Pubs have long been central to the British way of life, providing a focal point for socialising in the UK. And while many individual public houses have their own parochial charms, only Wetherspoon’s pubs are zeitgeist - being both representative and symptomatic of the credit-crunched UK today.
Wetherspoon pubs are famed for their cheap booze and food, and eclectic clientele. Targeting the lower income brackets of society, it is hardly surprising, though morally questionable, that Wetherspoon’s pubs are often situated somewhere amidst clutches of social security offices, job centres and betting shops.
Although the frontages of these pubs are bland and indistinct, much like the atmosphere inside, they are generally easily found by simply looking out for the collection of derelicts that stand outside in all weathers to smoke cheap cigarettes before heading back inside to neck more cut price beer and pick the day’s losers from the racing pages of tabloids.
The same moribund people can often be seen asking passers-by how to use matches or grappling with pens stolen from turf accountants, trying to fill out ‘Happy 6th Birthday Son’ cards for daughters they had over fifteen years ago before they discovered the joys of cheap alcohol and self-destruction courtesy of J.D. Wetherspoons plc.
The company started operating in the 1970s, but began its remodelling in the early 90s when it started selling off its smaller premises and buying up larger ones close by. There are now around 700 Wetherspoon’s pubs in the UK, keeping the price of beer down by not spending money on such things as music licenses or live football. This means that patrons have to talk to each other, and it would seem that being very drunk makes this easier for them.
Listed on the London Stock Exchange, Wetherspoon plc made over £37 million in 2008, and at time of writing is showing that the booze business is good business in tough times, with sales increasing at around 5% year on year. Over 11,000 people are employed by the chain, which prides itself on having created its own set of qualifications which it says sit ‘just below degree level’.
The pub chain has come under a lot of criticism in recent years, being partly blamed by the press for the culture of binge drinking the tabloids say the UK is in the grip of. However, Wetherspoon has defended itself by saying that its aggressive pricing policy and two for one offers on strong liquor in no way encourage people to drink excessively and subsequently vomit, fall over, fight and urinate over war memorials.
Whether you walk in or walk on by, Wetherspoons pubs are a British icon for many Brits who like to meet in them on Friday and Saturday nights to fill up with cheap booze before staggering on to more upmarket establishments where they hope to spend as little as possible while pretending to be high-rollers with the latest last year’s apparel from TK Maxx. Wetherspoon pubs are a UK institution and British icon.