UK Pub Chains: The Big Three

Ideally, each pub in the UK would be independently owned and successful, resulting in money being put back in the very communities that frequent them. Of course, that isn’t the case. Unfortunately, a great deal of local establishments have been acquired by big chain conglomerates. In fact, of Britain’s over 50000 pubs, approximately 18,000 of them are new operated, or owned, by chains. From independent franchise owners to chains that standardise every single details of each of their pubs, sit back and read over our brief summary of the UK’s three largest pub chains.

JD Wetherspoon

The most well-known of all Pubcos, Wetherspoons was established in 1979 and now operates close to 1,000 pubs in the UK. Immortalised in polar culture up and down the UK, its regulars often refer to the pub as “Spoons”. The chain is famous for its conversions of old, disused, and sometimes quirky buildings into pubs. Their over 900 venues include converted churches, swimming pools, banks, post offices, and cinemas.

Wetherspoons can often be found at train stations and airports, and are known for reliable and cheap beer. They further operate two festivals a year. At these ale festivals, they purchase large volumes of locally sourced drinks, craft beers, and other speciality drinks before distributing them throughout the Wetherspoons chain. The largest Wetherspoons in the UK is in Kent. The Royal Victoria Pavilion seats over 1,000 patrons. The Banker’s Draft in London is the smallest of the chain’s pubs.

Enterprise Inns

It may not be as well-known as Wetherspoons, but it’s certainly the biggest pubco in the UK. Enterprise now officially titled Ei PLC, operates just under 5,000 pubs in the UK. Established in the West Midlands by Ted Tuppen in 1991, Ei PLC once owned close to 1,000 pubs and was in the FTSE 100 until 2008. Tenants operate Enterprise Inns and are responsible for the style and branding etc. Enterprise, however, charges rent, as well as use a beer tie. This is where publicans are obliged to buy their alcoholic drinks exclusively from Enterprise or Enterprise suppliers. This means that their thousands of pubs offer very standardised drink choices. Ted Tuppen stepped down from his role as chief executive Enterprise in 2013, after 22 years.

Heineken International (Punch Taverns)

This third chain was established in the ‘90s by the duo of Roger Myers and founder of Pizza Hut, Hugh Osmond. At one stage, they had more than 8,000 pubs, more than any other pubco in the industry. They leased close to 2,000 pubs across the UK in 2018 and are partly owned by Heineken International. Punch Taverns operates a core policy with half of its pubs and a non-core policy with the other half. The core pubs receive long-term investment. They use the other half for short-term profits and cash flow, with the aim of selling them within a few years. You might not be politically-minded, but it’s worth noting that joint founder Hugh Osmond is also a key donor to the Conservative party.