With share prices tumbling across the pub and restaurant sector, one might have expected a little more excitement about the prospect of snapping up some of the strugglers while bargain prices last.

Despite the best efforts of City analysts to make a match, as well as some much needed business for themselves, the market has remained decidedly cool.

SFI, whose shares were languishing at a mere 28p on Friday, is not surprisingly the target of numerous rumours.First it was Luminar set up as a potential suitor. Then at the end of the week it was being suggested that Six Continents should give the ailing bar operator the once over.

Luminar has already distanced itself from any speculation. Six C can be expected to do the same.

Six C's supposed "weakness" in the high street has been put forward as the reason why it ought to pick up the Bar Med, Litten Tree and Slug & Lettuce group. In truth, SFI's high street exposure is exactly the reason Six C is unlikely to take the bait.

The last place it wants to be at the moment is on the overcrowded high street. Six C, along with more than a few others, believes that the tough trading the sector is now experiencing will almost certainly get worse before it gets better.

Its batten-down-the-hatches time. For the foreseeable future, Six C can be expected to look no further than its core business of big, freehold, suburban pub and restaurant sites offering the middle market a £10 a head value-for-money experience. It certainly sees little attraction in a speculative investment in high street leaseholds.

The same sentiments were expressed by S&N Retail's chairman Bob Ivell on Friday at Martin Information's Restaurant 2002 conference. Pub restaurant operations like Chef & Brewer are his focus. S&N is unlikely to be getting out the cheque book either.

When one of the industry's undoubted stars, PizzaExpress, fails to attract a flood of suitors when its shares slip into the bargain zone, what chance SFI?

SFI may, of course, prove irresistible to a would-be bargain-hunter. There could always be a private equity play, but the likelihood is that it will continue to bump along the bottom with the likes of Yates Group for some time yet.

There is a market for selling individual sites, and a piecemeal break-up is the best that the likes of Old Monk and Aberdeen Steakhouses can expect – though there is hardly a stampede there either. Attracting a premium for a brand or concept, even a resurgent name like Slug & Lettuce, is definitely another matter in the current climate.

The message coming from the Restaurant 2002 conference was that while private equity will still look favourably on new ideas and launches, anyone looking for an exit at present, whether in trouble or not, is going to have a problem. The stock market is a no-go area, and while the big players, the SixCs and S&Ns, show no appetite for buying there will be no real market either for trade sales.

Which means that keeping your head down and concentrating on running the business is going to be the best advice, at least until the spring. For some, however, it is going to be a long, cold, lonely winter.