Breakfast at Wetherspoon’s

If I hadn’t already had breakfast I would be tempted this morning to try my local J D Wetherspoon  you know, that place on the High Street you probably thought was frequented by tragic early morning drinkers.

Thanks to a bizarre interview with the pub chain’s maverick founder and CEO, Tim Martin, on the Today programme, I have completely changed my admittedly rather sniffy attitude to his pubs.

Mr Martin was brought onto the programme’s business slot, not to be interrogated over hot coals, like everyone else, but to be showered with praise.

He was having none of this. He had a political message he wanted to get out and every time the interviewer interrupted him to say how wonderful his business was, the marvellous Mr Martin turned the subject back to the unfairness of the Government’s tax policy.

We were told he had started his business 27 years ago with one pub and now he had 800, and in the past year he had created 2,800 jobs.

Twenty five pubs close every week at the moment but you have opened 50 this year already. You have closed only two – how are you managing to buck that trend?” asked the normally snappy interrogator Dominic Laurie, who had expected Tim Martin to “share the secrets of his success”.

But Mr Martin had gone onto the show for his own reasons, which had nothing to do with having his ego fanned and everything do with making an important point about taxation. I loved the way he commandeered the interview.

“Well I think we are bucking the trend with difficulty because of Government tax policies, which I have mentioned in our results.  We pay 20 per cent VAT on food sales, for example, and supermarkets pay nothing . . .

People spend about 40 per cent of their expenditure on food now in pubs and restaurants and I think it’s an important fact for the Government and for the country that pubs generate a lot of tax, and a lot more tax if people go out to a restaurant than if they buy it in a supermarket.

“So in France for example – and this is the key – they now charge 5 per cent VAT inrestaurants and bars in order to encourage people to pay tax.”

But the interviewer had not yet realised his interviewee had hijacked the topic: “But Tim, the irony won’t be  lost on the listeners that you are making money in this environment. You introduced coffee and breakfast, you got clean toilets, you trained your staff, you got in Wi-Fi, you introduced a smoking ban before it came in, you reacted to necessary change and you prospered, why doesn’t everyone else do that?”

Mr Martin ignored him and swept on to his final point about badly organised tax policies: “Our profits have gone down a bit – that isn’t sustainable, and it’s no good either for the country if it’s only Wetherspoon in the pub business which is doing well.”


I trawled the web for more about Tim Martin and came across this intriguing description of him in The Guardian: “Yet despite his £140m fortune, he clings to an almost destitute image, wandering around in minimally coordinated casual clothes and unkempt hair.”

You can read The Guardian article here, and for the next few days hear the Today interview here.

– GARETH WEEKES,  Deep South Media Ltd.