LONDON -- To me, capital growth and dividend income are equally important. Together, they provide the total return from any share investment and, as you might expect, my aim is to invest in companies that can beat the total return delivered by the wider market.

To put that aim into perspective, the FTSE 100 has provided investors with a total return of around 3% per annum since January 2008.

Quality and value
If my investments are to outperform, I need to back companies that score well on several quality indicators and buy at prices that offer decent value.

So this series aims to identify appealing FTSE 100 investment opportunities and today I'm looking at Whitbread (LSE:WTB), the hotel and restaurant company.

With the shares at 2415 pence, Whitbread's market cap is 4,335 million pounds.

This table summarizes the firm's recent financial record:







Revenue (millions of pounds)






Net cash from operations (millions of pounds)






Adjusted earnings per share

79.23 pence

93.1 pence

90.53 pence

111.79 pence 

127.38 pence

Dividend per share

36 pence

36.55 pence

38 pence

44.5 pence

51.25 pence

Year to February.

In a recent update, Whitbread revealed that the current trading year is going well, with double-digit sales growth in its Premier Inns division and a star performance from its Costa brand, which has grown by almost 27%, including sterling 7% like-for-like sales improvement.

Last year, Costa accounted for 30% of total revenue, enough to make the fast-growing coffee brand interesting to Whitbread investors. But growth seems strong across the whole brand portfolio, which also includes the well-known names Beefeater and Brewer's Fayre.

Full-year results are due at the end of the month; I'm expecting them to be good, which could bode well for total investor returns from here.

Whitbread's total-return potential
Let's examine five indicators to help judge the quality of the company's total-return potential:

1. Dividend cover: Adjusted earnings covered last year's dividend around 2.5 times. 4/5

2. Borrowings: Net gearing is around 40% with net debt about 1.5 times operating profit. 4/5

3. Growth: Revenue and earnings have been growing with support from flat cash flow. 4/5

4. Price to earnings: A forward 13 looks up with growth and yield forecasts. 3/5

5. Outlook: Good recent trading and a positive outlook. 5/5

Overall, I score Whitbread 20 out of 25, which encourages me to believe the firm has potential to outpace the wider market's total return, going forward.

Foolish summary
There's strong scoring in all the business-quality metrics shown here, and the valuation looks fair. I think Whitbread looks worth buying on the dips for that steady growth and I'm considering it along with a share that one of the Fool's top investment writers has uncovered.

He has put his money where his mouth is by investing and believes the share is the "Motley Fool's Top Growth Share for 2013". In this new Fool report, you can discover how the firm has reenvisioned itself to allow for tremendous growth along new horizons. Right now, the report is free to download and tells you exactly why our expert has invested in, and expects strong growth from, this changing company with a strong pedigree. To get your copy, click here.

Kevin Godbold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.