Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Success is still possible

The main roads through West Yorkshire are notable for the large number of closed pubs and Indian restaurants in former pubs. So I was struck the other week when driving past the Turnpike Inn at Rishworth near Ripponden, at about 7.30 pm on a Friday evening, to see the pub’s car park completely full, and large numbers of cars parked at the roadside and on the verges. This is a formerly closed pub that has been revitalised in the past year, as reported here by the Morning Advertiser.

Clearly the Turnpike is a pub that majors on food, but they must be doing a lot right to bring in so many customers, and it’s always good to see a business venture proving successful. Looking at the menus, it’s not at all cheap, either. (The menus are also notable for their “round pound” pricing.) I’d like to bet, though, that, despite its obvious popularity, the Turnpike is nonetheless selling a lot less beer than it did in previous incarnations in the 60s and 70s. But it does prove the point that, even in an overall declining market, you can still be very successful by providing something that people are prepared to make the effort to come for.

The one pub operator who are proving a success on a national scale where others are falling by the wayside is, of course, Wetherspoon’s. Now, as I’ve said before, on a personal level I am lukewarm about the chain. To me, they’re just not proper pubs in the sense that pubs like the Nursery, Arden Arms, Griffin and Davenport Arms are; they are impersonal, echoing, eating and drinking barns. But you can’t argue with success, and they are opening new pubs at a rapid rate, while it’s rare to go in a Spoons and not find it busy. They have done so by ripping up the established orthodoxies of the pub trade, and by actually taking the trouble to research what customers want. The company is also very adept at site location and playing the property market.

If other pubs want to compete successfully with a nearby Wetherspoon’s, they have to do at least one thing markedly better. The days of the nondescript, bog-standard town-centre pub are over.

It will be interesting to see what happens in Hazel Grove when the new Wetherspoon’s, the Wilfred Wood, opens at the end of this month. The main road through the village has no less than eight Robinson’s pubs in about half a mile, many of which are distinctly down-at-heel and forgettable. Will the Spoons put some of them out of business, or will it increase the total pub market in Hazel Grove?


  1. Still can't bring myself to embrace Wetherspoons and they remain a last resort when we're on our travels. The vast majority are the antithesis of what good pubs are all about in terms of ambience and community.

    However, our local Spoons just won CAMRA Pub of the Season and seems to have finally worked out how to keep good, consistent ale (Thornbridge Ashford and two Titanics made an appearance on Saturday). It's like having a new pub.

    Also noticed that one of several closed boozers in Shotton, Flintshire, is just about to re-open as a Wetherspoons. Can't work out if this is what a town down on its luck needs to be honest. Did the other pubs nearby fail because of lack of demand or quality?

  2. To some extent I agree with you about Wetherspoons - they are not what I think good pubs are about either. See this article.

    But, on the other hand, they are conspicuously successful at a time when so many other pubs aren't, so they must be doing something right.

    In run-down places like Shotton they will considerably up the game in terms of both cask ale range and food offer, and will probably attract people in who didn't previously tend to visit local pubs.

  3. if nothing else Wetherspoons will break the monopoly that Robinsons obviously have.Its often forgotten how much regional brewers can dominate choice in some areas.

  4. Spoons? I wouldnt set foot in a spoons in a million years. the nearest to us in in george street, hove, and its full of benefit scrounging wasters. same faces every time you go past it. a disgusting pit of wasted life and wasted potential. the sooner it is burnt to the ground the better.

  5. What Wetherspoons does, and does well is sell beer cheaply.
    On a Monday You can buy a pint of Guinness for just over a quid. Other places its closer to 4 quid.
    Like them or not, and they do differ greatly, they have cheaper booze, cheap food, and HEATING. Last winter they were one of the few pubs I could actually walk into and take off my coat.

  6. Wetherspoons if they are run well are ok pubs but there are so many that aren't well run. Until they have an inspection when all of a sudden quality goes up, only to drop a month later. Well run Wetherspoons do attract a lot of business, cheaper drinks and food prices are attractive to folks especially in today's climate. If you have a manager that promotes beer well then you end up with a pub that gets a lot of interesting and different well kept beers on rotation but this is sadly a minority.

    Same with independent and brewery tied pubs, if you have a good landlord then you can end up with a cracking pub to go to. People don't mind paying more than a Wetherspoons if the quality and range are deserving of that rate.

    For example after abandoning two bad pints at the Wetherspoons in Harlow we ended up in a pub in Old Harlow where the food prices were about half again on Wetherspoons but the food was a much higher quality so we had no problems with the cost.

  7. "ripping up the established orthodoxies of the pub trade"

    Does that mean not ripping off punters, charging reasonable prices, having clean toilets and not expecting punters to want to sit in a tatty dump?

    Spoons are the enigma most commentators fail to explain. That in a declining market blamed on all manner of excuses, old Tim Martin is doing very well. It is very simple to explain their success. Put yourself around and compare "value".

    The dark blot on the horizon for Spoons will be quality control. He likes to visit his own pubs. He's getting beyond the number of boozers he can visit himself with the frequency he used too.

  8. Cut the fluff,
    Spoons is surviving by scavanging the stagglers from other pubs
    closures.Hardly surprising Wetherspoons yelped down political
    earholes for a TOTAL smoking ban
    to ensure "a level playing field".
    So cut the nice butty crap and get
    some brass tacks on the table.

    The Ferryman

  9. Well, the "scavenging" opportunity is open to all pub operators, but only Spoons seem to have picked up the bone and run with it.


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