by Tony Halstead Mitchells & Butlers has reported a high level of interest from entrepreneurs keen to take on new-style pub franchises across its estate. The company says several houses in the latest batch of 27 advertised for lease have attracted large numbers of gastro-pub operators. But franchise development director Peter Thomas says it will be several weeks yet before the first deal is completed. Agents are still drawing up lists of candidates applying for each house before M&B begins the job of selecting the successful bidders. "We have had a lot of interest, particularly in the food-led businesses, where gastro-pub operators have been very prominent," Thomas said. "There is no shortage of quality and we have managed to attract exactly the type of skilled operator we wanted." M&B has earmarked 50 pubs from its estate which it feels are no longer suitable for direct management. It has launched a new franchise lease operation designed to put the pubs under the control of hands-on entrepreneurs in a bid to get them back to previous levels of trade. Two different franchise leases are being offered one for branded operations such as the Irish concept O'Neills and the other for non-branded pubs. So far 15 of the 50 houses have been converted to the new lease arrangements. In addition to normal rent, operators are also required to pay an annual franchise fee of 5% of turnover to reflect the high standard of infrastructure of the pubs in question.