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I've now had a drink and/or eaten in a great many Wetherspoons around Britain and I feel that I am justified in reviewing them. As I start writing this I'm unsure how it is going to turn out as I've had varying degrees of service ranging from a couple of instances of truly awful to excellent. However, the good outweighs the bad - but is it enough to get a glowing report?….read on.
I'm going to focus on the main Wetherspoons pubs and touch very briefly on the Lloyds Bar brand.
~~~History and Background~~~
JD Wetherspoons was established in 1979 by a law student named Tim Martin.
Tim bought the pub that he drank in and decided to name it Wetherspoons after one of his lecturers from university who told him he would never amount to anything - how wrong he was. Apparently, the JD was added later and this was taken from a character in the Dukes of Hazzard that Tim Martin was fond of.
As the pub was successful more were opened - initially these were centred in and around the north of London, but as they've became more popular they were opened in other areas of England. When the company was floated on the stock market in 1992 they started to open branches nationwide.
There are now over 670 Wetherspoons pubs throughout the UK, employing over 16000 people, and the company plans to continue opening them, although at a much more decreased rate than in recent years. I've recently heard that there are plans to open one in my town which im looking forward to as I will have a new place to go for breakfast on a Saturday/Sunday morning!! I would also use it as a meeting point for friends to have a cheap drink before heading somewhere else.
~~~Location, Buildings and branding~~~
I've been unable to find a mission statement - this is the closest I've found "From day one, we have been committed to offering a friendly and comfortable drinking atmosphere, with good-quality, great-value food that is served all day".
Wetherspoons pubs can be found in most towns and cities - in most cities there are more then one. They are usually found in high street areas or main shopping/drinking areas, there are also Wetherspoons in some airports.
The buildings tend not to be the usual run of the mill and always seem to be very large sizes. The buildings that they acquire tend not to have been licensed premises and will be former shops, churches, funeral parlours, car showrooms and even cinemas! I have heard on the grapevine that the one that is opening in my town will be in the old cinema. Due to the nature of the building, there always seems to be nooks and crannies within their pubs, which adds a certain charm and atmosphere. The Moon Under the Water Wetherspoons on Deansgate, Manchester was once the worlds largest pub as it was built in an old cinema. Having been in this particular pub, I can certainly vouch for its size.
One thing I've noticed is that the toilets always seem to be upstairs or downstairs and fairly separate from the rest of the building - this can only be a good thing in a pub! I've read that they have received awards for the cleanliness of their toilets and I can certainly believe this as I have never been in one that's been messy or dirty. Wetherspoons aim to make their rest rooms modern and quirky; their toilets have definitely become a talking point.
Smoking has always been banned in certain areas of Wetherspoons and they had always planned to ban all smoking a good couple of years ahead of the ban. They soon realised that they would have to re-vamp their kitchens as it was found that people drank less and ate more. The company has strived to provide areas outside of their pubs were smokers can stay covered up with canopies, awnings and patio heaters.
In certain pubs you can use Wi-Fi free, which is useful if you want to spend a lazy afternoon writing more reviews while taking advantage of the surroundings, food and drink.
In 1964 George Orwell wrote an article entitled "The Moon Under Water". This article noted many attributes that he felt a pub should have to make it perfect. Wetherspoons seem to have taken this essay and some of its ideas and tried to incorporate them into their pubs. Many of the Wetherspoons around Britain are actually called The Moon Under Water. All of the Wetherspoons are named, and as far as I can make out, these are after local figures from history to the present day or something which is relevant to the area.
There tends to be no music playing in Wetherspoons - there certainly hasn't been in any of the ones that I've visited, there are no jukeboxes and I don't recall having seen any quiz or fruit machines. This is all in-fitting with the quiet pub approach (although I have definitely had a few nights in Wetherspoons which were anything but quiet!) Although they generally don't have televisions, they are currently advertising football games on their website - whether this is just for the duration of certain games, I'm uncertain.
The clientele is completely mixed and tends towards the more mature crowd in the evening as its really not the sort of place to have a night out - maybe start the night off, but not the full night.
