Friday 13 January 2023

Limited offer

Wetherspoon’s are currently running a January Sale including price cuts across a whole range of food and drink items, including reducing the price of a pint of Ruddles Bitter to a mere 99p, in England at least. There have been the predictable complaints that this was unfair and represented predatory pricing. But, in reality, how much of an effect is it likely to have?

By definition, the opportunities to take advantage of an offer on something that is consumed at the time of purchase are much more limited than on something that can be taken home and stored for later use. It may tempt the odd person to visit Wetherspoon’s who otherwise wouldn’t have done, or encourage them to have an extra pint, but it’s hardly going to turn the market upside down. And remember that Ruddles Bitter was already priced at £1.49, so you’re only saving 50p per pint. The main benefit to Wetherspoon’s will be gaining publicity.

Low prices alone seldom provide sufficient attraction to visit pubs. You sometimes see urban pubs with signs advertising how cheap their beer is, but by and large they tend to be the less appealing ones. Yes, Wetherspoon’s do offer good value, but they also attract customers due to their long and consistent opening hours, their wide food and drink offer, and their general ambiance that doesn’t make anyone feel unwelcome. In any case, they are competing as much with fast food and casual dining outlets as with other pubs. And, over their full drinks range, they’re not as cheap as cask drinkers might imagine. The discount on cask is greater than on other beers because it’s the product where people make price comparisons.

Another factor is that people generally buy drinks in rounds rather than individually. There’s a general understanding that people don’t take the piss by ordering particularly expensive drinks when it’s someone else’s turn, but the benefit of choosing a cheap beer purely on price is diluted. If you choose Ruddles on your round and Leffe when someone else is paying your companions won’t be impressed. Wetherspoon’s probably attract a higher proportion of solo drinkers than most other pubs, but even so the majority are likely to be buying in rounds. It may be that the rise of app ordering is eroding round-buying, but I doubt whether than is a big factor amongst the Ruddles-buying classes. I am currently running a Twitter poll which so far is showing a strong preference for round-buying:

The custom of round buying is also why various attempts to introduce lower-priced, weaker “value bitters” in pubs have always been a failure. Over the years, I remember various North-West brewers trying this – Boddingtons had Old Shilling and Hydes Billy Westwood’s – and some of them were actually quite pleasant. I remember once drinking six pints of Billy Westwood’s on Sunday lunchtime in the now-demolished Moss Rose/Four Heatons near my home. But none stayed the course, as the round-buying culture, especially in traditional boozers, worked against them. Why choose a cheap product rather than the mainstream one when someone else is paying?


  1. Was the Billy Westwoods Sunday with me? And John and Rhys? Might have been. That was a good beer, and a fun day!

    Any: on buying in rounds. At University (Leeds, early 80s, FWIW, so rather cheaper than today in comparative terms) there was a group of between four and eight who used to buy in rounds; all the boys would stand their own rounds, whereas the the two girls involved would often team up when it got to be their turn. Fair enough, if it had been the cliché of pints for the men, halves for the women. But it wasn't like that: one of the girls drank pints, the other Dubonnet and lemonade, so both "full price". That really was taking the proverbial more than a little, and as I remember they didn't get away with it for too long...

  2. I doubt Spoons have any objective for their ‘sale’ other than grabbing the odd headline. As you say, it might encourage a few new punters or retain a handful of existing ones, but as a business development initiative, it can’t have legs.

  3. My guess is that they've been doing it for so long that it's a 'tradition' embedded in their calendar - the sort of thing where no one can remember whose idea it was in the first place. I notice that 'Burns Night' is extended to 'Burns Week' even though it's meaningless to most customers, although not me as I like a haggis (even more so if freshly caught). Others might argue that making it a 'week' means longer to sell off excess haggis without discounting. Given some of the local custom where I live, a Pierogi night might go down better.

    1. A little known fact is that haggis originated in the Kingdom of Northumbria, long before the oatmeal savages founded their own country.


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