Like most students, 21-year-old Alicia appreciates the occasional Wetherspoons trip. Over the past year, she estimates she's been to Spoons over 50 times, enjoying more than £1,000 worth of cocktails, shots and pizza. And it hasn't cost her a penny.
Alicia is a findomme: a self-styled "financial dominatrix", who uses social media platforms to rinse horny submissives of their cash. Like a lot of young British women dabbling in financial domination, she's found a surprising new tool for it: humble Wetherspoons app.
A quick refresher: in March of 2017, the billion-pound pub empire launched its own app to allow drinkers to order directly from their tables. When observant punters realised you didn't actually have to be in the pub to use it – you just needed a table number and credit card – it quickly became the tool of choice for birthday drinks and wacky pranks that received a diminishing number of RTs as time went on.
But now the app's driving something very different: a wave of amateur findommes using "pay-pigs" to get free drinks. And what do these pay-pigs get in return? Absolutely nothing. In fact, they get off the unreciprocated nature of it all.
One Spoons sub explained how the degradation was part of the appeal: "I love seeing pictures of them enjoying themselves," he said over Twitter. "I like knowing I'm the pathetic loser paying for it all and that, in the morning, they won't remember who I am – not unless I keep paying them anyway."
No wonder, then, that, in the last few months, dozens of women have used the Spoons app to take advantage of willing cash-subs. A private group for Spoons findommes on the messenger app Kik currently has 48 members and is growing week on week. New accounts are popping up on Twitter.
"I think the Spoons app works so well for findomme because it's so easy to use," says Alicia. "It doesn't look suspicious on credit card bills or anything like that, in case their wives or girlfriends see their statements. And the subs like the fact that I'm actually having fun on their money there and then."
Richard* is a Spoons sub: in his late-twenties and living near London, he has a secret Twitter account dedicated to his fetish. He explains what he finds so hot about it: "The dommes can just throw a massive drinks order at me and I have to pay for it personally. It's a real turn on."
One of the interesting features of the Spoons findomme wave is its geographic diversity. The ubiquity of Wetherspoons – and the low entry point to becoming a Twitter findomme – has led to accounts popping up all across the UK. The subs are even more diverse: many are American; some probably haven't been to Spoons in their lives.
So how much money is flowing into founder Tim Martin's coffers?
"I normally spend £20 or £30 in one go," says Richard, "but tonight I'm £60 down already." I wonder if he drinks in Wetherspoons himself, and whether the pub chain has gained any sexual association for him. "Yes, I go there sometimes," he says. "It's an odd feeling."
Richard isn't alone. On Twitter, you can find plenty of anonymous subs, their profile pictures showing cartoons of kneeling men handing over cash, asking if any "goddesses" are going to Spoons that night. Hungry findommes reply with table numbers and pub names.
It should be said that not all dommes love Wetherspoons. Queen Riley is a London-based findomme with high standards: she demands a £20 payment (cash, not Spoons credit) just to reply to messages from potential submissives. When I tell her about the Wetherspoons app, she's not impressed.
"I wouldn't drink in a Wetherspoons if you paid me," she says – literally, in this case. "For a start, they usually smell and I'm way classier than that. I’ve had subs reimburse me for drinks before, but using the Wetherspoons app? I literally didn’t know that was a thing until now."
What does Wetherspoons – the family-friendly, Brexit-supporting pub chain – make of its app being used for BDSM play? A Spoons spokesman was quick to confirm that the app had been a resounding success, with around 1 million transactions a year. But what about the findommes?
"It's not something I have heard about, but it sounds about right: young women have always enjoyed being bought drinks by men," they said. "As long as it’s legal, and isn't upsetting other customers, I don't think we'd have a problem with it. I mean, it is legal, right?"
So is Wetherspoons inadvertently driving a spike in amateur dominatrices in university towns? As unlikely as it sounds, it just might be. Alicia says her friends have been impressed by her prowess in getting free drinks, and that some have been inspired to try it themselves.
"I think my favourite time was when one of the waitresses in Spoons worked out what I was doing," she says. "And then she came over and explained that she had done the same thing too. We ended up bonding over it."
And what's her favourite drink? "The new bubblegin cocktail pitcher," she says. Tonight, one of those will be one heading to a table in a Wetherspoons near you. Is it just an innocent birthday gift, or is Richard paying for it? You may never know.