Signature, the restaurant chain that covers everything from the wildly exclusive Ivy to the cheap and cheerful Strada chain, looks likely to concentrate for the immediate future on the bottom end of the market after a massacre in the mid-range eating-out market.

The mid-market Belgo and Bierodrome restaurants saw like-for-likes plunge 18% in the 26 weeks to 30 December, Signature restaurant group revealed, while the bottom-end Strada brand saw sales rise.

Signature's chairman, Luke Johnson, said trading in the Belgo Bierodrome division had improved in the past two months, with the like-for-like sales drop now "only" 10%.

However, overall profits before tax and other special items for the period fell 32% to £1.5m, operating profit from continuing activities was down 37% to £1.22m. The board has scrapped the interim dividend, saying it preferred to reinvest in its restaurants and reduced net debt of £3.8m at December 30.

Johnson said the drop in visitor numbers to central London, where most of Signature's restaurants are, after September 11 exacerbated already difficult trading conditions. While the mid-priced Belgo Bierodrome division suffered the most, the high-quality division had "mixed fortunes", with The Ivy, J Sheekey and Le Caprice trading "satisfactorily" but some other less high-profile outlets suffering.

The Strada brand, however, saw like for like sales increase of 4%, "although the overall profit contribution remained relatively modest due to the size of the sites and the relatively low average spend compared to other restaurants within the group," Johnson said. Strada now has eight units, with Strada Clapham and Strada Earls Court opened since January 1 and "at least" two more openings planned in the next six months.

Johnson said the group had exchanged contracts to sell another of its Bierodrome sites together with the standalone restaurant The Collection. he said while a "cautious" expansion of the Strada chain was planned, "conditions in the London restaurant market remain highly competitive," and the group was not expecting to see a rapid recovery in central London.