And then there’s Wetherspoons. The 670-pub chain, which has flourished in the UK by taking a distinctly more Spartan approach, delivered a gloomy forecast for 2008 today, despite revealing a 17% increase in profits for its last financial year.
On the plus side, food sales were up, as the company started to benefit from its recent decision to start opening for breakfast every day (albeit at 9am, when MT already has its nose firmly pressed to the grindstone).
However, the major cloud over its head (or not, as the case may be) is the smoking ban, introduced in England on 1 July. Wetherspoons said that sales growth slowed by 4% at its established pubs in August, making it cautious about the potential impact on 2008 profits.
In fairness, the pub chain is probably better placed to cope than most of its rivals. Since it has always had a partial smoking ban, it has also been more proactive about building outdoor areas to accommodate the most determined – and it may even be that the effect of the smoking ban is only short-term, as it was in Scotland.
But traditionalists who have already seen Wetherspoons jettison two of the staples of British pub culture (televised sport and music) and make an unsuccessful attempt to cut down a third (swearing), even before the smoking ban, may be forgiven for wondering what next – a ban on beer?