Pubs and hotels group Whitbread yesterday reported a 17.8 per cent rise in profits, but warned that consumers were tightening their belts.

The group said pre-tax profits in the year to March 3 rose to £249.4 million from £211.7 million a year earlier.

Whitbread said its Premier Travel Inn and high street restaurants, such as Costa Coffee and TGI Friday's, contributed to the rise with "an outstanding year".

In the West Midlands the group operates 14 Costas, four TGIs and 16 Premier Travel Inns, a spokesman said.

The group said the new year had got off to a good start, with total group sales growth in the first seven weeks remaining strong mainly due to Premier Travel Inn. But it said growth in like-for-like sales had slowed, particularly in its pub restaurants - which include Brewers Fayre and Beefeater - and David Lloyd Leisure fitness clubs.

It said there were signs of a less confident consumer and a tightening environment was evident from the higher costs arising from the national minimum wage, utility charges and business rates.

The group said it was taking steps to limit the impact of those increases through operational effectiveness and margin management and through keeping an eye on capital spending, although it did not give details.

"Despite signs of a less confident consumer, we anticipate Whitbread delivering increased sales in the year ahead," it said.

Whitbread said in March it was giving up control of its Marriott UK hotels to raise £1.3 billion over two years to focus on its budget chain.