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Wetherspoon's recovery on hold as older patrons stay at home

JD Wetherspoon’s sales remain 8.9 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels as the pub chain’s older patrons continue to steer clear.

Wetherspoons partially attributed the decline to ‘less frequent’ pub visits from older customers, which represent ‘a material proportion’ of its trade.

The firm revealed today that bar, food and slot machine sales were down 9.6 per cent, 8.1 per cent and 12.3 per cent on 2019, respectively, in the quarter to November. 

Wetherspoons trade remains well below pre-pandemic levels as older patrons stay away

Wetherspoons trade remains well below pre-pandemic levels as older patrons stay away 

While the results mark an improvement on the 17.8 per cent dip in like-for-life sales in the previous quarter, this was not enough to stop Wetherspoon shares falling by around 4 per cent in early trading.

The range of drinks often consumed by younger customers, according to the pub group, saw strong growth during the period, sales of cocktails, vodka and rum up 45 per cent, 17 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.

By contrast, sales of traditional ales were down 30 per cent during the quarter and stout sales were down by 20 per cent.

There was some positive news for Wetherspoons, however, with like-for-like hotel revenues up 11.5 per cent.Its Lloyds-brand pubs, which have music, were up 0.5 per cent ‘reflecting a higher percentage of younger customers’.

The pub chain also said it had been largely able to overcome well-publicised supply chain and recruitment issues.

In addition, trade has been positive in the centre of many larger cities and towns, with sales in Liverpool, Newcastle and Oxford leading performance with revenue growth of 9.1 per cent, 11.1 per cent and 11.3 per cent, respectively.

But trade in central London venues remains 17.4 per cent lower than 2019, while trade is also ‘negative in the suburbs’

Meanwhile, airport and train station trade remains 38.8 per cent and 22.4 per cent lower, respectively.

Chairman Tim Martin (right): Some customers ‘have been understandably cautious' about returning to the pub

Chairman Tim Martin (right): Some customers ‘have been understandably cautious’ about returning to the pub

Chairman Tim Martin said some customers ‘have been understandably cautious’ with regard to returning to the pub, and the outlook for Wetherspoons therefore depends ‘to some extent, on the outlook for the Covid-19 virus’

He added: ‘Whereas we have an increased element of caution about near-term sales, ‘booster’ vaccinations and better weather in the spring are likely to have a positive impact in the coming months

‘The last 18 months have presented a considerable challenge to the hospitality industry, with many unexpected twists and turns.

‘As in previous downturns, the company will continue to concentrate on providing high standards of service, reasonable prices and regular, small upgrades to the business.’

Wetherspoons shares were trading 4.4 per cent lower midmorning to 983.5p, bringing year-to-date losses to 5.3 per cent.

Equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Laura Hoy said: ‘Sales of drinks popular among younger customers have risen while the draughts favoured by more seasoned pub-goers are on the decline.

Wetherspoons tends to cater to the latter group, so a permanent shift in that direction could be bad news.

‘More likely is an abundance of caution among vulnerable populations as Covid continues to spread despite vaccine efforts.This attitude should wane as the pandemic comes under control, but there’s no telling how long that will take.’

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