Ask Italian and Zizzi owner Azzurri posted an increase in full-year sales as it explores expansion, although its margins continued to be flat due to higher costs.

For the year to 1 July, the group’s total sales increased by 8.5% to £279.8m as against the previous year, with like-for-like growth seen across all brands.

Owned by private equity company Bridgepoint Capital, the firm also operates Coco di Mama and Radio Alice.

The earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) margins dropped from 14.5% in 2017 and 15% in 2016 to 13.2% this year.

Azzurri said it had taken measures to ‘mitigate industry cost pressures’.

“We’ve been very cautious about putting prices up and worked hard to offset a lot of those costs.”

Higher labour costs, business rates and food price have added pressures to the margins. According to the group, it still ‘continued to outperform the market’.

Due to quick expansion, debt burden and a saturated market, failures and restructurings were experienced this year by casual dining chains, including Jamie’s Italian.

Private equity-backed Italian chain Prezzo recently said trading was challenging despite closing more than 100 restaurants.

Speaking to the Press Association, Azzurri chief executive Steve Holmes said it had been ‘a very challenging year from a cost perspective’.

He said: “Today, the consumer is looking for great value. So, we’ve been very cautious about putting prices up and worked hard to offset a lot of those costs.”

The group currently has 290 restaurants and intends to open more in the near future.

Following a successful launch in Ireland, it plans to open a third location by the end of this year.

Its coffee and pasta chain Coco di Mama is set to open more locations in London.

The group stated that its revenue from home delivery had grown steadily and serves as a ‘big opportunity’. Revenues through its vegan offerings had increased to 8% of the total sales.

To offset Brexit risks and cost inflation, Azzurri said it remains committed to locally sourcing the majority of its ingredients.