Wetherspoons also have a few "wetherlodges" which join onto the pubs and offer cheap accommodation, details can be found on their website.
The décor throughout Wetherspoons tends to be a traditional pub - Victorian theme with dark wood tables, chairs and bar and carpets with violent patterns. A great thing about the pubs is that they have local pictures on the walls and you can often find history of the surrounding areas on the pictures or on features on the walls. I always find the insides of Wetherspoons pubs quite nice and comfortable - a real blend of old fashion pubs and modern bars.
The prices seem to be one of the reasons that so many people drink and eat here. They really are great!
The company claim to offer the lowest priced burgers within a chain of pubs and they try to maintain low prices throughout their menus.
Two bar meals, from a selection of 10 popular dishes, can be bought for £5.49 which is a bargain!
A bottle of house white or rose wine can be bought from about £6.
Out of all the times that I have eaten or had a drink in a Wetherspoons pub, I have only ever had one issue with their staff - unfortunately it was rather a large issue. My mother, myself and two cousins had stopped for lunch whilst shopping for my wedding dress - we were in high spirits! My mum had to return her coffee twice as it wasn't warm enough. On the second occasion, my mum was standing further down the bar from me and I witness a member of staffing referring to her as a f****** moany bitch. Now this is my mum that he was talking about and I was absolutely not standing for it - I demanded to know who he was talking about and he went red and said "no one". I went and found the manager and explained what had happened - trying to stay calm but I was shaking with anger. Within ten minutes the guy was at our table with an apology for my mum. Other than this, I have had no major problems with the staff in Wetherspoons; I have always been shown good manners and politeness.
A variety of food can be found on the Wetherspoons menu, mainly British classics. There is also a selection of vegetarian foods which is great for me! Food is served daily in Wetherspoons and they open at 10:00 for breakfast which I definitely recommend.
You can get a full breakfast until noon for £2.10 or a larger one for £3.49. You have to order your toast and tea or coffee separately at a separate cost. A vegetarian breakfast is also available - I've found them to be quite flexible when it comes to breakfast and I always ask them for scrambled eggs instead of fried and this has never been a problem. If you don't want a full breakfast you could have a morning bap, toast, muffins, a baguette or pancakes. They also do childrens breakfasts.
As above you can get two meals for £5.49 which is a bargain and great when you are having your lunch with a colleague.
Wetherspoons run special club nights where they serve special foods on certain nights of the week. These are:
I have been on a Thursday for the curry club and it was fantastic, I had a vegetable curry which was served with naan bread and poppadoms - delicious!
Other special offers include a beer and burger (with chips) for £4.25 and Sunday roast and a drink for £3.49.
The menu is easy to understand and states any allergy or diet advice that you need to know about. A childrens menu is also available as are desserts (I can definitely recommend the chocolate fudge cake for £2.59. Healthy options are also marked on the menu for those of us who are watching our waists.
I've never had a serious problem with the quality of food served, nor has anyone with me - I fully recommend a lunch or dinner here - this is probably due to the fact that the pubs have their very own critic, Egon Ronay who ensures that the pubs are turning out good food with surprise visits to their many sites.
Something that I certainly do find attractive is the fact that the menus have variations in them depending on region. I have been in Scottish ones where you get tattie scones with your breakfast and they use meat sourced from Scotland or they will have local dishes. In Wales they had quite a few Welsh dishes on the men.
All the normal favourites are present behind the bar. As a wine drinker, I've spent many a happy afternoon taking advantage of the relatively cheap bottles of wine - these start from around £6. A vodka and coke can be bought for around £2 and there are always special offers so make sure to ask!
Curiously Wetherspoons did not used to stock some popular brands such as Jack Daniels, I don't know the reason for this but they have it now, thankfully!
~~~Lloyds No.1 Bars~~~
Lloyds Bars by Wethespoon are targeted towards a younger clientele and whilst there are many similarities such as menu, Lloyds Bars play music and often have dancefloors. The prices in Lloyds bars may also be slightly dearer.
There are a few of the Wetherspoons pubs which are a hybrid between traditional Wetherspoons and Lloyds bars. These will change at a certain time of the day to start playing music and attract a different customer base at a different time of day.
