Spoonsgate

Wetherspoon's engraved glass "Est 1979".

We’re not quite sure why restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin chose to review a branch of Wetherspoon in her new column for the Sunday Times but she did, and didn’t like it.

We haven’t been able to read the col­umn because it’s behind a pay­wall so won’t com­ment on it direct­ly except to say that from the gen­er­ous quotes the Morn­ing Adver­tis­er has per­mit­ted itself here it does seem that she was offer­ing a gen­uine reac­tion to the qual­i­ty of the food. If you’re skint, one of those quo­ta­tions sug­gests, the chip­py is cheap­er and bet­ter – a sound argu­ment and sure­ly one that (as intend­ed) goes some­way to mit­i­gat­ing accu­sa­tions of pure snob­bery.

But, still, this del­i­cate rebut­tal by the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush for the i news­pa­per chimed with us, bring­ing back mem­o­ries of our teens and ear­ly twen­ties:

I’m not going to pre­tend that I adore the food at Wether­spoons, but it has, nonethe­less, been respon­si­ble for some of the best meals of my life. When I was work­ing in a shop and grad­u­al­ly tun­nelling out from under my over­draft, a month­ly treat for me and the rest of the staff was a trip out­side of the store’s catch­ment area (where we could be cer­tain of not bump­ing into any of the clien­tele) to have din­ner at Spoons… It wasn’t good, but it was afford­able, we could sit down with­out being has­sled to move on and, cru­cial­ly, you pay sep­a­rate­ly and upfront, with no anx­i­ety about who was pay­ing for what.

This got us think­ing about how often Wether­spoon pubs are (to para­phrase a favourite line of the Pub Curmudgeon’s) dis­tress des­ti­na­tions – some­where you end up out of con­ve­nience, as a com­pro­mise or because, yes, you’re skint.

We often have a great time in Spoons but that’s usu­al­ly because it’s so quick, easy and cheap (per Stephen Bush) it takes all the stress out of decid­ing where to go so you can con­cen­trate on hav­ing fun with friends and fam­i­ly. You can walk in with a par­ty of eight, includ­ing a tee­to­taller, a veg­e­tar­i­an, a con­ser­v­a­tive bit­ter drinker and a craft beer geek (actu­al case study) and be sure that every­one will have a rea­son­ably good time, and that nobody will come away feel­ing ripped off.

The carpet at the Imperial, Exeter.

But, at the same time, any one of those peo­ple, if it was entire­ly their choice and mon­ey was no object, would prob­a­bly choose some­where else.

Of course it’s not always a com­pro­mise. The lure of inter­est­ing fes­ti­val beers makes Spoons the go-to place at cer­tain times of year; some of the build­ings are beau­ti­ful, impor­tant and/or atmos­pher­ic; and (con­tro­ver­sial opin­ion klax­on) we’ve yet to have bet­ter chick­en wings than theirs, and – believe us – not for want of try­ing.

More gen­er­al­ly it’s fas­ci­nat­ing how much cov­er­age Spoons gets in the main­stream press, and how many clicks those arti­cles seem to gen­er­ate. It is very close to a uni­ver­sal British expe­ri­ence these days, after all, and heavy with cul­tur­al sym­bol­ism in the age of Brex­it.

There’s a full chap­ter on Wetherspoon’s in our new book20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, and as a result (dis­clo­sure) it’s appar­ent­ly reviewed or at least men­tioned in the upcom­ing edi­tion of Wether­spoon News. We’ll be acquir­ing a copy or two of the mag­a­zine for pos­ter­i­ty.

9 thoughts on “Spoonsgate”

  1. One of the things I like about Wether­spoons is that they pro­vide some­where to sit down, indoors, in the warm, for 40p (the price of a half of lime and soda).

  2. There’s real­ly very lit­tle jour­nal­is­tic cov­er­age or reviews of pop­u­lar mass-mar­ket cater­ing of any kind, so there’s noth­ing to com­pare it with.

    In many towns, Spoons offer about the only half-way decent pub food there is, or indeed about the only pub food full stop.

