If you asked the average person on the street who Mitchells & Butlers was you might be met with a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders. But reel off one or two of their key brands — such as Harvester, Toby Carvery, Country Pubs, Sizzling Pubs, Crown Carveries, Oak Tree Pubs, All Bar One or O’Neill’s — and you’ll undoubtedly have them nodding in acknowledgement. Yes, M&B stands tall as a leading operator of more than 1,700 managed restaurants and pubs, serving a colossal 135 million meals and 435 million drinks from its venues each year.
The man at the helm of this sprawling, London-listed operation for the last three years has been Alistair Darby, who joined the business after a long career with Marston’s. He recently moved on from the business but departs having overseen the continued growth of the company and the acceleration of its restaurant expansion programme, which has no doubt pleased the myriad catering equipment suppliers that count the group as an important customer. One of the most significant milestones of Alastair’s tenure was the £226m acquisition of Orchid Pub Group, which saw M&B take over no fewer than 173 sites. A programme to convert more than half of those sites into its own brands and formats during the next 18 months is now underway, and with more than £35m allocated to the transformation project there will inevitably be a major focus on updating kitchens in order to improve foodservice.
In its most recent quarterly results prior to Alistair leaving, he assured investors that the strategy is firmly on track. “This year we have continued to successfully grow our food volumes and our like-for-like sales ahead of a subdued market, in addition to integrating and converting the Orchid business as planned. These initial conversions are trading well and in line with our expectations,” he revealed. So far this financial year, M&B has opened 11 new sites and converted 43 sites (32 of which are former Orchid sites) to core brands including Toby Carvery, Miller & Carter, Harvester and Ember Inns.
“We have continued to successfully grow our like-for-like sales ahead of a subdued market, in addition to integrating the Orchid business”