There are around 70 of these bars around Britain.
1979: Wetherspoons is founded by Tim Martin 1992: The company is floated on the Stock Exchange 1998: The group opens its first Wetherlodge budget hotel in Shrewsbury 1998: Tim Martin hires food critic Egon Ronay to improve the quality of Wetherspoon's food. 1999: Wetherspoon's opens its first pubs in Northern Ireland 2000: Wetherspoon's buys the group of ten Lloyds No 1 pubs 2002: Wetherspoon pubs at 10am to sell coffee and breakfasts.
Wetherspoons is not a regular haunt for me and my friends for a boozy Saturday night out - but I do visit often. I spend a lot of lunch breaks here and I often meet friends for breakfast, lunch and dinner here. My cousin and I are fond of meeting here every few months around 1pm for lunch - we generally never manage to leave until about 10pm - thats the fairly priced wine for you!
I have had fairly good experiences here - the food generally doesn't take too long, its tasty, its cheap and it's a pleasant environment.
As I said above I have had a few bad experiences in Wetherspoons and these include:
The issue I mentioned before with the member of staff being rude about my mother.
Once, in Rhyl, Wales I ordered 5 bean chilli and was presented with the meat version 3 times before I eventually cancelled my order, having sent each one back. I have no idea what went wrong in the kitchen but someone was hell bent on making me eat meat that night. After complaining for a third time the manager said she would make it herself, but I simply wouldn't have been able to eat it - I was too worried about eating meat and I couldnt get past the fact that it could happen again. In the end I ordered something different and our full meal, including drinks was refunded - I ate an hour and a half after we ordered and by myself as my partner had already had his meal.
In Chester we ordered breakfast which took an hour and a half to come to us. To be fair the kitchen only had one chef and two members of bar staff had phoned in sick - leaving only the manager and one bar staff member. This pub was simply enourmous and they had a terrible job that day of trying to feed everyone. I complained quite a few times and, again, was given my full meal for free. I could never understand that day why they didn't close the kitchen - surely that's the most sensible solution. Don't take any more orders if you aren't going to be able to fill them!!
The ten attributes included in George Orwells "The Moon Under Water" essay were:
1. The pub's architecture and fittings must be uncompromisingly Victorian. 2. Games, such as darts, are only played in the public part of the bar; the saloon bar, ladies' bar, bottle-and-jug bar, and upstairs dining room. 3. The pub is quiet enough to talk, with the house possessing neither a radio nor a piano. 4. The barmaids know the customers by name and take an interest in everyone. 5. It sells tobacco and cigarettes, aspirins and stamps, and lets you use the phone. 6. There is a snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels (a specialty of the house), cheese, pickles and [...] large biscuits with caraway seeds. 7. Upstairs, six days a week, you can get a good, solid lunch -- for example, a cut off the joint, two vegetables and boiled jam roll -- for about three shillings. 8. [...] draught stout with it [...] It is a creamy sort of stout, and it goes better in a pewter pot. 9. They are particular about their drinking vessels at "The Moon Under Water" and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass. Apart from glass and pewter mugs, they have some of those pleasant strawberry-pink china ones. 10. [...] You go through a narrow passage leading out of the saloon, and find yourself in a fairly large garden.
I think its fair enough to say that Wetherspoons have definitely fallen down on a few of these points, but the general idea is there - he wants a quiet, Victorian style pub where you can get a good pint, good service and something to eat - all of which is available. Lets face it, its never going to have "strawberry-pink china" mugs to drink out of or "aspirins and stamps" behind the bar. I doubt very much that they desire to fulfil all of the points, preferring to touch on what they see as the main attributes of the perfect pub.
On a few occasions I have found that it takes them absolutely ages to clear the previous customers plates and glasses away from the table, but if you ask they will come and do it. This can also be a problem once you have finished your meal as no one likes to sit with their dirty plates in front of them. If this happens, just ask someone and they will be straight over.
Im never going to use it as my Saturday night party spot but it definitely serves a purpose. I do recommend wetherspoons - its cheap, its cheerful, the food is good, its comfortable, its friendly. What more do you want?