Sunday, 9 March 2014

Looking a gift horse in the mouth?

The J. D. Wetherspoon vouchers distributed by CAMRA to its members have proved to be a considerable source of controversy. To some they are a valuable membership benefit, while to others they involve a consumer organisation compromising its independence.

The point needs to be made that these vouchers are entirely funded by Spoons, and don’t cost CAMRA a penny. And to some extent they represent an offer that appears to be generous, but where in fact, by design, the take-up will be limited. They’re not perforated, so have to be cut up with scissors, they’re just that bit too big to comfortably fit in the average wallet, and they’re limited to three-month time slots. Given this, it’s my view that less than 10% of those issued are ever redeemed.

This was recently discussed on the CAMRA forum, so I decided to create a poll to test that proposition. Apologies to general blog readers who feel this subject is a bit parochial. The results show a clear U-curve, with the biggest vote for those who use none, closely followed by those who use all 10 each quarter. Overall, the responses suggest that about 45% of the vouchers end up being used but, given that the blog is far more likely to be read by enthusiasts I would say that figure is likely to greatly over-estimate the real-world take-up. The original poll results are here – there are also some interesting comments, including “I've never seen anyone under 50 using a Wetherspoon voucher in my local branch”.

In reality I would say that whether you use them or not mainly depends on whether Wetherspoon’s is part of your regular round. If you go there anyway, you’ll probably use them; if you don’t, you won’t. People aren’t really going to go out of their way just to save 50p on a pint. And, even if you do go to Spoons, if your usual habit is to drink halves, or if you’re taking advantage of the inclusive meal deals, for which they’re not valid, you might not use them either. I currently have six left for the January-March quarter, and am unlikely to use more than one more – and that’s not because I’ve been steering clear of pubs in general, or even deliberately avoiding Spoons.

It may not be the case in other towns, but in Stockport town centre there are plenty of other pubs that offer one or more of a wider choice, better-kept beer, better (if dearer) food, a more cosy and pub-like atmosphere and even keener prices (in the two Sam Smith’s pubs) than the local branch of Spoons.

If the vouchers weren’t time-limited, then they would effectively become like ten-bob drinking vouchers circulating amongst CAMRA members and their mates, but the fact is that they are limited, and so surplus ones end up getting binned at the end of each quarter. Probably many of the less engaged members just put the annual envelope to one side and forget about it.

While it’s not something I feel particularly strongly about, in my view the voucher scheme does to some extent compromise CAMRA’s integrity and may inhibit criticism of Spoons. Some non-Spoons pubs also accept the vouchers at face value and, to provide a bit of balance, it would be nice to see the Independent Family Brewers of Britain offer a similar scheme (although in practice that would be much more administratively complex). Now I’d certainly use all of those!

On a related note, Wetherspoon’s have recently introduced a policy that every branch will stock at least one of London Pride, Doom Bar and Adnams Broadside. Is that perhaps an acknowledgement that, for many of their customers, their cask ale range, apart from the staple Ruddles and Abbot, was often a bit obscure and offputting?


  1. As far as I can tell, the vouchers are there to encourage you to visit one of their establishments, over that of a local rival. While you're in there buying a beer, you may be tempted to buy food (higher profit margin), or visit again for one of their countless "coming soon" beers.

    I do not need a voucher to "encourage" me to drink in one of their 7 local branches. With 100 other real ale pubs in my area, I have enough choice that I can make an informed decision about where to drink. Personally I just bin my vouchers

    The only point that you appeared to have missed, is what would happen to CAMRA's membership if the scheme ended?

  2. I'm saving this quartet's vouchers for the Spoons Beer "Festival" that starts on the 28th. Happily, this runs over two of the voucher periods.

  3. CAMRA is supposed to champion independent locals, not act as Spoons marketing department.

  4. Not a problem. What a lot of members do, in my experience, is to give their surplus vouchers to members who will use them. I tend to use my allocation up in about 7-10 days so gladly soak up any excess. Only once have I been left with any to spare and that was when I was given 20 with 3 days to go.

  5. the thing youve left out though is that alot of commentators have said CAMRAS increase in membership lately is purely down to the Wetherspoons vouchers, so the fact their actual use is limited is interesting.

    Ill use them...and Im under 50...if I remember to take them with me and Im not buying a meal with a free pint or during a beer festival when Ill just do halves anyway.

    the point for me with the vouchers and why I dont use them that often I think, is actually Im not that bothered about 50p off a pint that only costs £2.20 to begin with, because thats already more than £1 cheaper than any other neighbouring pub, and nearer £1.50 in some cases, and if I wanted a discount actually it would be from the expensive pubs first, not Wetherspoons.

  6. Without spoons tokens the campaign for wetherspoons pubs would whither and die.

  7. I rarely use mine for reasons of forgetfulness. When I go to London where it feels more worthwhile, they are somehow always forgotten.

    As for CAMRA membership? Who knows but as the vouchers in effect give you membership for free, but you still have to go through the process and fork out the dosh upfront, I can't see the actual advantage, unless, horror of horrors, you actually agree with CAMRA and find this a convenient way of telling yourself you have a bargain.

  8. £20 of beer tokens to Spoons.
    CAMRA discount scheme offering pub discounts (often no signs up, you have to suss it out and ask, more often than not. Value? Depends but 30p x 10 pints = £3)
    Free & reduced entry to beer festivals (variable value but probably at least £5)
    Subscription to a half decent beer magazine (4x£4=£16 ?)
    Subscription to a piss poor beer newspaper (12x£1 = £12 ?)
    Around 1 free piss up a year (usually under the pretence of giving a brewer a gong), but sometimes more. Requires you to pay a bit of attention to branch activities.

    Come on, You don't have to agree with Tand, or any beardies. All you have to be is be a bit of a piss head that likes a bargain. You'd be mad not to join!

  9. >CAMRA is supposed to champion independent locals

    Err, not specifically but know where you are coming from.

    >not act as Spoons marketing department.


  10. I think a lot of people initially join CAMRA because they mistakenly think that we stand for promoting good beer and good pubs. They're then generally disappointed to find we actually stand for shamelessly promoting wetherspoons, beer preference presciptivism and prohibitionist facilitation.

  11. Py - "beer preference presciptivism" - is this meant to read "prescriptivism" (which according to wiki is the meta-ethical view which claims that, rather than expressing propositions, ethical sentences function similarly to imperatives which are universalizable—whoever makes a moral judgment is committed to the same judgment in any situation where the same relevant facts obtain) or something else?

  12. nevermind sarcasm, pointing out typos on comments boxes is now officially the lowest form of wit.

    1. Oh, to live the life of py.

      He he, sorry.

      My spoons vouchers would have been used in my non-spoons pub, but I forgot. The beer's pretty good there.

      Now sitting in Anchor, Birmingham. Gorgeous pub.

  13. In Birmingham at least, a couple of the "real ale"-orientated pubs - Post Office Vaults and the re-opened Woodman - accept CAMRA Wetherspoons vouchers - presumably taking a 50p hit on the hope of generating more custom that will pay itself back.

    The later pub is also taking them for real cider :)

    So I reckon I may manage to use mine this time fingers crossed (just renewed my membership).


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