AN Edinburgh-based tour operator has announced plans to roll out a chain of cafes across the UK and Ireland, starting with outlets at its key departure points of Glasgow, London, Dublin and its home city.

Rabbie's Small Group Tours, which takes tourists to the Highlands and Islands, Lake District, Hadrian's Wall, Devon and Cornwall, will open the first Rabbie's Cafe at 6 Waterloo Place in Edinburgh.

Further cafes in Glasgow, Dublin, London and a second cafe in the Scottish capital are expected to follow, but in the long run Robin Worsnop, who owns the business with wife Martha Robinson, is looking to grow the chain beyond the departure locations the tour business operates from.

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Mr Worsnop, who chairs the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG), developed the concept after handing the day-to-day running of Rabbie's Tours to the group's managing director, Hazel Rickett.

He said opening a cafe had been a long-running ambition.

Mr Worsnop said: "It is very much part of the Rabbie's experience and an extension of the offering to our customers.

"I had the idea of running a cafe about 18 years ago, but I didn't have the time or money at that stage of the business.

"It is really to have a place where our customers can come and have a coffee before they go on a tour and come back [to]. It is open to all passing trade."

He added: "We are looking to this as a new development and an extension of our values and beliefs in hospitality. We are using this [Edinburgh] as a prototype."

The inaugural cafe, which is scheduled to open on February 24, will occupy a former wedding shop in a Grade A listed building close to the Balmoral Hotel.

It will focus on salads and sandwiches based on ingredients sourced as locally as possible, as well as freshly-made smoothies and gluten-free goods.

The cafe, which will employ three full-time staff as well as "a number" of part-time roles, will have a strong emphasis on coffee, with its baristas to be known as "Rabistas".

An initial £150,000 will be spent on the fit-out, with Mr Worsnop noting that the 10-year lease on the premises will amount to an outlay totalling £1 million.

The building will also double as its head office and also take over from the city's High Street as the departure point for the firm's tours from Edinburgh.

Mr Worsnop said: "We have it in mind that we may need a second one in Edinburgh. To cater for the number of customers we have just in Edinburgh, we may need a second terminal.

"Forward thinking, we are looking at whether if we start operating from other cities we might open a cafe first, to give us a bit of an infrastructure base.

"Beyond that, if all goes well we will eventually look at rolling it out in its own right."

Rabbie's Small Group Tours was established by Mr Worsnop in 1993, when he secured a loan from his brother to buy a mini-coach.

Now operating a fleet of 37 vehicles, with tours departing daily from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin and London, it achieved a 40% increase in turnover to £4.85m while declining to give a profit figure in its most recent financial year.

It had booked sales of £3.5m the year before, with Mr Worsnop stating that it has grown "almost fourfold in the last five years".

And he declared the continual development of new products could usher in even more radical growth, suggesting that the group could be a "£200m business in 10 years".

Rabbie's Small Group Tours, which employs 80 staff, hosted 50,000 passengers on more than 4000 tours in 2012. Mr Worsnop said passenger numbers had grown by 20% last year and had started 2014 strongly.

The entrepreneur said 2014 will see the firm launch new tours to the islands of Arran and Mull, and cover the length and breadth of the Outer Hebrides for the first time. Mr Worsnop said while 90% of Rabbie's Small Group Tours customers are "overseas in origin", around 40% are based in the UK.