JD Wetherspoon has done a U-turn on smoking, announcing it will wait for the official smoking ban in England before going smoke free at any more sites.
Wetherspoon currently has 49 non-smoking pubs, 37 of which have been converted and the remainder opened as smoke free.
It had said in March 2005 that it would convert 10% of its pubs, around 65 sites, to non-smoking by May of that year with the remainder of the estate to follow by May 2006.
However, the increased food take at non-smoking pubs has failed to offset falls in alcohol and fruit machine sales, with like-for-like sales dropping 7.6% at converted premises in the quarter ended 22 January 2006.
Company chairman Tim Martin said: “Given the government’s decision to bring forward a complete national smoking ban by 18 months to the middle of 2007, and the initial financial performance described [in these results], we have decided to await the complete ban.”
Martin added that a smoking ban in England would likely depress sales further, but that sales and margins would recover once customers adjusted.
In the six months to 22 January 2006 pre-tax profit jumped 21% to £27.4m (2005: £22.6m) thanks to lower head office costs and improved pub profits.
Turnover was up 1% to £406.3m (2005: £403.3m), although like-for-like sales, which strip out the effect of new openings, fell 0.3%.
Like-for-like sales in February 2006 increased by 1.9%, but Wetherspoon said the imminent introduction of a smoking ban in Scotland and the impact of this summer’s World Cup, meant it was cautious about its prospects in the second half of the year.
By Chris Druce
Join the craze and play Sudoku online!