Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

17. Memorandum submitted by J D Wetherspoon Plc


  The issue of binge drinking is a very big one in the media at the current time, and we all know that a minority of people behave very badly after a few drinks. It is particularly noticeable when people let their hair down for a special occasion, and some feel it is okay to behave in a way that is offensive to the majority of the population, or to those not involved in the "party".

  At Wetherspoon, we understand that we are in the business of selling alcohol, and cannot take the high moral ground, but we have tried to create a convivial environment which encourages people, within reason, to behave well.

  In many licensing applications around the country, trade competitors over the years have tried to say that Wetherspoon "causes trouble" in the areas in which our pubs are located. However, when the issue has been examined in court, the evidence strongly indicates that there is no increase in crime or disorder in the locality of our pubs as a result of our openings. In a planning application in South Shields, the local inspector telephoned all the licensing districts in which we traded and indicated that Wetherspoons had an extremely good reputation.

  Some of the things we have done over the years have been:

(a)   No Selling Up

  Our most recent move in this area, following advice from the Glasgow Licensing Board, is to remove incentives for people to drink more alcohol than they intended by, for example, stopping two for one offers and stopping selling spirit doubles for less than the price of two single measures.

  Wetherspoon is the only substantial national pub company, of which we are aware, that has introduced this restriction. We have now tried to remove all financial incentives to "trade up" to a larger quantity of alcohol.

  Some people say that our prices are lower than average and this is true. However, working men's clubs and breweries like Samuel Smiths and Joseph Holts also charge less than average, but are not generally regarded as sources of binge drinking. In any event, supermarkets charge less than half our prices for most products.

(b)   No "All you can drink for £10" offers

  These offers have become notorious and most people in the industry strongly disapprove of them. Obviously, we do not have these offers at Wetherspoon.

(c)   Good selection of low priced soft drinks

  As well as selling competitively priced beer, Wetherspoon also sells a wide range of soft drinks at considerably lower prices than almost all other pubs. Studies have shown that the availability and prominent display of soft drinks, coffee and tea have a helpful effect on excessive alcohol consumption.

(d)   Good training for managers and staff and a high ratio of managers

  Wetherspoon has led the way in training for managed house pub companies and we recently won the Supreme Training Award from the BII for two years in a row. We have won numerous other awards over the years and our training programmes for managers are second to none. We also have a high number of managers per pub, averaging six at the current time.

  Good training and a high management presence are regarded as important factors in curtailing bad behaviour resulting from alcohol consumption.

(e)   Working week

  The introduction of a 48 hour working week for all mangers and staff and the fact that all managers are allowed two days off a week is evidence of the company's commitment to ensuring proper working conditions for all its managers and staff.

(f)   Food available all day at a reasonable price

  Wetherspoon's food sales have increased from 5% of sales in 1992 to about 25% now and, combined with soft drinks, are approaching 40% of overall sales. Availability of food, as with the ready availability of soft drinks, is known to be a helpful factor in reducing the possible ill effects of excessive alcohol consumption, and to that end we provide a full menu of hot and cold food from opening until one hour before closing in all our outlets.

(g)   Premises attract a broad range of age groups, not just young people

  Wetherspoon pubs, but not Lloyds bars, have no music and this, combined with the range of products mentioned above, as well as an emphasis on drinks such as traditional ales, results in the attraction of a broad range of age groups from pensioners at one end of the spectrum to students at the other. In addition, we have recently been permitted to allow families to dine in most of our pubs and this has increased again the range of age groups.

  Studies over the years have indicated that pubs which do not target a predominantly young age group have better behaviour.

  Even in Lloyds bars, we attract a broad range of age groups for a considerable part of the time and sell a far higher level of food and soft drinks than almost any competitor.

(h)   Aim for as many female customers as male customers

  Over the years, we have tried to make our pubs appeal to women, since the presence of both sexes can have a beneficial effect on behaviour. In this area, we invested heavily, for example, in toilet facilities and won "Loo of the Year" for England, Scotland and Wales for two years in a row. A high standard of loos, as well as helping the overall ambience of our pubs is particularly important, research shows, for women.

(i)   Quick and efficient service

  Wetherspoon has consistently increased the number of managers, rates of pay and bonuses for staff to try and ensure quick service and good standards. We also have approximately six mystery visitor calls per pub per month to check on service. Efficient and friendly service is a strong factor in creating the convivial atmosphere which encourages good behaviour.

(j)   CCTV

  Many years ago, we were asked by Bournemouth police, as a condition of our licence, to include CCTV's in our pub in that town. Our pub managers felt it was an effective deterrent and encouraged responsible behaviour and we spent many millions of pounds introducing CCTV's throughout the company.

(k)   Encourage diners with no smoking areas

  As part of our efforts to encourage food sales, as well as appealing to non-smokers, we introduced non-smoking areas in our pubs over 10 years ago. We subsequently introduced non-smoking areas around the bar serveries themselves. The combined effect of these moves is to make the pubs more attractive to diners and this has played a part of the big increase in our food sales.

(l)   High standards of maintenance creating convivial atmosphere

  Pubs are often poorly maintained and this can have a subconscious effect on the behaviour of customers. It is part of our policy to have excellently maintained pubs and is encompassed in our motto of "CBSM" which stands for cleanliness, beer, service and maintenance.

(m)   Pubwatch

  All our managers are encouraged to be members of Pubwatch and if none exists we would aim to be instrumental in setting up a Pubwatch. In addition, the Company is a member of National Pubwatch and an associate member of The Portman Group which aims to promote a sensible and responsible approach to the retailing of alcohol.


  It is right for society to take a dim view of some of the extreme anti-social behaviour resulting from heavy drinking and an immature and selfish attitude with which it often goes hand in hand. We believe that the biggest victims of this sort of behaviour are pub managers and staff. We realise that we sell alcohol and, therefore, must do our best to create a safe and convivial atmosphere for customers and staff. The actions mentioned above have gone some way to reducing the problems in our pubs, but cannot eliminate them completely, and we are keen to work with the authorities on the introduction of further sensible measures in this area.

14 December 2004

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 5 April 2005