Start your morning off right—with a trip to the pub

Does that come in decaf?
Does that come in decaf?
Image: Reuters/Dylan Martinez
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JD Wetherspoon wants millions of Brits to start their days at the pub. That is not nearly as debauched as it sounds—the pub-chain operator is making a big push into coffee and breakfast. The company reckons it can triple sales of morning fare over the next year and a half.

Five years ago, the company pushed the opening time for many of its pubs to 7am, although they don’t typically start serving alcohol until at least 9am. The group’s 936 pubs now sell some 50 million coffees and teas, and 24 million breakfasts per year, according to chairman Tim Martin. That’s worth around £150 million ($221 million) in revenue for the group.

Starting next week, the company will “up the ante,” Martin told Reuters, by slashing prices by up to 20% for coffee and breakfast items—a filter coffee with free refills will go for 99 pence at 880 of the group’s pubs. Announced alongside a dip in half-year profit (pdf), Wetherspoon is taking aim at Starbucks (with around 700 stores in the UK), Pret A Manger (around 300), and other chains that derive a big chunk of their business from the morning trade. As Martin puts it, “we have large premises with better facilities than any coffee shop chain and we’re by no means full first thing in the morning.”

This is the latest skirmish in a long-running battle among food and drink purveyors to capture more “day parts.” Just as Wetherspoon pubs are trying to boost their earlier trade with coffee and croissants, Starbucks is trying to attract customers later in the day by serving alcohol.

The need to diversify is particularly important for pubs, as their traditional customers increasingly stay home and buy cheaper drinks from supermarkets, which are in the midst of their own bruising price war. But while asking friends and colleagues to grab an evening drink at Starbucks may sound weird, it probably won’t raise as many eyebrows as suggesting that the best way to get going in the morning is to head to the bar.