Luminar signals ceasefire in nightclub price war

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The Independent Online

Luminar, the UK's largest operator of nightclubs, called for an end to the high street price war yesterday after reporting a 7 per cent drop in first-half profits.

Luminar, the UK's largest operator of nightclubs, called for an end to the high street price war yesterday after reporting a 7 per cent drop in first-half profits.

Stephen Thomas, the chief executive, said the ending of the price war would help show the Government that self-regulation in the drinks industry works. Fears that pubs and bar operators are encouraging binge drinking and antisocial behaviour by offering cheap drinks has led to the threat of a government clampdown on the industry.

But Mr Thomas did call for minimum prices of drinks to be introduced to stop the irresponsible practices. "The discounting does seem to have gone away. But there would be nothing wrong with the Government saying that selling lager for 10p a pint is irresponsible. They could set a limit below which it was not acceptable to sell drinks," he said.

Luminar said sales were improving, as were margins, now that pricing pressures had eased, although it warned a bounce-back in pricing would be slow. It owns Chicago Rock Cafés, Liquid, Jumpin Jaks and Life nightclubs and entertainment bars, and has been battling against a glut of competition in the late-night drinking sector. Like-for-like sales fell 1 per cent in October, but have improved from a 2 per cent decline in the nine weeks to the end of October. Pre-tax profits fell 7.4 per cent to £25m.

As the Government prepares to back down on controversial plans to allow supercasinos in the UK, Mr Thomas said Luminar would continue to convert one of its nightclubs into a casino. "We will see how successful it is before converting other venues," he said.

Luminar is also gearing up for a ban on smoking in public places, following a decision by the Scottish Parliament. Mr Thomas said the group was building patios, balconies and rooftop terraces to accommodate smokers.

Some 79 venues it considers non-core will go on sale in March next year, which analysts believe could raise £45m to help pay down debts.

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