UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon said today that trading at its non-smoking pubs had been in line with expectations after bar sales dipped but food business picked up.
The chain, which has an estate of 650 pubs, has so far converted 11 sites and opened another six smoke-free sites as part of its attempt to pre-empt moves towards a ban on smoking in workplaces and bars which serve food.
Wetherspoon provided the update as it said trading generally remained tough following a 2% decline in like-for-like sales and a 1% deterioration in operating margins for the period covering the last 13 weeks.
The sluggish performance mirrors the rest of the sector as pub operators face strong competition and off-trade prices at levels similar to 1997.
The company added that the early results from its non-smoking pubs showed margins were being put under pressure by the different mix of sales.
Finance director Jim Clarke said: “We have lost some beer sales as there are those smokers who leave us on day one, but then you start attracting new customers and people who knew we were there but had not used us before. A lot of that trade is food-based.
“We are convinced this is the way forward and that non-smoking pubs are the way things are going to go in the future. We are still highly galvanised by the whole approach.”
Wetherspoon said it hoped to have 30 non-smoking pubs by the end of May, with a further 30 set to be converted in the coming months.
The 11 pubs converted so far are at Bracknell, Rickmansworth, Reading, Gateshead, Liverpool, Bath, Basildon, Uxbridge, Canterbury and Tower Bridge and Farringdon in London. The six new openings are at Exeter, St Albans, Merry Hill, Peterborough, Spalding and Swindon.
Despite the sales drop, Wetherspoon said it expected financial results for the year to the end of July to be in line with expectations. Last year the company announced a 4% fall in annual profits to £54.1m (€79.8m).