No Guinness or Murphys but Wetherspoons' boss says his Irish pubs will do well
Imagine an Irish pub without Guinness or indeed the country's other famous stout Murphys. And no Heineken either for good measure.
What would you think is its chance of making it big with the locals? Or tourists visiting such premises to experience such Gaelic culture?
Pretty slim perhaps?
Well tell that to Tim Martin, the man behind the J D Wetherspoons brand in Britain who is now out to make Ireland his next major port of call for business expansion. The 59-year-old North Irish native began his enterprise by bringing real ale into the London area at a time in the late seventies when it was resisted by the traditional pub chains. Since then he has seen his empire grow to 931 outlets across Britain.
He has managed such vast expansion by being innovative and forcing breweries to give him good deals, thus ensuring a cheaper pint for the customer.
When the Irish breweries refused to co-operate with the Wetherspoons business model, Martin gave his chiefs the green light to go ahead with his plans to open 30 pubs in Ireland over the coming five years, spending about €50 million. What's more, he still thinks he can win over the customer, despite not having the stellar brands on his premises.
"It's sacrilegious, isn't it?" he said with a chuckle on RTE, the Irish radio station today. "Particularly as my father worked in Guinness for 31 years."
Mr Martin felt he was looking for a reasonable deal off the breweries but it was a commercial dispute he couldn't resolve. Yet he is still upbeat.
"A few years ago I would have said it was an impossible situation but not now. For instance, our imported stouts are doing well," he emphasised.
Behind the success of the brand is the cheap pint of €2.50 which is significantly cheaper than the price of a pint in other pubs with the fashionable Dublin drinking area of Temple Bar pricing at €5.70 for a pint of Guinness during the day and increasing it by 50 cent at night-time.
Explaining how Wetherspoons is different, he said that food now accounted for 40 per cent of the firm's business and that coffee was becoming a big seller. "We serve food all day until 11 at night and we are opening for breakfast."
He refuted claims that cheaper drink prices could lead to binge drinking saying: "I see supermarkets offering large cans, nearly a pint, for 90 cent."
The JD Wetherspoons bandwagon is rolling into town at a time when Irish pubs have been at an all-time low in sales over the counter. It is estimated that 1,000 pubs have closed over the past decade as people's drinking habits and more stringent drink-driving laws clicked in.
Currently, Wetherspoons has opened the Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock, Co Dublin, to mixed reviews and more recently in Dún Laoghaire took over the Forty Foot, a Celtic Tiger-era bar. According to the Irish Times, Fáilte Ireland’s 2013 visitor attitudes survey lists the top five experiences mentioned by overseas visitors. The first was “listened to live music in a pub”, the third was “tasted a Guinness”.
JD Wetherspoons has no music in 90% of its premises and as we saw, can't sell Guinness. It will be interesting to see how the new experience in Irish pubs go down with local and tourists, without these two prime attractions.