M&B to stop selling food in 400 pubs to beat smoking ban

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Tim Clarke, the chief executive of the pubs group Mitchells & Butlers, has described the proposed smoking ban in food-serving pubs as a "retrograde step" which would force the group to stop selling food in 400 outlets. Mr Clarke deplored the Government's proposal to ban smoking only in places that sell food, saying a full ban in pubs would create a "level playing field."

He said: "There are about 20 per cent [of pubs] where, regrettably, if this laughable proposal were to go through, it would be commercially advantageous for us to take the food out and revert to a drinking and smoking offer only. It's the last thing in the world we want to do, but we are a commercial company, not a charity."

M&B's rival JD Wetherspoon recently saw a 7.3 per cent fall in like-for-like sales at its non-smoking bars, 47 of its 650-strong estate. The British Beer & Pub Association estimates one-fifth of pubs will stop serving food if the ban is implemented.

M&B, which runs the All Bar One, O'Neills and Harvester chains, unveiled a 10.4 per cent rise in pre-tax profits yesterday to £195m for the year to 1 October and said it would return £100m to investors. Food sales overtook beer last month for the first time in the company's history, but overall like-for-like sales growth slid in recent weeks as the group was hit by the slowdown in consumer spending. The company announced a smaller than expected share buy-back. Its shares closed down 16.25p, or 4.2 per cent, at 373p.