Pub group JD Wetherspoon owned up to a 13% drop in pre-tax profits this morning, as it revealed its results for the six months to January. It blamed the impact of the smoking ban, introduced last year, which has taken a sizeable chunk out of bar sales – food sales have actually increased, although the escalating cost of commodities hasn’t exactly helped profit margins.
However, chairman Tim Martin says he’s not taking the blame for the drunken misbehaviour that’s a standard feature of our town centres these days. Just because Wetherspoon’s sells very cheap drinks, usually with hugely discounted offers, and is frequented by a ‘youthful’ crowd, that’s not to say it’s encouraging binge-drinking teenagers. Naturally.
In fact, says Martin, it’s a cultural problem. ‘This is demonstrated by examples of poor behaviour by a number of celebrities during the recent televised Brit Awards and by habitual drunken celebrations in the context of sporting events and other occasions, which then receive huge press coverage,’ he said today.
The theory is that Britain’s callow youth is so impressionable that a daily diet of celebrity caners in the gossip pages is more than enough to inspire drunken debauchery whenever there’s a decent excuse for a party. So rather than blaming the pubs, we should be castigating Amy Winehouse, the Arctic Monkeys, the blonde one from Girls Aloud and most of Tottenham’s 1st XI.
But never fear – the Tories have come up with their own magical solution to the binge-drinking problem: the Great Alcopop Crackdown. According to its latest proposals, a Tory government would treble the tax on alcopops and also target super-strength beers and ciders – the beverages of choice for the discerning park bench drinker. OK, so there’s a good chance it will be illegal under EU law. But it’s definitely good headline fodder.
As for Wetherspoon’s, Martin is confident that bar sales will recover as people get used to the smoking ban – in fact he reckons the ban will be ‘to the long term advantage of the trade’. It’s clearly not happening yet (bar sales continued to slide in February) but the experience of other countries suggests it will sooner or later.
Then again, in other countries they didn’t have the likes of Lily Allen falling out of nightclubs and setting a bad example. So perhaps the answer is make an appearance in celeb mags grounds for deportation?