The main danger facing restaurant companies is the customers, according to David Coffer, the chairman of Davis Coffer Lyons.

Growth in choice and quality in the restaurant industry has meant that customers are more critical. This, Coffer said, was the reason why so many restaurants have suffered in recent months, as the sector has become the victim of its own success.

Coffer, who was speaking at the Restaurant 2002 conference in London, said: "If you don't understand that work ethic has become leisure ethicin this country, then you are going to have a very great shock".

Smaller companies are those most likely to survive the judgement of their customers, Coffer said. Groups that are small enough to focus personally on their customers are those who can identify and respond to their needs.

Coffer warned that such companies should be wary of "growth for growth's sake". He said: "The industry is obsessed with growth, but there are certain businesses who should stay where they are".