Pub and restaurant group Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) says “buoyant” food orders have allowed it to successfully offset falling sales of beer.

In a trading statement for the six months to 5 April, the owner of the All Bar One and Harvester chains said like-for-like food sales rose 4.8%.

While the equivalent beer sales fell 1.4%, overall like-for-like sales were ahead by 0.6% across the company.

M&B said the smoking ban had helped to attract more diners.

“The smoking ban has widened the appeal of the pub, especially to consumers who previously did not eat out in pubs due to tobacco smoke,” it said.

Takeover target

M&B had been a takeover target for rival pub chain Punch Taverns, but Punch withdrew its proposal at the end of last month.

Punch said the terms of its offer, made in February, were no longer in the best interests of its shareholders. It had proposed paying M&B’s shareholders £175m for the company.

M&B became vulnerable to takeover after losing £274m through a collapsed attempt to spin off property assets.

In August last year, M&B was planning a joint venture with property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz, involving up to 2,000 pubs.

It set up financial transactions to protect the venture against changes in interest rates and inflation.

But at the last minute, the banks declined to back the venture, leaving M&B with big losses from the transactions.