British pub group JD Wetherspoon is set to hunt out more new sites here on the back of its Irish pubs outperforming its UK operations in a better-than-expected start to its financial year, writes Geoff Percival.
Ahead of publishing first- half figures in March, the group said that like-for-like sales for its combined business across Britain and Ireland rose 6% and sales jumped by over 4% in the six months to January 21.
It said the sales performance was better-than- expected and has pushed underlying year to-date pre-tax profits slightly ahead of expectations.
The group warned, however, that a similar outperformance in the second half of its financial year will be “more difficult to achieve”.
“Nevertheless, given better-than-expected year-to-date sales, we currently anticipate a slightly improved trading outcome for this financial year,” said chairman Tim Martin.
Mr Martin said first-half trading in Ireland was very good and average sales per pub were higher than in the group’s UK bars. Wetherspoon has four pubs in suburban Dublin and one in Cork.
Wetherspoon has two undeveloped sites in Carlow and Waterford and plans to purchase more sites around Ireland. However, most of its Irish focus is currently on two big developments in Dublin and two in Belfast.
While the company is suffering licensing problems with its Belfast plans, it is close to confirming a start date for construction on its €15m pub/ hotel development on Dublin’s Camden Street, which should open in early 2019. Planning has also been granted for a new pub on Abbey Street and Wetherspoon hopes to nail down a full licence within the next three months.
Martin said the group will take “a harder look” for new Irish site opportunities once construction begins on its big sites. While the company had previously suggested it could expand much further in the Dublin area and may focus its medium-term Irish growth plans in and around the capital, Martin said management has “an open mind” on nationwide expansion.
The group plans to open around 10 pubs in its current financial year, although all of these will be in the UK.
Since the start of the financial year, last August, Wetherspoon has opened three new pubs and sold 10. It has spent £15m (€17m) on buying freeholds of pubs and closed its first half with £30m more debt than a year previously.