality of beer, terrible (but cheap food). However one point that doesn't seem to get mentioned is that the very lack of atmosphere is one its selling points. Its gender indifference, focus on food and lack of music, mean that its one of the few places you could take your friends, mother and granny (though not at the same time). This is especially true in some areas of London where most normal pubs during the day are a no-no.

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  5. I agree on the lack of atmosphere being in a sense a plus point - nobody will ever raise their eyebrows at you going in a Wetherspoons, whereas with many other pubs the first-time customer might think twice before venturing over the threshold. I referred to this in my post on the Demise of the casual drinker:

    Possibly Wetherspoon’s pubs, whose size and high throughput allow a degree of anonymity, are one of the last havens of the casual drinker - but of course those are only found in urban centres.

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  6. Nice to see Wetherspoons knocking is still an acceptable blood sport in the real ale world. No other PubCo is subject to as much scrutiny and venom. I don't see any other PubCos criticised for where their pubs are situated ("they refuse to venture out of their town-centre comfort zone") or dismissed with sweeping statements such as "if a Wetherspoon’s really is the best pub in a town, or even worthy of inclusion in the Good Beer Guide, then choice is pretty thin in that part of the world." This statement is only defensible if you have drunk in most Wetherspoons in the land, and also in most of the competition nearby. Otherwise it is mere supposition ~ or perhaps prejudice?

    I'm not a big fan of Wetherspoons but they do tend to have more real ales on than your average PubCo pub. My local Wetherspoons has gone from poor to pretty good in recent months when a new licensee was installed. They vary, just like all other PubCos.

    Stop judging by the brand and begin judging on an individual basis. If you don't like the Wetherspoons style, then you'll never be persuaded. For everyone else, discernment, not stereotyped preconceptions, is what's required.

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  7. I was the second "lover" on the grounds they are cheap. Or at least cheaper.

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  8. Since Wetherspoon's clearly are a chain – with standardised drinks ranges, menus, prices, general layout etc. – it clearly is reasonable to judge them as a chain. They are by a wide margin the biggest "pub brand" in the UK. Nobody would say "you need to judge McDonalds branches on an individual basis". And the OP wasn't demonising them, merely saying they're not really my cup of a tea from a personal perspective.

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  9. Sorry, but I don't think the McDonalds analogy works. There is a considerable variation in what beers Wetherspoons pubs stock and how well they keep them. I have drunk in them in quite a few towns, so I'm not exhibiting parochial ignorance here. Granted the menus may be similar, but food isn’t my main reason for going to a pub.

    In terms of beer quality, I've had poor pints in Wetherspoons and lovely ones too. Some Wetherspoons actively buy from local breweries and deservedly get CAMRA Locale awards, while others just stock the usual basic Wetherspoons range. I find the beers in S&N pubs are usually more standardised ~ my local, the Guest House, being an honourable exception.

    On a stroll around the pubs of Winchester a few months ago, the best pub by far in terms of beer choice and quality was the Wetherspoons. It wasn’t the best of a bad bunch ~ it was very good.

    You’re also mistaken about prices, which aren't standardised either: for example, I’ve noticed that Wetherspoons is cheaper for both food and drink in Southport than in Liverpool city centre.

    I've re-read the OP. I don’t doubt it’s what you think, but it’s still full of unsupportable generalisations that don’t correspond to my own, more varied experiences of this chain. Perhaps you’ve just been unlucky.

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  10. The time you visit can be important, too. I went to catch the dregs of the beer festival one evening last week after work and the bar manager was a revelation: keen, helpful, enthusiastic and informative. I normally go at lunchtime so I'm used to seeing different staff.

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  11. "it’s still full of unsupportable generalisations that don’t correspond to my own, more varied experiences of this chain"

    Umm, this is a blog, it's meant to contain opinions, many of which people can and will disagree with.

    I am well aware that the prices are not standardised - but, there again, neither are McDonald's.

    And I've been in more than enough Wetherspoons outlets to form a reasonable general opinion of them, thank you.

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  12. "This is a blog, it's meant to contain opinions, many of which people can and will disagree with." Ermm ... I thought that's exactly what I was doing.

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  13. Real men do not frequent Wetherspoons.
    Very popular with "males" whose
    mothers were exposed to plastics
    during pregnancy and forlorn females reeking of 8 hours in a
    hot office.

    Old Briton

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