Whitbread this morning reported a 0.6% increase in like-for-like sales for the 24 weeks to 18 August. Total sales for the continuing group have grown by 12.5%, with underlying total sales, excluding the Premier Lodge acquisition, up 4.5%. Like-for-like sales at the group’s pub restaurants were down 1%, with total sales up 3.2%. Like-for-likes at the high street restaurants were down 1.7% with total sales up 3.9%. Alan Parker, the company’s chief executive, said: "In a difficult trading environment we continue to grow sales, which is a testament to the underlying strength of our businesses, and the benefit of the Premier Lodge acquisition." Parker added that the new pub restaurants management team continued to make progress, with the re-branding of the Brewsters outlets to Brewers Fayre now complete. Across the business changes have been made to menu and service style, as part of the strategy to drive volume. Parker said that gross margins were "marginally ahead" of last year, although this was insufficient to offset the uplift in operating costs, particularly in energy, business rates and minimum wage. Since the start of the year Pizza Hut has added 17 new sites, TGI Fridays two and Costa 49. Parker said: "Continuing weakness in retail, not helped by the London bombings, has affected like-for-like sales particularly in Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays. Costa has maintained creditable like-for-like sales growth." The group also announced plans to return a further £400m to shareholders, £150m more than previously indicated.