Regent Inns, the quoted bar and pub operator, has reported a 0.4% decrease in like-for-like sales for the year to 1 July. Turnover declined by 2.8% to £127.6m, while underlying pre-tax profit fell by 2.2% to £10.6m. Ebitda before exceptional items was £24.8m, down from £26.1m in 2005. The company, which operates the Walkabout and Jongleurs brands, said sales had been held back by the new licensing laws combined with challenging trading conditions in the late night bar sector. Regent said that trading had started strongly through its first quarter particularly through its 49 Walkabout outlets, with like-for-like sales up 2.0% on the previous year, helped by interest in the Ashes series. However, sales softened in its second quarter as it enhanced certain operational trading controls ahead of licensing regulation. These included voluntary trading restrictions at certain venues in advance of licence hearings, reduction in capacity and opening hours, and substantial increases in security personnel. According to the company, the underlying effect of deregulation did not become apparent until the early weeks of the 2006, with the additional competition from greater numbers of late night operators adversely affecting some of its venues. The group, which last week completed the £26m acquisition of Old Orleans, the bar and restaurant chain, from Punch Taverns, said overall like-for-like sales for the 22 weeks from the beginning of January was 4.3% below last year. The company said that it was confident that a successful turnaround of the Old Orleans brand would provide a platform from which it can make further acquisitions in the fast–casual dining sector. It expects Old Orleans to be marginally earnings dilutive in the current financial year and earnings enhancing in the following financial year. Bob Ivell, executive chairman, said: “Our acquisition of Old Orleans post the year end represents a significant strategic opportunity, providing us with a terrific opportunity to rejuvenate the brand and placing us firmly in the fast growing casual dining sector. “Events post-licensing deregulation have reinforced our belief that operators must consolidate in order to protect business value and in view of this, our previously stated objective of participating in sector consolidation remains a priority.” Driven by interest in the World Cup, the company reported a 15.6% increase in like-for-like sales in June, with Walkabout benefiting significantly on England and Australia match days. Like-for-like sales through Walkabout remained positive for the year, however, like-for-like sales in the company’s Jongleurs/Bar Risa sites were below last year. While Jongleurs performed steadily during the year, the company saw significant downturns in a small number of its Bar Risa feeder bars. It said it would continue to concentrate on sites that are experiencing poor like-for-like performance including reviewing their positioning and format. The company, which already operates three Jongleurs alongside Walkabouts, is converting its Bar Risa in Leicester into a further Walkabout due to open on 28 September. The group said it was looking into a similar conversion at its Bar Risa in Oxford during the first quarter of 2007. Regent announced it was also working on a new evolution of its Walkabout brand, which it said could form a template for future developments. The company said it believed the acquisition of the 31-stroing Old Orleans estate, which it said had been under-invested both in terms of capital and management, represented a significant strategic opportunity. In June Regent announced that discussions regarding a possible offer for the company had ended. The group confirmed in April that it had received an approach from an unnamed suitor. Sources close to the situation suggested that Alchemy Partners, the private equity group, which already has majority stakes in Inventive Leisure and Tattershall Castle Group, was behind the approach for the group. It is believed that Alchemy's offer was close to 120p a share, which would value Regent at close to £135m, or about £190m including debt. Going forward the company said the effects of the licensing deregulation were stabilising and it continues to prepare for the extension of the smoking ban. The company reported that trading since 1 July had continued to be difficult but in line, it believed, with other late night operators. It said trading in July suffered from the “inevitable World Cup hangover” and also the exceptionally hot weather. Trading across the company’s Walkabout outlets has shown a slight improvement in recent weeks. The company said it would continue to concentrate on improving off-peak like-for-like performance, with more competitive pricing policies and active marketing already proving successful.