(Changes number for UK workforce in third paragraph of APRIL 27 story after clarification from company)
* 65 pct of UK staff are from other EU countries
* Firm "reaching out" to sources of British labour
* 2016 core earnings up 11 pct
* Targets 500 stores by end of 2017
By James Davey
LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) - Coffee and sandwich chain Pret A Manger wants to increase the number of Britons working in its UK shops to cushion it from potential damage if European Union workers stay away after Brexit, its boss said on Thursday.
The status of citizens from other EU countries living in Britain has been clouded by last June's Brexit vote with the UK government yet to guarantee their rights, saying it first needs a reciprocal deal with the EU.
Of Pret's over 8,000 UK workforce, some 65 percent come from EU countries other than Britain.
"We’ve been reaching out to British labour pools in a way that we never had to before," Pret Chief Executive Clive Schlee told Reuters.
He said Pret, majority owned by private equity firm Bridgepoint, was increasing its use of social media and links with UK job centres in its recruitment strategy.
This summer the firm will launch its "Big Experience Week" offering 500 week-long paid work experience placements to British school students.
"We're very encouraged by the response...So we feel that we will be able to maintain our diverse, our tolerant and our very competitive culture, but with a higher British percentage over time, said Schlee.
The chief executive also welcomed industry debate on the idea of "barista visas" for EU nationals after Brexit - allowing them to work in Britain but not be eligible for benefits.
Schlee was speaking after Pret, which is believed to be looking at a stock market listing, reported an 11 percent rise in 2016 core earnings.
Pret made core earnings of 93.2 million pounds ($120.2 million) as total sales rose 15 percent to 776.2 million pounds. Sales at outlets open over a year increased 4.8 percent.
The outcome was a twelfth straight year of revenue and core earnings growth. In the United States sales exceeded $200 million for the first time.
"So far 2017 has followed a very similar pattern to 2016, so we haven't seen a slowdown yet," said Schlee.
On Tuesday Whitbread said underlying sales at its Costa Coffee chain fell in its fourth quarter. The group also said it was cautious about the 2017-18 financial year, saying it expected a tougher consumer environment.
Reuters reported last month that Pret's private equity owners had chosen Solebury Capital to advise on a planned New York stock market listing..
Pret opened 50 new shops in 2016, taking the total to 444, including 329 in the UK and it now also trades from France, Hong Kong, China and Dubai. It expects to have 500 shops by the end of 2017, including its first in Singapore. ($1 = 0.7754 pounds) (Editing by Kate Holton/Keith Weir)