Punch Taverns was still in the hunt for more pubs as it announced a leap in pretax profits through the £100 million barrier.

The Staffordshire chain, which owns 7,800 bars around the country, said there was no deal it could not handle as it looked to add to its estate.

The company, which employs 285 people at its head office near Burton, has already picked up 72 individual pubs this year on top of the previous acquisitions of Innspired and Pubmaster chains. Chief operating officer Adrian Fawcett said: "We are looking to buy new pubs every day. We remain optimistic about acquiring individual pubs and any corporate acquisitions that become available.

"We expect to be buying pubs all through the year, although nobody is in our sights at the moment.

"We have the capacity to participate in any activity - there is not a deal we would not be able to do."

Meanwhile it emerged that around 60 per cent of the company's pubs had voted to ban smoking in the bar area, a development which Mr Fawcett thought could lead to more customers in the future.

He said: "Our policy is to have 35 per cent of our pubs totally smoke-free, and 70 per cent of our pubs are already there."

He added Punch's model of pubs at the heart of the community had helped it to thrive amid a consumer slowdown.

"Only four per cent of our pubs are on the high street, and there is a lot of pressure there," noted Mr Fawcett.

"There has been some suggestion of a consumer downturn with interest rates, increased council tax and insurance and fuel prices. This means people are choosing to spend their leisure money and time in activities of higher value.

"Instead of getting taxis into the centre of Birmingham for example, they are opting to go to their local pub."

During the 28 weeks to March 5, it increased turnover by 33 per cent to £404 million, while profit before tax, amortisation and exceptions up 39 per cent to £103 million.

Much of this performance was accounted for from a full six months of trading at 3,000 pubs acquired following the purchase of Pubmaster and 471 pubs from the InnSpired estate. Meanwhile like for like turnover also increased by 3.4 per cent.

Mr Fawcett said: "After buying these pubs we began a lot of improvements.

"During the period we invested £26 million on nearly 400 developments at our pubs and make them really good places to go."

He added that more effort was being put into training for staff, to make them more skilled and aware as retailers rather than merely landlords and landladies.

"Everything from how to dispense drinks, look after the bar and making it look attractive to making sure you have the right gas temperature and pressure and presentation, simple things like having clean glasses.

"We are operating in a market which is competing with other leisure opportunities and it is vital to have a high quality product in the right environment.

"It may sound obvious, but it is about making sure it is done right every time."

Interim dividend increased by 28 per cent to 3.7p.