Orchid Group, the managed operator owned by private equity firm GI Partners, has set its sights on doubling in size to around 600 pubs, writes Paul Charity. The company, which has just passed its second anniversary, has invested around £45m in refurbishing about 260 of its pubs — the remaining 20 or so are awaiting planning consent. The refurbishment has taken a year less than originally planned. Orchid is currently looking at around 100 pubs a week with a view to adding to the estate. Chief executive Rufus Hall said: “The eventual size of Orchid will be limited by the requirement of me knowing every manager personally. “We want to buy well-located, distressed pubs where we can overlay Orchid’s model. We are also talking to tenanted operators.” Orchid Group has been investing between £30,000 to £700,000 per site. Food sales have now climbed from 36% of sales two years to 44% now. Food sales are up on a like-for-like basis by 15%, with wine sales up on a 18% like-for-like basis. The company is particularly pleased with its contemporary carvery offer. It has seen a dramatic rise in food sales, which have increased from an equal share between food and wet sales, to a 65:35 split in favour of eating. Customer dwell time is currently one hour 45 minutes — higher than Pizza Express. Hall reports that Orchid has been widening its margins with food price inflation contained at 1% so far. Meanwhile, it is understood that operations director Jerry Robinson is set to leave the business shortly as part of a restructuring.