Now in Wetherspoon’s you are likely to encounter a very wide mix of customers of different ages, social classes and sexes, and also who are visiting for different purposes, whereas the dining pub and sports boozer can be very monocultural. This is perhaps even more the case for those in suburban locations, where there will be more families, and also categories of customer like sports teams after their Sunday morning match.
Wetherspoon’s have always tended to avoid this type of location, as their business model is very much based on sites with a lot of existing footfall, rather than being pubs people would make a special trip to visit. But the Gateway in East Didsbury, opposite the Parrswood leisure complex, with its cinema and bowling alley, is an exception to this rule, and seems to do very good business. It’s always noticeable how busy it is, when the Griffin just up the road, a classic multi-roomed Holt’s boozer, is virtually empty. There are a handful of other Spoons in similar spots around the country.
Recently there have been several reports that the gloss had come off the family dining sector, which not too long ago was hailed as a major growth area in the pub trade. To some extent, in these locations , Wetherspoon’s are competing against family dining pubs. But they are pubs that serve food, as opposed to food pubs, and so have a wider appeal. Although they sell a lot of food, there’s no pressure to eat in Spoons, and nobody is going to judge you if you just order random items from the menu. While the food in Spoons may not be particularly brilliant, neither is that in most family dining pubs.
Another factor is that Wetherspoon’s don’t show football. I recognise that there is a place, and a demand, for TV football in pubs, even though it isn’t something I particularly care for. But the mere fact of putting it on creates a somewhat more laddish atmosphere and makes the pub less inclusive. Its absence is a key factor in maintaining their broad appeal.
Do not imagine, though, that I am some kind of Wetherspoon’s fanboy. While I recognise them as a successful and savvy company, they’re far from my favourite places to drink. They are, I believe deliberately, laid out to prevent people feeling too cosy and comfortable, to reduce customer dwell time. Their cask beer quality is very hit and miss, and even at its best always seems to be lacking a little condition. They also have a strange knack of being able to put on eight beers, none of which I particularly fancy drinking. And their food offer varies from reasonably appetising to pretty poor.
But that isn’t the point. They’re not aiming for excellence, they’re setting out to be an adequate, consistent, good-value pub that deters as few customers as possible*, and in that they undoubtedly succeed.
* Apart from some diehard opponents of Brexit, of course. Although the people who performatively boycott Wetherspoon’s are generally those who hardly ever visited anyway.