  3. There is so much that is good about Wether­spoons, that it scares the liv­ing day­lights out of so many dis­parate groups, includ­ing:
    1. The rest of the pub trade
    2. The rest of the restau­rant trade
    3. Anti-drink­ing, do-good­ers
    4. Up-tight Sun­day Times jour­nal­ists
    etc. etc.

    Sure, there will always be bet­ter beer, bet­ter food, and even bet­ter pubs else­where. But when it comes to an over­whelm­ing com­mit­ment to Val­ue For Mon­ey, ‘Spoons are untouch­able.

  4. The review­er seems obsessed with calo­ries, I imag­ine her reviews of top restau­rants don’t men­tion that at all. An indul­gent treat can be fat­ten­ing, what’s not being recog­nised is for some spoons is that indul­gence. Per­son­al­ly I’ve had spoons meals I’d hap­pi­ly have paid dou­ble for and spoons meals where frankly staff need bet­ter train­ing in using a microwave. I do hear bar staff from else­where slag­ging spoons, main­ly for the dam­age their low craft beer prices does to the sec­tor, per­son­al­ly I’m see­ing beers on their best prices down to super­mar­ket prices. So cans I get to take out aren’t real­ly any great bar­gain and I’d main­ly think of spoons as an alter­na­tive to grab­bing a sand­wich and can to eat on the train.

  5. I real­ly liked that piece by Stephen Bush.

    And I have to say I dis­agree with O’Loughlin about the food at Wetherspoon’s. While it’s not fan­tas­tic I’ve nev­er had it any­where near as bad as she claims. Hard not to sus­pect there is more than a lit­tle snob­bery at work here.

  6. I gen­uine­ly don’t get why she did a review of a Spoons – can’t imag­ine a restau­rant review­er for a nation­al paper doing one of Piz­za Express, Zizzi or one of the pletho­ra of fast food chains etc etc. It seems to be a good way of get­ting a shed load of cov­er­age for her new job.

    Spoons is clas­sic “you get what you pay for” ter­ri­to­ry – it’s fine but nev­er my first choice. Last time I vis­it­ed one was between ses­sions at Indy Man Beer Con to load up on stodge, it did the job!

  7. Adri­an Gill was a won­der­ful word­smith who took delight in skew­er­ing the pre­ten­tious­ness of the restau­rant trade.
    From describ­ing Gor­don Ram­say as a strut­ting mar­tinet when he eject­ed Gill and his din­ing com­pan­ion Joan Collins from his restau­rant to tak­ing delight at the exquis­ite food at an unfash­ion­able eatery.
    But tak­ing the piss out of Joe Soap by sim­per­ing about the calorif­ic con­tent of what he was eat­ing ? I don’t recall it,probably because it was too obvi­ous a tar­get.
    One thing Gill nev­er did is try too hard – which is exact­ly what Ms O’Loughlin is doing try­ing to fol­low such a tough act.

  8. What has been missed here, and goes some way to explain why she reviewed it, is the shear scale of this par­tu­cu­lar ‘spoons: it’s the biggest pub in Europe. It’s mas­sive, and its sales bud­get is big­ger than all the Rams­gate pubs put togeth­er. This is a town of pop 35k. Now with one pub tak­ing £4m out of the local econ­o­my, sell­ing beer and food from out­side the area, and the locals are too blind to see the destruc­tion it’s doing to their health, wealth and well being.

    On the sur­face it all looks good: shiney restora­tion, ‘good val­ue’ food and drink, and love­ly views. But actu­al­ly the cost of restora­tion is borne by the local econ­o­my, the food and drink shipped in from afar, fur­ther cost­ing the local econ­o­my, and the views were ours, and free, any­way.

    More fight­ing back than snob­bery.

  9. Sure­ly it’s obvi­ous that the rea­son Mari­na O’Loughlin reviewed the Rams­gate ‘Spoons was to draw atten­tion to her recent switch from the Guardian to the Sun­day Times. In which aim she appears to have suc­ceed­ed admirably, as it has not only exer­cised Stephen Bush in the i but has prompt­ed a dis­cus­sion on Camra’s Dis­course forum (which man­aged to suck me in, among oth­ers) and even dis­tract­ed Boak and Bai­ley from their next book. Job done, I reck­on.

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