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01st Dec 2021

Inside the Wetherspoons Paltry Chip Count: How the last wholesome corner of Facebook turned sour

Maddy Mussen

Forget Tory sleaze, anti-maskers and the Omicron variant vs Christmas – the issue that is turning us all into keyboard warriors right now is the state of the Wetherspoons chip count. For those of you not caught up, the issue is this: the pub chain is being called out for allegedly providing varying amounts of chips with their meals. Leading the outrage is a Facebook group that has made headlines, spawned its very own prankster – “The Chip File Man” – and became the social platform’s most-talked-about British group.

And it’s all because Spoons are rumoured to be a little unreliable with their chips. Much like me when I’m stumbling home with my McDonald’s on a Friday night after several pints. Yet Spoons bosses insist that while they may not always provide the same number of chips per serving, they will always provide the same weighting. Spoons customers aren’t so sure. One regular, Chris Allen, 52, was so taken aback by the (lack of) chips on his plate that he posted about it on Facebook, back in August 2020. And lo, the Wetherspoons Paltry Chip Count Facebook group was born.

The group has grown dramatically and now has more than 250,000 members. “It started with Eat Out to Help Out,” Chris says, “I went to Wetherspoons then and got 14 chips with the meal. I put it on my Facebook page and a friend commented on it saying it was a ‘paltry’ serving. Sitting there bored, I decided to start a group and call it Wetherspoons Paltry Chip Count. I added a few friends and that’s how it started.”

That first post, pictured above, got a mere two likes. Now, Chip Count posts regularly boast upwards of 2,000 likes and hundreds of comments. The wackier ones do better – where people calculate chip length using a tape measure or check their beigeness against a Dulux colour chart. But mainly it’s just pictures of people looking unimpressed by their paltry chip servings. The sad chip stare is a look of pure disgust – as if your mum saying “I’m not angry, just disappointed” was distilled into a single facial expression. One guy even went viral because he looked so full of loathing for his chip count that he was likened to comic book supervillain, General Zod.

It took time for Chris to realise that he wasn’t alone in his chip count despair. “A couple of Wetherspoons employees started joining, and then others,” he says. When the group hit 200 members, the moderators were amazed. But this was only the beginning. Then came the great October influx. 

Someone dropped the photo of chips being tape measured in a Twitter post declaring their love for the Paltry Chip Count Group, saying: “Found my new favourite Facebook group. Can’t wait to make my first contribution.” The tweet got 104,000 likes. The secret was out. 

Within weeks, membership had reached five figures. Chip Count became bigger than any other Spoons group on Facebook in less than a month. Take for example its brethren, Wetherspoons Carpet Appreciation Society, where people post pictures of wacky Spoons carpets. It was set up way back in 2017 but still has less than 8,000 members. And even the fairly active UK Wetherspoons Spoonsposting, the mothership of Spoons meme pages, pales in comparison to Chip Count, with just over 10,000 members. So it’s not just a Spoons thing, it’s specifically a Chip Count thing.

But it wasn’t until Boris Bennett, 60, joined the group that it really took off. First, he built a mini Stonehenge out of chips and racked up over 7,000 likes. Then came his big reveal –  he was collecting chips from every Spoons in the UK. His findings were photographed in a plastic folder – like that one you used for Pokemon cards in Year 5. It surpassed Chip Henge almost immediately, reaching 15,000 likes and attracting the attention of multiple news outlets, like the MailOnline, Metro, Manchester Evening News and more.

But in the course of my investigation into this Facebook phenomenon, I discovered a shocking truth. Boris isn’t actually the pensioner he appears to be in his profile picture and press interviews. He is actually a 21-year-old university student from Bolton called Mason Kay who has been tricking the group for laughs. “I just like to see the reaction,” he says. “People were saying stuff like ‘you need an OBE for your services to chip collection.”

With all this play-acting, you can’t help but wonder: is the group succeeding in its original mission to improve the state of Spoons chip counts across the nation? Possibly. Spoons bosses and staff have become aware of the page. “I know the group, yeah. Head office sent us an email about it,” says Josh Maxwell, who works at The Earl of Mercia Wetherspoons in Coventry. 

“I definitely keep my eyes open for [chip counting] now. If I see someone taking a picture of their food I do look to see if it’s on the chip page. And before I take plates out I always think ‘will this end up on Facebook?’ It makes me take out bigger chip portions now, to be honest.”

Wetherspoons bosses told JOE that all portions are the same and “chip servings are based on weight which is the same in all pubs and not number of chips.”

Sadly, Chip Count wasn’t too big to fail, and like all internet phenomenons, it got a bit nasty. “It’s taken a bit of a sour twist, everyone’s started to get a bit mean,” says Ashley, a long-term member of Chip Count. He’s not wrong. Nearly every single person who shows their face as part of a chip count now has an obligatory roasting, whether they want it or not. From General Zod to Sid the Sloth from Ice Age, or “Wish” versions of Ant and Dec. “The other day we had a girl being made fun of for her lip fillers and our co-founder getting called a MILF, she doesn’t even have kids!” says chip count moderator Steve.

It has all gotten a bit too much for the admins, who don’t like seeing their wholesome chip count group turn to the dark side. They also don’t have the time to manage it, due to the sheer scale of the group’s membership. “It can get taken too far [the roasting], so there is a need to moderate it. But they ain’t paying us for it!” says Steve. Chris even had to take the controversial measure of making the group private – for the first time since its inception – as a means to limit the vitriol.

In a Chip Count post on 19 November, he explains, exasperated: “We are becoming a private group. There is just too much bullshit going on for me and the admins to deal with. As we have said so many times please keep it to chips and play nicely.”

What started off as a happy viral accident with a mission has mutated in its growth. “It was always to amuse myself and a few friends. That’s all it ever really was. It’s just chips!” Chris says. He even asks me, before we hang up on our call, not to spin the story of Chip Count into something it isn’t. Because that’s the real truth behind Wetherspoons Paltry Chip Count. It’s just chips.