By Geoff Percival
British pub group JD Wetherspoon is to speed up the expansion of its Irish operations, with two more pubs due to open next year and a fresh search being initiated to identify potential new sites.
The group is ‘on site’ in Co Carlow, where it is investing €3m in redeveloping the old Trader’s Bar on Tullow Street in the town centre. That pub will be Wetherspoon’s sixth pub in Ireland and will open next June.
Construction work on its seventh pub, on Dublin’s Camden St, is progressing with that facility due to open at the end of next year. Camden St, which will be a superpub/hotel combination, will be Wetherspoon’s first city centre opening in Dublin.
At an investment cost of around €20m, it will be the group’s single largest site investment ever.
The pub owner also has two sites, one on Dublin’s Abbey St, the other in Waterford, with full planning permission, awaiting development.
It has given no timeline for the development of those sites, but said both feature in its near-term growth strategy for Ireland.
Wetherspoon spokesperson Eddie Gershon said the five pubs that the group already owns and operates in Ireland are trading well. Four are in suburban Dublin and one is in Cork City.
“The Republic has been really good for Wetherspoon. We’ve been in Ireland for four years, people know what we do and like what we offer,” he said.
Mr Gerhson also said the group is actively looking for more sites here.
Earlier this year, Wetherspoon said that it was keen to expand further here as its Irish-based pubs were in average sales per bar outperforming its UK operations.
It said it had an “open mind” on nationwide expansion in Ireland, having previously suggested most expansion here would be Dublin-based.
On a wider group basis, Wetherspoon said in its latest trading update that rising wage levels will hit results in its current financial year, which runs to the end of July.
The statement sent the budget pubs group’s shares spiralling by more than 14% yesterday.
The company is run by pro-Brexit businessman Tim Martin.
It said it had no immediate plans to recoup the higher costs by raising prices, but would review that position as the year progresses.
“As has been widely reported, unemployment is at a record low, putting upward pressure on wages. As a result, Wetherspoon is increasing pay of our staff starting from this week,” Mr Martin said, without giving a figure for the pay rise.
“It is difficult to be too precise at this early stage of the current financial year, but we now expect a trading outcome slightly below that achieved in the previous financial year,” he said.
Wetherspoon, which runs more than 900 pubs in the UK and Ireland, reported a 5.5% rise in comparable sales for the 13 weeks to the end of October, the first quarter of its fiscal year. Total sales rose 6.2%.
As well as higher wages, the company has been dealing with a new sugar tax on drinks, in the UK and Ireland, and rent increases and higher power bills in the UK.
Wetherspoon started its pubs in 1979.
It said it expected to open five to 10 pubs in the UK and Ireland this financial year.
Additional reporting Reuters