Birmingham-based pub group Mitchells and Butlers toasted lucrative revenues from food customers which helped to offset the negative effects of higher drink prices.

The All Bar One owner’s focus on the eating-out market helped it post a 2.1 per cent rise in like-for-like sales in the year to September 22, driven by food.

The chain, which also owns Harvester, said it had grown food sales by 40 per cent over the last five years, with three-quarters of its turnover now generated from food in its restaurants and pubs.

The group, which reported a 4 per cent rise in adjusted pre-tax profits to £162 million, said drinks volumes in its retained estate continued to decline, partly as a result of increases in alcohol duty which had led to higher prices across the industry.

The group, which also owns the Toby Carvery brand, said food meal sales volumes in its pubs were slightly lower than the previous year.

But it added sales had been significantly up for key events, including Easter and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, as people went for the higher priced menus to celebrate special occasions.

Like-for-like sales in the eight weeks since its year end were down year-on-year as it came up against tough comparatives from a year earlier when the weather was “unseasonably” warm, but the group said sales had since increased by around 1 per cent.

Mitchells said it expected the economic environment to remain “challenging” with inflation, increased regulatory costs and ongoing hikes in alcohol duty combining with tighter consumer incomes.

But it said investments in customer service, including a new training academy, should help it to grow further next year.

New boss Alistair Darby, who was appointed in October ending the group’s 18-month stint without a permanent chief executive, said he believed Mitchells had the “right strategy in place” to grow.

Mitchells, which serves around 130 million meals a year, saw visitors to its website rise by a third in the year.