As a rule, Wetherspoons confidently clears any obstacle that stands in its way.
The company is frequently targeted on social media with calls for a boycott, ranging from terms of employment to the pro-Brexit opinions of its talkative founding president, Tim Martin. The consequence is still the same – another year of scary sales, based on the simple equation that most of his customers aren’t too concerned with what Martin says, as long as he’s willing to sell them food and drink. cheap beer. The people who boycott Wetherspoons are not, on the whole, the ones who have been there very often.
This time, as the company has already indicated, it will be different. Spoons’ irresistible force collided with a stationary object in the form of a pandemic, heralding the impossible event – a loss of stomach.
Expect the same at the Marston’s pub chain, which also has numbers this month and is even larger – though less well-known – than Wetherspoons, with an estate of 1,400 locations.
Indeed, expect the same in any hotel group. Those who survive this crisis will come out much weaker. We’ve already seen Greene King shut down 79 pubs with 800 job losses, while Revolutionary Bars announced a corporate voluntary agreement (CVA) that could cause similar pain.
Given its recent success, a pullback in this direction seems almost inconceivable at Wetherspoons, but these days nothing is out of place and the delay in results raises disturbing questions.
Maybe Martin just wanted a little more time to work out one of his now famous political rants. They have become a staple of the results day at Spoons, often taking up more space than the results themselves.
Traditionally, at least in recent years, the rants have been on Brexit, but it seems likely this year’s numbers will be accompanied by lengthy chapters on government restrictions affecting hospitality, with appendices and links to scientific studies .
For once, Martin is not alone. It shares a windswept branch with most of its struggling industry, whose trade bodies have begged the government to rethink its toughest brakes or, if not, dive into its pocket for a size bailout. ‘a bazooka.
The 10pm curfew has eroded sales already diminished by social distancing and now conditions are set to worsen. Holyrood has imposed strict temporary restrictions – banning alcohol sales and dining after 6 p.m. About 60 of Spoons’ 861 UK pubs are in Scotland, and more suffering is to come, with similar restrictions looming in the north of England.
According to crisp figures from real estate company Altus Group, this could force the temporary closure of more than 7,000 pubs in the north, or one in five of all drink establishments in the UK. Some will never reopen, although the government tried to soften the economic blow on Friday with a package of measures for businesses affected by the lockdown and their employees, including reintroducing the leave scheme in all but name.
The impact of the new lockdowns won’t show up in Wetherspoons’ figures, which cover the period up to the end of July, but they should feature prominently in its outlook and trading commentary since the end of the month. exercise.
The company has been such a reliable engine of growth that if it too prophesies the outlook will be good, much worse for less robust competitor chains and even bleaker for independent sites.
Except some drama Machine god – a huge government bailout or vaccine breakthrough – pubs face the worst pandemic of any UK industry. Even Wetherspoons won’t be immune.