Shares in UK restaurant operator PizzaExpress were bolstered today [Tuesday] by confirmation from the group that talks about a potential takeover bid are at advanced stage.

An industry source told the Reuters news agency the firm was considering three approaches: one from a management team backed by French private equity group PAI, another from co-founder Luke Johnson and a third from an unidentified venture capital firm.

PizzaExpress is not commenting on the parties involved or the price being discussed, but analysts forecast a bid of 300-350p per share, which values PizzaExpress at £215-251m (US$350.5-409.2m).

While the entire restaurant sector in Britain has been struggling with a slump in tourism following foot and mouth disease and the 11 September terrorist attacks, PizzaExpress seems to have fared less well than its closest rivals, notably ASK Central and Pizza Hut.

The group is trying to turn performance around by revamping its menu and giving around a third of its restaurants a facelift this financial year. One of the changes will see pizza sizes grow by 20%, a move that will not be welcomed by nutritionists concerned by the prevailing trend to gain greater customer loyalty by ‘supersizing’ portions.