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Hotels and leisure group, Whitbread, is gearing itself to sell off many of its under performing high street restaurants so it can concentrate on its money making operations.

The company has been secretly contacting potential buyers for around 1,000 restaurants, including the Pelican Group, which owns the Cafe Rouge and Bella Pasta chains. No figures are being publicly quoted but around £300m would probably be sufficient to secure the portfolio which is also believed to include Costa, the high street coffee operator with over 250 outlets, TGI Friday, the group’s under-achieving Tex-Mex food chain, which occupies a number of prime sites in and out of town, and its stake in Pizza Hut. None of the chains have been able to meet Whitbread’s financial targets.

The company now faces a tough time in unloading its unwanted stores although reports from inside Whitbread suggest that management buy-outs could well provide the best source of interest.

Whitbread’s restaurant division made an operating profit of £123m on sales of £1.1 billion, with the bulk of the profit being generated by the group’s two themed pub restaurant chains, Beefeater and Brewers Fayre.

The sales will give the company an opportunity to concentrate on pub restaurants, its successful health club and leisure chain- David Lloyd-and its expanding Marriott Hotel operation. The group, which no longer has any involvement in brewing, is looking for more hotel acquisitions.

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