JD Wetherspoon: 'We're not trying to kill off smaller pubs'

By Georgina Townshend contact

- Last updated on GMT

Grumpy is fine: JDW's Tim Martin talks about his early career and advice he gives to bar staff
Grumpy is fine: JDW's Tim Martin talks about his early career and advice he gives to bar staff

Related tags: Pubs

In a revealing interview on BBC Radio 4, the chairman of JD Wetherspoon spoke about his early career, Brexit, day-to-day business, and admitted some of his best bar staff are “quite grumpy”.

Last week, Tim Martin was interviewed on Kirsty Young's Desert Island Discs show,​ where guests share the 'soundtrack of their lives'.

Among a playlist of songs inspired by pubs and drinking, Martin discussed a range of topics, including his education, home life, Brexit manifesto beer mats,​ professional squash player ambitions, and his first pub.

One of the questions he faced from Young was whether he thought the small pubs that are closing are doing so "because of his big chain gobbling up the high street".

He replied: "I don't think so because if you look at London where we have got most of our pubs, two of the most successful companies have been Young's and Fuller's, which have adapted themselves to our presence. And become very good indeed.

"I think you'll find a lot of pubs have shut down in areas where Wetherspoon isn't – small villages, suburbs, but we do better if there are other pubs and restaurants near us.

"So we're not trying to kill everyone off."

Strong instinct

Martin also shared his journey from his first pub, Martin's Free House in 1979 in Muswell Hill, north London, to owning almost 900 pubs – and how it nearly never happened.

"I was just so bad at the beginning," he told Young.

"In fact, if I could have got out I probably would have done, but I couldn't as we had signed a lease.

"We weren't making any money. It was four years before we made a decent profit, although we did have three or four pubs by then.

"So even though I wasn't any good at it, my ego was such that I still expanded. The pub was very busy and the instinct that we could do better than other pubs was quite strong."

Martin said that the pubs weren't tied to a brewer and, considering most pubs were tied to brewers at the time, that gave him a "big advantage".

He continued: "The other thing was you couldn't buy pubs then because they all belonged to the brewers and they wouldn't sell them.

"A real thing we pioneered was getting a shop and getting planning permission and a licence for a pub, which people more or less thought was impossible on a big scale then.

"I was in debt to everyone."

Don't smile

In one of the final questions, Young asked Martin whether there was anything he told his managers and bar staff never to say to a customer, to which Martin: "No, and I also tell them they don't have to smile, either.

"We don't go out of our way to tell them to be nice. I think that puts too much pressure on people.

"[A bartender's] natural personality will emerge better if they aren't under too much pressure but, of course, they are under a tremendous amount of pressure.

"So, some of our best bar staff are quite grumpy."

Related topics: JD Wetherspoon

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