Pub Chains of the UK: A Quick Guide

In an ideal world, every single pub in the UK would be a thriving independently owned business putting money back in the communities that use them. However, we definitely don’t live in one of those. So unfortunately, many a local boozer has been bought up by big chain conglomerates. Around 18,000 of Britain’s 50,300 pubs are now owned or operated by chains.  From franchising independent owners, to chains that standardise every detail of their individual pubs – grab a pint and sit back for our brief summation of the three biggest pub chains in the United Kingdom.

Pub Chains of the UK: A Quick Guide
Pub Chains of the UK: A Quick Guide

Enterprise Inns

Not the most famous, but definitely the biggest pubco of them all in 2018, Enterprise, now called the very drab Ei PLC, operate just shy of 5000 pubs in the UK. Formed in 1991 by Ted Tuppen, in the West Midlands, Enterprise once owned nearly 10,000 pubs and was in the FTSE 100 list of top companies until 2008.

Enterprise Inns are operated by tenants, who are responsible for branding, style etc. However, Enterprise charge rent and will also use what is known as a beer tie. This means publicans are contractually obliged to exclusively buy their alcoholic drinks from Enterprise, or Enterprise suppliers. This leads to standardisation of drinks choices amongst their thousands of pubs.

Heineken International (Punch Taverns)

Punch Taverns was also founded in the 90s, as a joint venture by Pizza Express founder Hugh Osmond and fellow restaurateur Roger Myers. At one point they were the market leading pubco with over 8,000 pubs. In 2018 they lease nearly 2000 pubs across the country and are partly owned by Heineken International.

Punch Taverns operate a core and non-core policy, wherein around half of their pubs are considered core and will be invested in for the long term. The other half they will attempt to maximise for cash flow and short-term profit, with the expectation of selling on within a few years. Should it mean anything to you, Punch Taverns owner Hugh Osmond is also a major donor to the British Conservative party.

JD Wetherspoon

Undoubtedly the most famous of all Pubcos, immortalised in pop-culture across the land, Wetherspoons was founded in 1979 and now operates just shy 1000 pubs in the UK. Often affectionately known by regular patrons as ‘Spoons, the chain is known for converting disused, old or otherwise quirky buildings into pubs. Just some of their 900-plus venues include old cinemas, post offices, banks, swimming pools and churches.

Wetherspoons are also a fixture of airports and train stations, as well as being known for cheap but reliable beer. They also operate two ale festivals a year, where they will purchase large volumes of craft beers, locally sourced ales and other speciality drinks then distribute them throughout their chain.

The biggest Wetherspoon in the UK is The Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, Kent (seats 1000+) and the smallest is The Banker’s Draft in Eltham, London.