Saturday, January 3, 2009

Spreading your wings

Wetherspoon’s are clever pub operators, and, although they make the occasional mistake, weigh up the potential of their pubs very carefully in advance. But pretty much all of their pubs essentially derive their trade from people who are already in the vicinity – no Wetherspoon’s pub is a destination pub.

In Exeter, though, there’s a Wetherspoon’s pub called the Imperial which I assume occupies a former hotel. But there’s a distinctive difference – it’s about three quarters of a mile from the city centre (although nearer to the University) and has a large car park. Therefore that pub, unlike the vast majority of other Wetherspoon’s, can be a destination venue. On my visit it seemed to be thriving and the car park was full.

Over New Year, I took my elderly parents out for a pub meal. Wetherspoon’s have an extensive, good-value menu, but, in the absence of a car park or convenient nearby parking, they couldn’t be considered.

I’ve suggested this in the past, and it has come to nothing, but there must be scope for Wetherspoon’s to expand their estate by taking over failing suburban pubs that are often situated at public transport interchanges and alongside a parade of shops. Such pubs surely aren’t beyond redemption and, while they may draw a substantial car-borne trade, aren’t primarily dependent on it. A thriving Wetherspoon’s could revitalise many suburban centres, and they might be surprised how far people would travel for their food offer.

Maybe they’re anticipating an eventual cut in the drink-drive limit, but Wetherspoon’s seem to shy away from any site that has a car park.