SFI, owner of the Bar Med and Slug & Lettuce chains, has been given three months by its bankers to pull itself out of its cashflow crisis or face the chop.

The High Street bars chain, which has an estimated £120m of debt, ran into problems opening more than 50 new outlets in 18 months as it absorbed the Parisa estate, and began to push its suppliers for longer credit.

When that news got out, via the City analyst Douglas Jack of WestLB Panmure, the company's share price crashed, first by 50% to 77p and then by 67% to a disastrous 25p last week when it was revealed SFI was in breach of some of its banking covenants.

Now the SFI board has been told by its financial backers, led by Barclays, that it has until early in the new year to get the show back on the road or face forced action.

City analyst Greg Feehely suggested this week that Six Continents Retail could be a bidder for SFI. He said: "Yes, there's a lot of debt but you end up with some very good brands at a distressed price, and Six Continents isn't very strong on the High Street."

However, observers close to SixCR said the company was currently deliberately staying well away from the High Street, feeling that the state of the economy did not support a venture there and life was more fulfilling in the suburbs.

Douglas Jack said he did not expect anyone to bid for SFI" "You are just buying debt and very expensive leasehold sites," he said.

"I think people will wait the three months and see what happens, by which time, instead of having to buy the whole company, you may be able to cherry-pick."