* Barry Nightingale leaves with immediate effect
* Latest in series of management changes at company
* Shares down 2.3 percent (Adds analyst, company comments, details, share movement)
By Esha Vaish
April 21 (Reuters) - Restaurant Group announced on Friday the immediate departure of finance chief Barry Nightingale, less than a year after the owner of the Frankie & Benny’s chain brought in the former head of Monarch Airlines to help turnaround its business.
The company, which has been trying to improve service across its 488 restaurants and pubs in Britain after reporting lower annual profit in 2016, said it had started the search for a new chief financial officer.
A spokesman for Restaurant Group said the board was looking for a finance chief with a different skill set to support new Chief Executive Andy McCue, who joined in September from betting firm Paddy Power to help drive the company’s recovery.
Nightingale, known as a turnaround specialist, joined the company ahead of McCue’s appointment last year and has helped the company through its strategic review, the outcome of which was announced last month.
The company is battling increased competition from food-focused pubs and a drop in visitors to retail shopping parks, where many of its outlets are located, and said in March it had put the brake on expansion plans until it could verify its brand and location strategy was “sufficiently robust.”
Analysts said that while Nightingale had helped to stabilise Restaurant Group’s performance, it was likely the company was seeking someone to lead the owner of chains Chiquito and Coast to Coast through the next phase of its turnaround.
“Nightingale’s departure comes at a time when menu prices are about to drop (Frankie & Benny’s new menu is imminent), at the start of a possibly long turnaround period for the company,” Peel Hunt analysts wrote, cutting the stock to “hold” from “add”.
Restaurant Group’s shares, down about 50 percent since the start of last year, were 2.3 percent lower at 357 pence at 0803 GMT, the third biggest fall on London’s midcap index.
CEO McCue has already made five management changes since his appointment, bringing in former employees from brands such as Costa Coffee and Paddy Power to help steer Restaurant Group, which is also facing an increase in buying costs due to a weaker pound and higher taxes.
Nightingale’s departure, first reported by Sky News, marks the exit of a third top boss in about a year, after Nightingale’s predecessor was ousted last April and the company’s former CEO was removed following that.
The company is due to publish a trading update on May 26. (Reporting by Esha Vaish in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Potter)