City Centre to roll out Fifties-style diners

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The Independent Online

City Centre Restaurants is to open up to 25 Frankie and Benny's outlets over the next 18 months in an attempt to exploit the surge in popularity of the Fifties-themed diner.

The group, which owns 247 branded restaurants, hopes to expand the Frankie and Benny's chain away from its traditional leisure park locations and is eyeing different out-of-town sites. It recently opened a new outlet next to a Tesco megastore, just outside Edinburgh.

Alan Jackson, the executive chairman, said he was encouraged by the recent strong performance at the chain, which saw profits leap by 25 per cent during the past six months. Modelled on an Italian-American diner, Frankie and Benny's usually relies on families popping in for a burger, a few spare ribs or some pasta after going to see a film. Despite a fall in cinema attendances during the first half of the year, the 82-strong chain was the group's best performing brand, posting a 5.6 per cent rise in like-for-like sales during the first six months of the year.

Although the company is still benefiting from a recent turnaround programme that saw it divest unpopular brands such as Deep Pan Pizza and Wok Wok, a poor half for its Mexican-themed Chiquito brand meant like-for-like sales growth across the group slowed to 3 per cent from 4 per cent earlier this year.

City Centre, which has shaved £17m off its £60m debt mountain in the past two years, reported an 11 per cent rise in pre-tax profit to £6.7m. Sales were £107.6m, up from £103.4m a year earlier.

Mr Jackson said the hot summer had not enticed people to eat out, adding the company's high street restaurants such as Garfunkels, Caffe Uno and Est Est Est were still bearing the brunt of the fall in the number of tourists visiting London. Like-for-like sales at Garfunkels were just 2 per cent up, while at Caffe Uno they were flat and at Est Est Est they were 1.4 per cent weaker.

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