The Tony Macaroni brand is eyeing up to 20 new franchise openings in England and Northern Ireland during 2019.

The Scotland-based Italian restaurant group will officially launch its franchise offer in January, with an outlet in Bangor, Northern Ireland, the first franchised site to open.

It comes as founder Sep Marini unveiled plans to invest £5m in expansion over the next year and a move to unite the current 19 restaurants operated by the group under one parent company, Viva Italia.

As well as it eponymous brand, the company operates Mozza, Marini, Tony to Go, Tony Mac Delivers, Nardini’s (run in partnership with David Equi), Bar 1821 and The Wine House 1821 brands.

In the pipeline are further Tony Macaroni restaurants in Cumbernauld, Glenrothes, Fort Kinnaird in Edinburgh and in Northern Ireland.

Marini told The Herald, Scotland: “It is a good way to have rapid expansion, with not a lot of cost to the company, and obviously strengthen the group.”

Marini noted conditions are tough for high street restaurant operators but said the spate of recent closures has created opportunities for its company, which currently employs around 700 staff. As an example, he said his Tony Macaroni restaurant at Glasgow Fort was currently “breaking records” after a neighbouring Prezzo outlet closed.

He said: “The casual dining market has got quite a bad name at the moment, but I think the restaurants closing quite a bit at the moment is only helping us.

“Trade in the last four weeks has been very, very good, but trade in the previous four, five weeks was down a lot, and that was just due to the hot weather. It did have a big effect on our trading.”