An Italian restaurant group is to create up to 300 jobs as it expands over the next 18 months.

Tony Macaroni and Nardini's ice cream cafes have announced plans to create 20 more venues by 2015 as part of a major expansion plan across the central belt.

Six Tony Macaroni restaurants are already planned, with two for Edinburgh and one each for Braehead, Cumbernauld, Lanark and St Andrews. The other 14 new venues have not yet been revealed.

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The firm said the plans would create up to 300 jobs in the food and drink sector and accommodate more than 1000 diners.

Sep Marini is managing director of Tony Macaroni and the Marini brand of fish and chip shops, as well as joint owner of Nardini's with business partner David Equi. He said: "Over the years we have established ourselves as Scotland's leading independently-owned Italian restaurant and ice-cream brand people have grown to love and trust.

"Continued investment and development of the businesses has enabled us to offer more and more people the authentic taste of Tony Macaroni and Nardini's throughout the central belt.

"The next 18 months will be an exciting time for the company as we create an even greater choice of venues in new and existing areas, as well as creating a significant number of jobs."

Nardini's and Tony Macaroni currently have 12 venues, including Glasgow's Merchant City and Byres Road, Livingston, Largs, Motherwell and Dunfermline.

Last year Tony Macaroni secured a £1.5 million finance deal with Bank of Scotland to assist towards the acquisition and fit-out costs of freehold restaurant premises in Dunfermline and the refurbishment of another new unit in Glasgow city centre.

It said the bank would continue to advise the company on its upcoming expansion plans. The bank also provided a further £1.5m re-finance deal to assist with the transfer of the Nardini's banking facilities.

David Murray, the bank's relationship director, said: "This rapidly expanding chain of popular catering venues has already made a tremendous contribution to Scotland's food and drink sector.

"The creation of up to 300 jobs following the latest expansion will be a very welcome boost to communities as economic recovery continues.

"Our team is seeing that overall business confidence levels remain high and the food and drink sector, in particular, is pushing ahead delivering exceptional growth.

"Continued opportunities exist for the industry in the year ahead and Bank Of Scotland remains a key supporter of the sector."

Nardini's was established over 100 years ago at Largs, Ayrshire, and Tony Macaroni set up in East Kilbride in October 2007.