Spirit Pub Company could double the size of its 93-strong Flaming Grill estate over the next few years, according to chief executive Mike Tye.

He told the Numis Travel & Leisure Conference today that trials of the brand in its local pubs in 2009 “told us an awful lot”. “What it really showed us was just how big the potential for this brand was, from within our estate but also from an acquisitions perspective.”

Tye said the food mix at some of its local pubs that were converted to Flaming Grill increased from 15-20% to just under 50%. “This is one hell of a change. It’s a real success for us.”

“There are plenty of pubs in the UK where we think we can apply the format.”

“I see now reason why we may not even be able to double this brand over the next few years. There’s no doubt we can acquire more pubs not just for Flaming Grill but for other brands to leverage their brand strength.”

Tye highlighted the impact of its smaller footprint “Flaming Grill Light” format, featuring a reduced menu. Capital costs are half those of standard Flaming Grills.

“You have to keep evolving brands. Nothing stays still,” he stated.

The smaller template creates opportunities for up to 50 more pubs from the existing managed locals estate, along with possible coversions from the leased division and the option to use it as a franchise brand.

He reiterated Spirit’s plans to expand after the company repositioned its debt in October, which freed up cash for investments and growth.

Tye also revealed its upmarket premium pub concept has now been extended to four sites. It was introduced last year to the George on London’s Haverstock Hill and later to the Cricketers in Kew Green.

He said: “We’ve had a number of trials; we’ve got four pubs running in that sector at the moment, and we’re still learning like hell.

“It’s a bit like Flaming Grill; the biggest problem is it took a year to really work that out and it will take at least that in premium. If I’m brutally honest about it, as others have found, doing a premium concept and keeping it within format boundaries is down-right hard.

“I don’t know the answer yet. It’s still in trial stage. We’ll see how it goes.”

Separately, Tye said Spirit is trailing “lots” of different technological innovations in the business, citing the fact that the businesses are often “maxed out”, even outside of weekends, because “we are not as efficient as we can be”.

Trials include fully integrated kitchen management systems and held-held terminals to allow customers to order from their tables.

“We have got a lot of trials, and there are all teaching us something. I don’t think a single one is Nirvana,” Tye said, adding: “The signs so far are really encouraging.”