Wetherspoon to extend breakfast opening

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The Independent Online

Early risers will be able to eat their breakfasts at a JD Wetherspoon pub from next month after the chain today announced plans to extend its morning opening hours.

Wetherspoon, which said it is now the country's second or third biggest coffee chain, is planning to open at 7am from 28 April after five years of breakfast trading from 9am.

The Watford-based group also hailed record profits and sales despite a difficult trading environment that has seen many smaller pubs collapse.

Profits before tax and exceptional items rose 17.5 per cent to £36.2 million in the 26 weeks to 24 January on total sales up 4.1 per cent at £488.1 million.

Chairman Tim Martin said: "I think we are doing well with record profits, record sales, very strong cash flow and good opportunities to double the number of pubs over the next 10 to 15 years, doubling the number of jobs."

He said the firm paid out an average bonus of about 13 per cent of salary to all staff, with cash and share awards totalling £12.5 million over the period.

He said it is in the chain's interest to invest in its workers.

"The motivation is that pubs depend on people. If we can attract and retain the best people then we will do better and it is as simple as that."

Mr Martin said the plan to extend morning trading would further increase growth in food and hot drinks sales.

"We are about the second or third biggest coffee chain now, selling 25 million coffees a year and about half that number of breakfasts," he said.

"I think by opening at 7am it will be a significant boost especially since in many of the towns and suburbs that we operate they don't have other coffee chains open at that time."

He said some pubs might serve alcohol at that time in the morning in the future to cater for shift workers.

Wetherspoon said recent trading matched trends seen last year, with like-for-like sales down 0.4 per cent and total revenues up 3.9 per cent in the six weeks to 7 March.

The firm saw a resilient festive sales period, despite January's big freeze preventing some drinkers from getting to the firm's pubs.

The wintry weather also pushed up expenditure on repairs, but Wetherspoon said this was offset by a year-on-year fall in energy costs as operating margins remained in line with a year earlier.

Like-for-like sales for the half-year were up marginally by 0.1 per cent.

Mr Martin said the biggest challenge facing the pub industry was the Government's "confrontational and dictatorial approach" when it came to tackling binge and underage drinking.

He said taxes paid by pubs dwarfed profits made by firms and the closures in the industry were "extremely expensive" for Government.