SFI group, owner of the Litten Tree, Slug & Lettuce and Bar Med chains, is talking to the six banks that provide its banking facility to try to solve the cashflow problems that have meant a squeeze on payments to suppliers.

The company's shares plunged more than 50% after a City analyst revealed that the company was asking suppliers involved in fitting out new outlets to extend their credit terms.

Andrew Latham, SFI's chief executive, said the "vast majority" of the company's creditors were backing it in its attempt to overcome its cash flow problems. He said: "We are squeezing the creditors, but that is no different from any business in our sector, or, I suspect, throughout industry in general."

Latham said SFI had been talking to its banks "some time" to develop a strategy to deal with the situation "and it's terribly unhelpful now to be doing that in the glare of publicity.

"I'm not in any way trivialising it, because it is a matter that is unacceptable. We shouldn't have got into this position. But we have, and it's now how we move forward from here."