J D Wetherspoon continues to report record sales figures, despite operating fewer pubs than pre-pandemic.

In a pre-close trading update, the business said like-for-like sales increased by 5.8% in the 10 weeks to 7 July 2024, compared to the same period last year. Year-to-date like-for-like sales increased by 7.7%.

The chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, said, ”The gradual recovery in sales and profits, following the pandemic, has continued in the current financial year. Total sales are, again, at record levels, with fewer pubs.

“Sales per pub are approximately 21% higher than pre-pandemic levels, which has helped to compensate for the very substantial increase in costs.

”For example, compared to the 2019 financial year, labour in this financial year has increased by approximately £164 million, energy by £28 million, repairs (also affected by labour costs) by £38 million and interest (excluding IFRS 16 interest) by £16 million.

“Notwithstanding these cost pressures, the company continues to endeavour to “widen the moat” by investing in areas such as beer gardens, staff rooms, above-bar glass racks and improved beer dispense systems.

“Staff retention is at its highest ever level. 11,066 staff, an average of 14 per pub, have worked for the company for 5 years or more. Of those, 3,895 have worked for 10 years and 632 for 20 years,” Martin said. 

The business continues to open new pubs, with openings in the next few months, in Waterloo and Fulham Broadway stations in London, and in Marlow in Buckinghamshire.

Martin adds, “The average Wetherspoon pub has generated taxes of one sort or another of £7 million in the last 10 years, as well as generating considerable employment and social benefits. The last government failed to implement tax equality between pubs and supermarkets, leading to pub closures and underinvestment - Wetherspoon hopes that the current Chancellor, with a Bank of England pedigree, will understand how many beans make five, and rectify this inequality.”

 The company continues to expect profits in the current financial year to be in line with market expectations.

So far this year, it has opened two pubs and sold or surrendered 26 pubs. Most of the disposals were smaller and older, or where the company has a second pub in reasonably close proximity. There was a net cash inflow of £8.7 million from the disposals. 

The company currently has a trading estate of 801 pubs, while 10 trading pubs remain on the market, or under offer.

The company estimates that net debt will be approximately £670 million at the financial year end. In June, the company signed a new four-year £840 million banking agreement on attractive terms.