In mid March, JD Wetherspoon announced a 6.1% rise in like-for-like sales, a 3.6% growth in revenue and a 20.6% growth in pre-tax profits for the 26 weeks to 28 January. That is an amazing achievement in the current climate.
Since then it has announced the deletion of its social accounts. I love the ability of Wetherspoon to refuse to run with the pack. It must be in its DNA. It leads, it innovates, it is brave and, more than anything else, it knows its audience. There is no way chairman Tim Martin and chief executive John Hutson would have made these decisions without appreciating its impact – or lack of impact – on their customers.
The other weekend six of us went for lunch at Wetherspoon. It was busy with a constant stream of customers coming in to eat and drink. There were tables of families, groups of friends (old and young), couples and singles. The atmosphere was friendly, relaxed and convivial. It felt like a genuine community pub.
Of course, the debate started at our table about ordering food and drink for the six of us. Who was going to stand and queue at the bar? Who had paper and pen to write down the order? No one. We sat there for a few minutes reading the menu before someone spotted the message on the front cover of the menu.
I have to say, being the designated order-taker and bill-payer, the app was extraordinarily easy and fun to use. I didn’t quite get the hang of ordering halves, however, so we drank more pints than perhaps we had intended to, although I can hardly blame the app for that. Drinks arrived in minutes and the food in fewer than ten – swift and efficient.
I remain full of admiration for this timeless and enduring brand.
More than that, though, ordering by app meant our group stayed together instead of constantly being broken up with one of us having to go to the bar, wait, order and carry back drinks. Conversation flowed without interruption. It meant the whole experience was more inclusive. Of course, paying by app is not new – Flyt has been extremely successful in this area for a while. Branded pay-at-table apps (that Flyt support) have now taken off too, with Prezzo, PizzaExpress and Wagamama all launching their own recently. There are bound to be more to follow.
The food itself was fine and, to be honest, at £34.18 for five meals and a pint (meant to be a half) of Fosters, it was really good value for money. The receipts were sent straight to my phone. It was seamless. I could have stayed there all afternoon ordering for the fun of it.
We had a great visit to Wetherspoon – straightforward, democratic and customer-focused. It appealed to everyone because it was easy, safe and inclusive. The app is fantastic and I am sure must be contributing to the company’s sales growth (certainly if my experience is anything to go by). The lack of live sports helped create an easy (rather than tribal) atmosphere. Price, and value for money, is key – on the menu, on the bar and on the POS. We were all genuinely surprised at how little we spent on our food and drink.
Wetherspoon is not frightened of digital or social. It just uses it where it counts – in the experience every customer has day to day. From now on it is going to have to rely on these customers to tell the Wetherspoon story, and I think they will.
In the current economic climate, Wetherspoon seems to be doing the right things in the right order. It knows its audience and, from our visit, its audience knows and loves Wetherspoon. It can ignore sniffy city commentators because the results speak for themselves.