Sunday, 21 August 2016

Just good enough...

In my favourite pubs there’s usually a hole in the toilet door where some disgrunted punter has head-butted it. There may or may not be a hook on the back of the door to hang a jacket on; there may or may not be toilet paper; there may or may not be soap by the wash basin; there may or may not be hot water; there may or may not be paper towels to dry my hands on; if there’s a hand dryer it may stubbornly refuse to work when I rub my hands together. There’s a name for a pub with hooks, toilet paper, soap, hot water, paper towels, dependable hand dryers and all-round cleanliness: they’re called Wetherspoons.

Twenty years ago people weren’t crying out for big, barn-like pubs which all look the same, no matter where you go. Yet the pubs seem to thrive when others, many others, are closing down (and the two facts are not unrelated, I assume). I was in some town recenty where there were two cavernous pubs side-by-side on the main street. One was Wetherspoons; the pub next door was a Wetherspoons look-alike: long bar, cheap beer, food on demand whenever you wanted it. But while the Wetherspoons was full, the counterfeit Wetherspoons was almost empty. The public had voted with their feet.

The Wetherspoons ‘offer’ obviously appeals to a lot of different people; the pubs try to be ‘all things to all people’ and damn nearly succeed. At 8am a steady trickle of people wander in for breakfast, including a lot of guys - single or working away - who want to start the day with a nourishing meal and a cup of tea or coffee. But if they want to wash down their ‘traditional breakfast’ with a pint of strong lager and a whisky chaser - and, grotesquely, a few of them do - there’s no-one to say “Hang on… do you think that’s wise?” Wetherspoons are morally neutral. If they’ve got it you can have it. You can order anything on the menu from 8am to 11pm, and you’ll never be told that what you ordered has run out. If you want peas instead of beans, or beans instead of peas, that’s fine too.

Breakfast is just the start. Women come in for morning coffee; families come in to eat; business people come in for lunch, knowing that the food won’t take long to arrive. Older couples come in for an early evening meal, before the place gets really busy. The night will probably end without too much trouble; I’ve never seen drunk men brawling outside a Wetherspoons.

I have to admire the business concept, even though the pubs themselves are hard to love. I pop in for cheap food, clean toilets and dependable wifi, and because I don’t feel out of place sitting on my own. The people I meet seldom have a bad word to say about Wetherspoons, though their appreciation is generally lukewarm. The company thrives because everything they do is ‘just good enough’, and, when the customers pay for their meals, there are no ‘hidden extras’. Palpably, that’s what a lot of people want…

The foreshore, Whitby...

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