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Right time for fish and chips

HARRY RAMSDEN'S, the fish-and-chip restaurant business, yesterday predicted it will be one of few companies to benefit from an economic slowdown as customers trade down to cheaper restaurants.

John Barnes, chairman of the Yorkshire group, said: "In a recession, people think: `Maybe that French restaurant's a bit expensive, we'll go to Harry's.' With economic growth slowing, we expect customers to trade down to better value-for-money brands."

The company said it would speed up its growth in the slowdown by switching to smaller outlets. New restaurants would more closely resemble the shed in Guiseley, near Leeds, at which Harry Ramsden first opened in 1928.

But there is increasing concern over the price of fish, which has reached its highest level in seven years because of unusual weather patterns.

Profits at the group in the six months to the end of March rose by 14 per cent over to the same period last year to pounds 154,000, while turnover nearly doubled to pounds 4.9m.

Mr Barnes said the company was keen to buy more restaurants to add to its current total of 34 and would soon be opening new outlets in Aberdeen and Ipswich.

Harry Ramsden's recently opened its first drive-through facility at its operation in Gateshead. It has also opened a franchised unit in the United Arab Emirates, its eighth outlet abroad.