Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - January 2016
It’s hard not to see publicly-funded abstinence campaigns as a direct attack on the licensed trade
THE PUBLIC health lobby seem to be falling over themselves to launch as many schemes as possible to encourage people to give up alcohol for a month. No sooner has Stay Sober for October come to an end than we are bombarded with another round of publicity for Dry January. What will they come up with next? Miserable March? Arid April?
It’s up to each individual to make decisions about their own lives, and many will understandably want to cut down in January after having eaten and spent too much over the Festive season. Nobody should kid themselves that their local pub will stand and fall on their custom alone.
However, January has always been a slack time for pubs, and if you value them surely they deserve your support. Dry January comes across as an organised campaign to, in effect, encourage as many people as possible to boycott pubs at the time when they are most vulnerable. It is going beyond personal choice to become political. And it’s no good saying that people can still go to the pub and spend as much on soft drinks, because we know that in practice few will.
To counter this, sections of the brewing and pub trades have set up a couple of campaigns called “Tryanuary” and “Try January”. Someone should bang their heads together to make them combine their efforts, but the general message is clear – don’t overdo it in January, but take the opportunity to spread your wings a bit and try some different beers, drinks, dishes and pubs and bars. And the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, which falls right in the middle of January, offers a golden opportunity to do just that. Hands up if you’ve ever been to a beer festival held in GMEX! It would be a shame to miss it by sticking rigidly to a principle.
Does a wave of disposals mean that the wheels have started to come off the Wetherspoon juggernaut?
OVER THE YEARS, people have viewed the rise of some businesses as unstoppable, only to find them later falling flat on their face. A good example is Tesco, which not so long ago was seen as a juggernaut remorselessly tearing up Britain’s High Streets, only to run into a perfect storm of declining profits, accounting fraud, sacking the boss, closing existing stores and putting expansion plans on hold.
For long, Wetherspoons were seen in the same way, inexorably growing towards a target of a thousand pubs and represented in every substantial town. Earlier this year, they reported record sales and profits. However, there have been signs that all is not well. They have always disposed of the occasional pub, but in July they announced the sale of a job lot of twenty. Most of these either had another branch close by, or were in locations where there maybe wasn’t enough footfall, so it seemed as though it could be just a sensible bit of rationalisation.
Then, four months later, the news came out that they wanted to sell a further tranche of thirty-four, this time including what appeared to be some very successful pubs on good sites. Locally, the list featured the Milson Rhodes in Didsbury and the Bollin Fee in Wilmslow, both current Good Beer Guide entries and not close to another branch. There have been suggestions that Wetherspoons are cashing in on high-value freeholds, but their precise reasoning is very hard to pin down. But that thousand-pub target suddenly looks a lot further away.