If I had a £1 for every time Whitbread has announced an overhaul of its pub-restaurants, I’d be well on my way to collecting sufficient money to buy the 126 restaurants it has just put up for sale.

The very first time I wrote about Whitbread shortly after joining The Times in 1997, it was a story about a £50m revamp of the Beefeater chain (back then a 300-strong business) carrying the headline “New prawn cocktail on Beefeater menu”.

Simon Wood, managing director of Beefeater back in the day, said the brand was being “repositioned” to recognise the transformation of the eating out market over the past few years. And how was this to be achieved? By updating everything from staff uniforms and training to the food itself.

Even the chain’s famous prawn cocktail underwent a makeover. Eric Hanson, the brand’s food development manager and a former leading chef, said. “We’ve taken it and improved it. It will have more height, fresher flavours, better colours and, actually, more prawns.”

History does not relate whether the prawn makeover was in any way to blame for what happened next, but in 2002 the Beefeater chain was the subject of a fresh review after yet another disappointing set of sales figures (though Brewers Fayre performed somewhat more creditably).

David Thomas, then CEO of Whitbread, declared he was “not satisfied, but was confident the issue was resolvable: “We’re absolutely certain we can get the Beefeater sites back to where they were. We’ve said we are going to fix it, and we will.” (Although getting the restaurants “back to where they were” could be read in more than one way).

At any rate, a bunch of Beefeaters were rebadged under new formats like Grillbar and Out & Out. But guess what? It proved a disaster. Just two months after the 2002 revamp, the conversion of 37 Beefeaters was abruptly halted and the moustachioed Dave Thomas was left to explain things to exasperated shareholders: “We took a transformational approach with Out & Out. It was a bold approach but it hasn’t worked to the degree we wanted.” Within a year, the Out & Out and Brewsters brands had been canned, and the Brewsters brand had been reintegrated into Brewers Fayre, whence it came.

Hold on to your hats, though. In late 2003, there was something approaching good news when a revival in fortunes at Beefeater helped Whitbread to overcome difficult trading in its hotel arm to report strong sales in the first half of the year. It also sold 44 of its worst performing restaurants to improve the picture further.

In 2006 there was another tranche of disposals. Whitbread sold 235 Beefeater and Brewers Fayre outlets to Mitchells & Butlers for almost £500m. Word is that poor trading prompted M&B to reduce its final bid from about £530m – a bitter pill for Whitbread to swallow.

Then followed a long gap when things went quiet in the world of Beefeater and Brewers Fayre (though I have a notion I may have missed one or two episodes when on holiday), but that did not mean its performance improved significantly. It bumbled along not particularly effectively until July 2018 when it sliced another 250 staff from its core restaurant brands.

The FTSE 100 leisure group kicked off a process last year to sell another 250 or so Beefeaters and Brewers Fayres in an auction restricted to a handful of likely buyers, including Greene King, Heineken, Marston’s and Punch. M&B was tipped as favourite, having twice bought decent-sized packages from Whitbread, but a deal never happened. One cited barrier to disposal has been the role of its Beefeater, Brewers Fayre and Table Table restaurants in providing breakfasts for Premier Inn customers.

All of which brings us to the Accelerating Growth Plan. That is the less-than-sexy title given by Dominic Paul, Whitbread’s newish chief executive, to the company’s latest attempt to cut the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre Gordian Knot. His aim? To “evolve our food and beverage offer, so that we can meet increased demand and deliver a better experience for even more of our hotel guests”.

Which sounds suspiciously like the same old tosh trotted out by a succession of CEOs over the past 25 years or more. Except that Paul is proving more canny than some of his predecessors. The AGP, as I shall call it, not only addresses the pub-restaurant conundrum, but also adds another 3,500 new hotel rooms to Premier Inn’s UK pipeline and cuts costs by removing about 1,500 jobs. Instead of a straight sale of 250-odd pubs, Paul is seeking to “optimise” its F&B offer by converting 112 pub-restaurants to additional budget hotel rooms - upping the chain’s UK room count to 97,000 by 2029 - and exiting another 126 branded restaurants. Where a Premier Inn loses its adjoining pub, then instead it gets a newly created restaurant in the main hotel. The 3,500 new rooms and integrated restaurants will cost £500m over four years.

Some people might balk at the amount of money Whitbread has thrown at the restaurant conundrum over the years, but the reality is that the former brewer is very good at throwing cash at its hotels, but very bad at chucking money at its pub-restaurants. (It was also very good at investing in Costa while it still owned the coffee shop chain, ultimately securing a knockout price of £3.9bn. It is unlikely to get anything like as good a price for the restaurants it is selling. The first 21 sold fetched £28m).

So after all the shenanigans of the past 25 years, this is what Whitbread is left with: Premier Inn and restaurant brands including: Bar+Block (21), Beefeater (171), Brewers Fayre (148), Cookhouse & Pub (21), Table Table (61) and Whitbread Inns (12). Plus 387 restaurants integrated within Premier Inns.