Regent hopes happy hour will bring some cheer

Regent Inns, the Walkabout-to-Jongleurs pub group, yesterday admitted that it has been forced into a strategic U-turn over its pricing in an attempt to halt plunging like-for-like sales.

Regent said it had joined the high street's discounting frenzy by slashing the price of drinks sold early in the evening and on weekday nights. It hopes to stem an accelerating fall in underlying sales that saw sales slide by 7.4 per cent during the six months to 3 January. This included a 9.9 per cent decrease over the peak Christmas and new year drinking period.

Stephen Haupt, the chief executive, said offering promotions such as two-for-one on selected beers had boosted sales during January, although he admitted they were still running below levels achieved 12 months ago. He denied that the group's margins would be affected, adding: "The offers will only cover 20 per cent of our total sales." The company, which is still struggling to sell its 23 underperforming sites, opened five new Walkabouts during its first half and two new Jongleurs, taking its total portfolio of branded bars to 67 units. Its pre-tax profits for the six months to 3 January rose 2 per cent to £6.8m. Its shares slipped 4.5p to 71.5p.