10 best soundbites from Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin when he met catering equipment distributors

Outspoken JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin keeps his finger on the pulse by making sure he spends almost half his working week in his chain’s pubs. FEJ was at the recent Ceda Conference where he shared his thoughts on a number of key topics with catering equipment distributors. Here’s a round-up of his 10 most memorable soundbites:

1. On his often ‘cynical’ view of the City…

“I wouldn’t say it is cynical per se, you need the city and the city needs you — it is a vital part of a free market economy. It’s a way of putting savings through into expanding businesses. The guys running the City, too much of the money sticks to their hands on the way through, but you still do need it.”

2. On changing the market’s perceptions about JDW…

“The best thing that ever happened to us was when local authorities brought out the five-star [food hygiene] scores on the doors and to everyone’s surprise a couple of years ago they said that over the last five years the best companies have been Wetherspoon and Pret A Manger. Most of my pals said, ‘we can understand Pret A Manger’…

3. On strengthening the company’s menu offering…

“We started something a few years ago — I don’t like catchphrases but we wanted to try to explain to people that on our menu we don’t compromise on quality and so we came up with ‘EIBIC’: ‘Every Item Best In Class’ and suddenly everyone within the company got it. We don’t want to switch to a lower quality steak, we want to do free range eggs etc, so it’s got to be high quality.

4. On spending at least two days a week visiting the chain’s pubs and meeting staff…

“I think it is vitally important whatever business you are in to speak to people on the frontline because the collective knowledge of the people on the frontline is much greater than the people at the top, and where businesses go wrong is they think it’s the other way around.”

5. On the Soft Drinks Industry Levy…

“To me it was a bit of a gimmick, it was Jamie Oliver saying he wanted to do that, he’s a television guy, and Osborne and Cameron jumped on the bandwagon. Those sort of things affect pubs much more because 10p tax or 20p, whatever it is, on a soft drink is a big percentage of the revenue; for a supermarket it is much less so once you start that bandwagon going, what are you going to attack next? Ice cream?”

6. On Wetherspoon’s burgeoning food sales… 

“When we floated on the Stock Market in 1992 our food sales were £500 a week a pub and now they are about £14,000 a week. It’s something like 36% or 37% of our business, so it has grown a hell of a lot. We have got just under 900 pubs and a turnover of £1.7 billion, starting from one pub in 1980 with a turnover of £150,000. So it’s gone okay so far, but we are only as good as our next pint!”

7. On the prospect of JDW reaching 1,000 pubs…

“We have got 900 pubs at the moment, so maybe we might have a thousand. I am not too worried about that, it’s not a numbers game. It will happen if it happens.”

8. On his company’s decision to delete all its social media accounts…

“I personally don’t use social media so I am coming at it from a marvellous position of ignorance!” he said. “And just before we did it, my nephew came to stay, who’s 18, and he stayed for a few months and he’s forgotten how to f***ing talk! He’s always on his machine! And I think there’s something wrong — if you speak to people they are frustrated with other people being on it a lot, but a lot of people are really frustrated with the amount of time they personally spend on it.

9. On his reaction to colleagues when they suggested JDW launch an app that allows customers to order food and drinks to their table…

“I said ‘this will never work, it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen!’ You go the pub, you go to the bar, don’t you! But I decided to indulge them — and it has worked very well, actually!”

10. On what the future holds for him…
“I am better at forecasting the past! Having said that, I am hoping to continue working for another 40 or 50 years [he has just turned 63] and then have a long retirement!”

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