The Restaurant Group (TRG), the casual dining company, which operates Frankie & Benny’s, Chiquito and Garfunkel’s, has reported a like-for-like sales rise of 3% for the 26 weeks to 2 July. Reporting half-year figures, the group said its like-for-like sales for the year to date were currently running ahead at 4%. Pre-tax profits for the first six months increased by 16.5% to £13.5m, from £11.6m during the same period in 2005. Ebitda rose 12.9% to £24.1m compared to £21.1m last time. Sales increased by 12.7% to £147.4m, while operating profit increased by 23.5% to £15.4m. During the period the company invested £17.9m through capital expenditure projects. Net debt currently stands at £45.1m. In the leisure division, which accounts for the lion’s share of TRG’s business with 211 units, profits were £22.1m on sales of £109.5m. Operating margins were 20.2%. Frankie & Benny’s, the American diner, continues to be TRG’s lead growth driver. In the first half it opened four new F&B’s, plus seven “Little Frankie’s” – a smaller format. Chiquito continued its move from ailing concept to key growth driver, with TRG describing its performance as “superb”. This manifested itself in a 60% increase in profits and the strongest like-for-like sales performance in the group. The concessions business, which comprises 49 units, reported a 25% rise in profits to £4.8m on sales – also up 25% - of £33.4m. Operating margins were 14.5%. There was no update on Living Ventures (LV), the bar and dining group in which TRG holds a 40% stake and which is thought to be up for sale. During the first half LV lost £2m, equating TRG’s stake to a loss of £0.8m. TRG said that the LV business tends to be skewed more to the second half of the year, and that management, led by Tim Bacon, was taking steps to improve profit conversion. Andrew Page, Chief Executive, said: “TRG has made an excellent start to 2006 and has begun the second half strongly. “Both the existing estate and our new developments continue to deliver high returns and we are on track to deliver our opening programme across both divisions. The group is in excellent shape and we look forward to reporting further good progress for the full year.” As previously announced Bob Ivell, executive chairman of Regent Inns, has stepped down as a non-executive director, following Regent’s acquisition of the competing Old Orleans business.