The finance director of Whitbread has denied the group was behind a failed takeover bid for hotel group De Vere.
Chris Rogers said that there were "clearly cheaper ways to get the management back" - referring to Carl Leaver who left Whitbread in 2003 to join De Vere as chief executive.
De Vere said yesterday that it had rejected a takeover approach from an unnamed bidder as it failed to reflect the value and prospects of the company.
De Vere, which raised £186 million from the sale and subsequent manage-back of the De Vere Belfry, confirmed the approach after its shares surged eight per cent on Wednesday to an all-time high of 728p.
The group runs 19 hotels around the UK as well as Greens health and fitness clubs. Mr Rogers' comments came as Whitbread announced a poor third quarter across all four of its leisure divisions.
Like-for-like sales were down by 0.5 per cent in the 39 weeks to December 1.
At the end of September group like-for-like sales were down by 0.4 per cent.
But a continued slowdown in consumer spending and poor trade at its Pizza Hut joint venture saw Whitbread's sales under renewed pressure.
"Trading is very difficult at the moment," Mr Rogers said.
"Pizza Hut is particularly challenging as high utility charges and business rates are not only hitting high street retailers, but also the customers they serve.
"People are having to pay more for gas and electricity, while household rate bills are also rising."
The group's other high street outlets - which include Costa Coffee and TGI Friday's - saw like-for-like sales fall by 3.4 per cent in the period, compared to 1.8 per cent in the six months to September.
In the pub and restaurants division - which includes the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre chains - like-for-like sales over the 39-weeks were down by 2.1 per cent. The David Lloyd Leisure chain, which was showing flat sales growth at September end, also fell with total like-for-like sales off by 0.4 per cent.
Even Whitbread's budget hotel chain, Premier Travel Inn, showing a 7.7 per cent sales increase at the end of September, slowed with the latest like-for-like figures seeing an increase of 7.3 per cent.
While Mr Rogers acknowledged that the overall third quarter had shown deterioration in sales, he said that some business areas were beginning to produce an improvement.
"Costa Coffee has continued to show good growth, while TGI Friday's, while still in negative sales territory, is on an upward curve," he said.
He added the sales decline at David Lloyd Leisure fitness centres was expected following a market repositioning and a number of management changes.
"The real test here will be our New Year recruitment drive to attract new members," he said.
Analysts said the third quarter statement was "poor", although US broker Merrill Lynch pointed out that this may put pressure on management to take action.