Belfast Telegraph

Wetherspoon boss upbeat ahead of two new Belfast pubs

By John Mulgrew

JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has said work is due to start on his two new Belfast pubs next spring as the company witnessed a rise in its sales right across the UK.

The Northern Ireland-raised bar chain founder told the Belfast Telegraph that business had been boosted in the last 13 weeks, with Northern Ireland's own trading patterns following a similar trend.

Wetherspoon received a Rugby World Cup lift as sales increased in the 13 weeks to October 25, up 2%.

Mr Martin, who is on a visit to his nine Northern Ireland bars, is in the process of opening two new venues in Belfast.

"Sales have been good, business has been good.

"A few city commentators will huff and puff that our wages have gone up, but there have been no complaints from staff."

He said while having increased worker wages ahead of the announcement of the new Living Wage coming into effect in April, businesses in "less affluent towns" would be put under pressure once the mandatory wage of £7.20 per hour is introduced.

"It's a nice idea, but may be too idealistic," he said

Mr Martin says he visits his Northern Ireland stores around two to three times each year.

And on his two new Belfast pubs, he said work was progressing and he hopes construction should start by spring next year.

"I think we have had a positive enough initial response, but we haven't got all the necessary approvals.

"Hopefully we can get it agreed by year end, but it may well be as late as spring next year before it begins."

The two new bars will be at a former JJB Sports store on Royal Avenue, and a former Methodist church close to Queen's University.

JD Wetherspoon employs nearly 35,000 people across close to 1,000 pubs, including Lloyds No 1 bars in Great Britain.

Across the UK the company blamed rising wage costs as its operating margin for the quarter fell to 6.2%, compared with 7.7% in the same quarter last year.

It also predicted that net debt at the end of the financial year is expected to be slightly above last year's total of £601m.

Mr Martin said: "As we indicated in September, it is difficult to quantify exactly the factors which will influence our trading performance in the early stages of a financial year.

"Increased labour costs are clearly an important factor for all pub and restaurant companies and may result in our annual profits being slightly lower than the last financial year. We will provide updates in our regular statements."

Belfast Telegraph