Premium casual dining group Individual Restaurant Company (IRC) has vowed not be drawn into the eating out sector's discounting war.
Announcing full-year results today, the operator of Piccolino said trading in the first 13 weeks of the year had been encouraging, despite its decision to hold firm on prices.
IRC hairman Robert Breare said: "Many operators have increased the level of discounting in the opening months of this year.
"However, the group will continue with its strategy of avoiding the margin erosion resulting from such polices, concentrating instead on the quality of its people, food, customer service and restaurant cleanliness."
Despite this, IRC conceded its margins would come under increasing pressure as food and drink suppliers battled to offset the weakness of Sterling.
The group, which opened six new restaurants in the year taking its estate to 34, is to expand its successful trial of making fresh pasta on site to more Piccolinos in the estate.
IRC also operates 11 Restaurant Bar & Grills and believes the concept has the legs to operate nationally as a companion brand to the larger Piccolino.
Turnover in the full year to 31 December 2008 was 2.9% ahead at £52.4m (2007: £50.9m). Operating profit down £1.1m year-on-year to £2.1m due to food inflation and increased utility costs.
Pre-tax profit was 54% lower at £1.2m (£2.6m), which included an increase in finance costs relating to debt (which stood at £15.8m at the year end), impairment charges and the costs of maintaining the former Zinc restaurant in Birmingham while the company seeks a tenant.
By Chris Druce
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