Reports have been abounding recently that the massive British pub chain, J.D. Wetherspoons, is seeking to move into the Irish market. Their plan, as far as we know, is to open 30 pubs in the republic, mostly in suburban areas. Let’s take a look at what Wetherspoons are all about and how we think it could effect Irish pubs, Dublin ones in particular.
You can find a Wetherspoons in every town and city in the UK, selling cheap pints and reduced price food. They’re known for not having any music and for their standardisation of their operating system across all of their venues. Will this way of doing business transition well in the Irish market? I would have to say no, but I would also venture a guess that Wetherspoons already know that and will be wary of adverse publicity that has already been gathering related to the perception of the pubs as a sterile and lifeless environment. Now, the suburban pub is generally a lot different to the urban pub in that they are more spacious and are geared towards conversation with friends and watching live sports. The Wetherspoons model might suit suburban pubs a bit more, but they will have to change things up a bit if they plan on opening anywhere in the city centre. The things that make Wetherspoons cheap are their economies of scale, not their lack of piped in music, so there are certain things that I think they would be willing to dispense with in order to please an Irish crowd.
One very interesting impact we might see could be the further proliferation of craft and local beers. Wetherspoons tends to source local beers in the UK and it would make sense for them to do similarly in Ireland. They might, of course, simply import their existing beers into Ireland if the price is right, but that is yet to be decided (or announced at least). Breweries such as the five lamps would presumably be an ideal partner for Wetherspoons, located as they are in Dublin city and looking to expand. Increased demand from a chain as large as Wetherspoons could give local breweries an immense leg up in terms of being able to buy hops and grain in more bulk, thus reducing their costs per unit. Would they be willing ? Craft beer in Ireland has been steadily gaining a good reputation of being independent and going against the grain (pardon the double pun), so would they sign up to a ‘super-pub’ chain? These are, of course, assumptions, so whose to say what their relationship, if any, will be.
Attitudes towards Wetherspoons’ introduction seems to be mixed, at least from what we’ve been seeing on the publin facebook and twitter page. Publicans seem resolutely against the development, as it will invariably lead to more competition on price, but also because a lot of family owned pubs do genuinely take great pride in the atmosphere of Irish pubs. Within days of the announcement the facebook page ‘Feck off Wetherspoons‘ was created. We also came across a facebook page called ‘Bring J.D. Wetherspoons‘ to Ireland, but that was created in April. It seems as though there are two camps supporting the entrance of Wetherspoons to Ireland; those that want to drink their cheaper beer and are happy to see them arrive, and those that are happy to see them arrive because they will drive down prices in pubs that they actually want to go to.
There is a concern that if Wetherspoons import their British operation wholesale into the Irish market that a considerable damage will be done to the traditional image of the Irish pub. If Wetherspoons are clever, they will bring the cheap drink, but leave the atmosphere to the will of their customers.
What do you think?