Whiting & Hammond, the Kent-based pub operator, is seeking its first freehold pub opportunity to grow its estate to eight after exiting the Old Dunnings Mill in East Grinstead in September.

Managing director Brian Whiting told M&C Report he is “desperate” to secure at least one site and would be interested in two if the right pubs become available.

“Trying to grow is the main thing but we’re finding it difficult to get the right sites in the right places. Even putting offers in at the asking price doesn’t mean we’re getting them,” Whiting said.

He said the group is looking at locations with 100-covers around the M25 but would consider smaller sites that have scope for building or development.

The group is looking for a freehold in its existing heartland, with Whiting calling the Esher and Redhill areas of Surrey “perfect”, he said they would consider locations further away. While the group is interested in acquiring its first freehold it is not disregarding leaseholds if it is suitable.

Meanwhile, Whiting & Hammond has opened a development kitchen near to its head office to train kitchen staff in new dishes and menu development to relieve some of the pressure on the kitchens.

Whiting & Hammond is also currently exploring the possibility of offering outside catering for events as a “bolt-on” to the existing dining offering at its pubs. Hammond said the company is developing a pop-up version of its food offering for the festive period that would be similar to its beer festivals and summer events that could be built upon to become a catering business to provide the food served at its pubs for weddings and other events.