UK pub group JD Wetherspoon eyes Waterford as next spot on Irish expansion trail

British pub group JD Wetherspoon is eyeing Waterford as the next location for its expansion plans in Ireland.

The group operates four suburban Dublin pubs and one in Cork city.

It opened its sixth Irish pub, in Carlow, at the beginning of this month. By the end of June, Wetherspoon will have seven pubs in operation in the Republic via the opening of its first Dublin city centre premises on Abbey Street.

The Abbey Street premises will open, towards the end of next month, as The Silver Penny.

A spokesman for Wetherspoon said its Irish operations are trading well and that the company is continuing to look for more sites.

He said Waterford is likely to be the next city in which Wetherspoon opens. It has full planning permission for an identified site in Waterford city centre but has yet to decide on an on-site date. Wetherspoon currently employs more than 500 people in Ireland.

That figure will jump to around 1,100 by early next year when it will open its planned super-pub/hotel property on Dublin's Camden Street. That €20m project is due to be the group's largest single-site investment to date.

In a trading update, the pub group said total sales grew by 8.4% on a year-on-year basis over the course of the 13 weeks to the end of April - the third quarter of Wetherspoon's financial year. Like-for-like sales were up by 7.6% on the same period last year.

Since the start of its financial year, Wetherspoon has opened three new pubs in its core market of the UK and closed seven.

It intends to open two more in Britain before the end of July.

Wetherspoon said it remains "in a sound financial position". Net debt at the end of its third quarter stood at £746m and is expected to be around £6m less than that at the end of its financial year.

"We continue to anticipate a trading outcome for this financial year in line with our previous expectations," chairman Tim Martin said.

Earlier this year, Mr Martin said rising operational costs - particularly labour costs - had led to a profit fall of close to 19% in Wetherspoon's first half.

He said costs would continue to impact the group's bottom line in the second half but didn't alter the company's full-year guidance.

Overall, Wetherspoon still expects to post full year profits of just under £103m on revenue of £1.78bn.

In its year to date, Wetherspoon has seen like-for-like revenue growth of nearly 8%.

The group has also spent nearly £71m on buying the freeholds of pubs of which it was previously a tenant.

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