PUBS group Mitchells & Butlers yesterday said it was optimistic about Christmas trading as it switched to a food focus to compensate for slower drinks revenue. <br /><br />The group said that it has recently introduced its “winter menu” to take advantage of the rise in consumer confidence, which has sparked people to splash out on good value food.<br /><br />M&B reported average food sales per pub jumped nine per cent as the company cut staff turnover and opened a kitchen skills academy for training. <br /><br />Food now accounts for 41 per cent of its sales, from 38 per cent of sales a year ago.<br /><br />The firm posted a 24 per cent fall in pre-tax profits to £134m for the year to 26 September – when it was hit by rising wage, alcohol duty and energy costs, as well as the onset of recession. <br /><br />But M&B said it was outperforming both the eating-out and drinking markets.<br /><br />The group, which owns All Bar One and O’Neills pubs, also revealed its chairman Drummond Hall, 50, will step down as chairman “once an appropriate successor is in place”. <br /><br />Chief executive Adam Fowle said: “Mitchells & Butlers has produced a robust operational performance in challenging conditions.”<br /><br />The pub chain said it also hopes to make £20m in cost savings during the year.