‘We’re struggling’ - London pubs react to news of Wetherspoons 99p pints

Wetherspoons has announced it will slash prices of some of its pints to just 99p over the next month - but what do London’s independent venues make of the news?

Independent boozers in London have reacted to the news that Wetherspoons is set to slash the price of a pint to just 99p, warning “it’s harder to get people to stay for four pints”.

The national pub chain, which owns more than 900 pubs, will allow drinkers to enjoy a pint of Ruddles Best or Greene King IPA for the bargain price of under £1 at over 700 locations during November 2021.

But independent pubs across the city have warned that the impact of the pandemic has left them “affected badly” and striving to “justify their prices”.

It comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new lower rate of duty for draught drinks, which he said would cut the cost of a pint by about three pence, as a boost for local pubs.

William Forde, assistant manager at the Queen’s Head, in Picadilly, said: “We are lucky in that we have a slightly different client base to Spoons. We’re a slightly higher price point.

“We’re struggling generally because of the high prices in central London.

“It’s harder to get people to stay for four pints, as they used to, whereas now they might have one or two, and go on somewhere cheaper - like a Spoons.”

Forde, an actor, who has worked at the venue for two months, added: “[The 99p pints] are definitely going to have an impact.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak

“We don’t quite have the level of tourism back that we could have yet - and tourists are generally happier to pay higher prices, as you do when you’re on holiday.

“We’re finding as many ways as possible to justify the price. We do live music on a Sunday so even if people are paying £6.50 for a pint they have entertainment as well.

“We’ll have to wait and see how the government’s changes to alcohol duty affect us.”

But Rob Brown, general manager of the Pineapple Pub, in Kentish Town, said the move would have a limited impact on the venue.

Some pubs were charging upto £6 a pint after the first lockdown ended, says Martyn James. (Pic: Shutterstock)

“Around here we haven’t got a lot of Spoons, so it won’t affect us too much,” he said.

“It possibly would affect us slightly but not as bad as a lot of other places.”

But Brown, who has run the popular North London boozer for three years, added that the sector - and the pub - were only just getting back on their feet.

He said: “The pandemic affected us pretty badly - as we were closed for so long - but we’re recovering.

“We were closed for months and it was hard to pay the bills - we’re just getting back to normal now.”

While Nik Antona, chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), welcomed the changes to alcohol duties, and described pubs as “a force for good” in society.

He said: “The new draught duty will help pubs to compete with supermarkets, be a boost to local economies and job markets and encourage responsible drinking in the regulated environment of the local pub.

“It will also help to ensure that our pubs remain at the heart of our communities, helping to combat loneliness and social isolation.”

But he called for the changes to be applied to beer and cider served in smaller sizes as well, and said it had been tricky to assess the full impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector.

“We don’t have any statistics on the number of pubs that have closed due to the pandemic at the moment,” he said.

“[But] we are very concerned about a potential wave of predatory planning applications from property developers that claim that pubs are unviable due to the pandemic - that if approved could result in a wave of conversions or demolitions - meaning the pubs are lost forever.

“We’re devastated that so many pub businesses have failed, but we’re also concerned with making sure the pub buildings are preserved for the time in the future when another pub business can occupy it.

“Our pubs and breweries are still recovering from the pandemic, face rising bills and costs and will continue to need as much support as they can get so they can rebuild their businesses and thrive in the years to come.”