Pub chain: Longer opening hours have hit our sales

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The Independent Online

Regent Inns, the company behind the Walkabout pubs and Jongleurs comedy clubs, has announced that it has done badly out of the new licensing laws.

Other groups have seen only a modest boost from extending trading and none have posted big profits in the aftermath of the licensing revolution. Many stay open an extra hour or two on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Those that serve food open an hour earlier on Sundays.

One of the effects of the new regime has been a shift away from the high street towards local pubs, as people no longer go searching for late-night bars.

Sales at Regent Inns suffered after the company decided to tighten security by putting more bouncers on the door and carrying out more ID checks on people under 25, partly in response to police requests. Bob Ivell, the executive chairman, said some people had been turned away from the pubs because they did not have ID with them. But he said it was the right policy: "We're one of the safest bars around. That is quite important to us."

Mr Ivell also blamed increased police presence in the streets for the company's poor performance. "There were a number of police visits around the high-street bars. People walking around in police uniforms don't exactly tend to enhance people's drinking," he said. Another reason cited was consumers' general unwillingness to go out and spend money, especially in cold weather.

That meant like-for-like sales growth halved to 0.5 per cent in the half-year to 31 December, from 1.1 per cent. Even so, Regent Inns' profits still rose 12 per cent to £6.4m.

Regent Inns spent £500,000 tightening security to keep good relations with police and local authorities. That was probably a wise move, as it almost lost its licence for the Walkabout pub in Bournemouth and had to reduce opening hours there. It also invested in plastic glasses and bottles to make drinking safer, which cost it about £60,000.

While Britain's other leading pubs groups have benefited from longer opening hours, it has not turned out to be the big bonanza that some observers expected. Wolverhampton & Dudley, which runs 2,293 pubs across the country, talked of a "modest trading benefit". Even Mitchells & Butlers, which outshone its rivals with strong trading over the Christmas period, only saw a "modest uplift".

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