In the midst of a recession and in an era of anti-drinking, anti-smoking and anti-fun, one chain of pubs, JD Wetherspoon, has thrived. After announcing record sales, the chain has declared that it will open 250 new pubs in the next five years, creating 10,000 jobs in the process. What’s the secret to its success?
JD Wetherspoon has survived because of, not despite, the new era of clean living. In fact, it was way ahead of its killjoy times, introducing a smoking ban in all its pubs before it became law. It has also banned dogs, music and television with sound, as well as games such as darts and pool, and social events like karaoke and bingo evenings. Wetherspoon even discourages drunkenness, marketing itself as a family-friendly chain of restaurants where soft drinks and hot drinks are cheaper than in your average public house. Adults accompanied by children must purchase a meal with their alcoholic beverages and are allowed a maximum of two drinks. At Wetherspoon pubs, kids rule and grown-ups are treated as unruly children.
In the past, the Wetherspoon management has even considered banning swearing and the use of mobile phones and it has spent millions of pounds on CCTV cameras to keep a watchful eye over customers. The chain’s food policy reads like the menu for a British National Party reception: products are ‘locally sourced’, the vegetables are ‘100 per cent British’, as is the pork used in its Lincolnshire sausages and the beef in its Abbot Ale pie.
Wetherspoon is, in fact, not a chain of public houses at all - it is a chain of public control houses. It is the anti-pub, a health department official’s dream local, a place where you go not to get a break from your everyday worries but to be told we’re eating and drinking ourselves to death. Wetherspoon is careful to remind customers that they should eat and drink ‘responsibly’, not overstep the officially-recommended daily units of alcohol and calories, and be sure to consume at least five fruit and veg a day.
A Wetherspoon pub is not a place for drowning your sorrows, whiling away time or spending hard-earned cash on simple pleasures like a game of pool with your mates or choosing silly songs on the jukebox for you and your friends to sing along to. It’s not a place where anybody is likely to know your name, because, here, we are discouraged even from talking to one another.