JDW PIONEERS early drinks

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by Richard Matthews and The PMA Team Pub chain JD Wetherspoon has won the right to serve alcohol at 10am at around one third of its 630 pubs ­ with...

by Richard Matthews and The PMA Team Pub chain JD Wetherspoon has won the right to serve alcohol at 10am at around one third of its 630 pubs ­ with the rest to follow ­ in a move that changes the licensing landscape. The application to open earlier, made under section 60 of the 1964 Licensing Act, has forced magistrates to grant similar hours for all pubs in the same localities. And many other chains are now considering whether to take advantage of the extra hour. Wetherspoon has been opening its pubs from 10am for breakfasts since September but has been unable to serve alcoholic drinks until 11am. One attraction will be an extra hour's machine income. It was revealed this week that the company earns 50% of its £60m annual profits from fruit machines. Another attraction is that the extra hour will have to be honoured when liquor licensing passes to local authorities. Licensing benches, at what could be the last annual licensing sessions held in front of magistrates, have been granting the extra Wetherspoon hours at Brewster Sessions this month. In Worcestershire, pubs in Redditch and Bromsgrove, for example, are free to use the extra hour this week. Local licensed victuallers association chairman Richard Scott, who runs the Red Lion in Bromsgrove, said: "I'll be opening at 10.30am because I have a regular crowd of drinkers that like to come in early and they're gone just after lunchtime. It also gives us a chance to serve breakfasts as well." Many areas around the country have enjoyed earlier opening on market days, a tradition that dates back years. This is due to be extended as part of the licensing reform proposals but Wetherspoon has now pushed the existing legislation to the limit. Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin hopes the extra hour will attract shift workers, in particular, who fancy a drink on the way home. He said: "It's bizarre that after all the debate (on licensing reform) writing a letter to court will end up with an extra hour of trading for so much of the country. It's what should have been done with later opening ­ just giving an extra hour and seeing how it goes." In Cambridge where Wether-spoon was granted 10am opening for the Regal paving the way for other pubs to enjoy the same hours licensing officer PC Pete Sinclair said he had no concerns about the earlier opening time. "Government deregulation is only a year away in any case and we don't see this as an issue of public disorder," he said. What other operators plan: Laurel Pub Company: "We are reviewing the situation on a pub-by-pub basis. Where it is advantageous for us to open at 10am we will do so." Six Continents: "We will look at this but it hasn't been a priority to open at 10am. We are looking at the whole estate in the light of licensing reform, which is the big issue and working out what we do when hours are more liberal at both ends of the day." Spirit Group: "The decision by the court is seen as a positive move which will benefit the trade and our customers. We'll consider each outlet on an individual basis and if it's in the right location we'll be taking advantage of opening earlier.

Related topics: JD Wetherspoon

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