The owner of Pizza Express yesterday unveiled an increase in sales across its chain of restaurants despite the impact of the World Cup and hot weather.
Gondola, which also owns the ASK and Zizzi chains, said total restaurant sales for the financial year to July 2 rose seven per cent, while like-forlike sales were up four per cent.
The company said recent menu innovations had been well received by customers and it would now increase the number of restaurants it planned to open by 2007.
"The trading performance for all three of Gondola's brands is on track to deliver sales in line with manage-ment's expectations," the firm said in a trading statement.
It explained the growth rate in the second half of the year had been maintained despite the World Cup and exceptionally hot weather, which did hit expansion in the final quarter.
Gondola opened 16 new restaurants in the second half of the year, bringing the total for the 12 months to 23.
"The new sites are performing well and, going forward, are expected to deliver returns above our initial expectations," the statement said.
In March, St Albans-based Gondola said a Christmas bonanza had sent up revenues and core profits by 6.5 pr cent to £210.8 million and £47.7 million respectively.
The company now has 506 sites, including 315 Pizza Express restaurants, 110 under the ASK brand and 81 Zizzi's, as well as eight other eateries.
Around 58 per cent of the outlets are found in town centre high streets, including a number in the West Midlands.
It employs 10,000 staff, makes 30 million meals a year and also sells Pizza Express branded food in supermarkets.
Gondola is considering developing a fourth core brand, chief financial officer and commercial director Chris Heath said.
That could mean a full roll-out for one of the three 'incubator brands' which the company is currently trialing or, alternatively, an acquisition.
In London, it is testing two upmarket pizza delivery outfits called Lupa, two "pizza by the metre" restaurants called Al Rorro, which are more expensive than Gondola's other brands, and three American Diner-theme outlets called Jo Shmo's.
"You've always got to have an eye towards the future and we're looking at what the fourth brand could be whether something we're developing ourselves or an acquisition," Mr Heath said.
He added that each of the three 'incubator' brands were "performing well".
Mr Heath highlighted Lupa, in particular, saying the company was looking for more sites for the operation.
Shares closed up 7.5p at 326.5.