JD Wetherspoon has done a U-turn on smoking, announcing it will wait for the official smoking ban in England before going smoke free at any more sites.
Wetherspoon currently has 49 non-smoking pubs, 37 of which have been converted and the remainder opened as smoke free.
It had said in March 2005 that it would convert 10% of its pubs, around 65 sites, to non-smoking by May of that year with the remainder of the estate to follow by May 2006.
However, the increased food take at non-smoking pubs has failed to offset falls in alcohol and fruit machine sales, with like-for-like sales dropping 7.6% at converted premises in the quarter ended 22 January 2006.
Company chairman Tim Martin said: "Given the government's decision to bring forward a complete national smoking ban by 18 months to the middle of 2007, and the initial financial performance described in these results], we have decided to await the complete ban."
Martin added that a smoking ban in England would likely depress sales further, but that sales and margins would recover once customers adjusted.
In the six months to 22 January 2006 pre-tax profit jumped 21% to £27.4m (2005: £22.6m) thanks to lower head office costs and improved pub profits.
Turnover was up 1% to £406.3m (2005: £403.3m), although like-for-like sales, which strip out the effect of new openings, fell 0.3%.
Like-for-like sales in February 2006 increased by 1.9%, but Wetherspoon said the imminent introduction of a smoking ban in Scotland and the impact of this summer's World Cup, meant it was cautious about its prospects in the second half of the year.
By Chris Druce
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