Edmund Inkin worked in banking before he joined his brother Charles in the family-run hospitality business EAT DRINK SLEEP in 2002. The business has grown from one site – the Felin Fach Griffin near Brecon in 2000 – to three in the last 17 years, with The Gurnard’s Head and The Old Coastguard in Cornwall joining the fold. Inkin tells Hospitality & Catering News about working with family, why you get the guests you deserve and the importance of guides.
How did you and your brother come to work together?
Charles set up the business in 2000 after buying the Felin Fach Griffin with a friend. He’d trained at Ballymaloe in Ireland and was a very good chef, although he tends not to spend too much time in the kitchen any more. At about the same time I stopped working in London – it was time to move on into a real business and it made sense for us to work together. I’ve always looked after the numbers and marketing, while he’s a very good host and chef. We come at it from very different angles but it makes a very complimentary business.
What is it like working with family?
Working together is fine. There will be times when he’ll think one thing and I’ll think another and we’ll probably need to bite our lip, but broadly it’s fine. Generally, I’m wary of partnerships and think it can be a difficult thing to do. We have had several moments where we could have done partnerships with other people and we’ve had to look at it very carefully. The only partnership we do have is with Robin Dorrien-Smith and the Tresco Estate in Cornwall at the Old Coastguard and that’s because we felt confident he was a good person to do business with. I think you need to be wary of partnerships with people who aren’t family. Family is the glue that holds things together.
What do you love about working in hospitality?
When I worked in banking, a lot of what we did was hypothetical. The bank would be paid a lot to produce something that was theoretical and may or may not happen, whereas when you get involved with a business like this, every decision is real and affects someone for good or for bad. I enjoy working in a ‘real business’.
We are lucky that we work in a part of the market we like – we like the food our teams cook and the bedrooms that are here. If I worked in another part of the sector I might not feel that, but everything here is a reflection of what we we love in our lives. Sometimes we focus more on making the customer happy than what’s good for the business and I think that’s the right way round, but sometimes it does become more challenging in an industry that is financially tough. Generally we are really lucky to have nice people who visit us, but I’m a great believer in that you get the guests you deserve, so having the right approach to hospitality helps.
When the business formed the mantra was ‘simple things done well’ does that still apply now?
It rings even more true now than it did before because the world has gone in a direction where facilities or measurable things, cost and glamour have become important to people, but I think you have to rein back sometimes to the basic thing that make people happy, which is sharing a conversation with people you like around good food and drink. I think human engagement is what makes people happy most of the time and that’s what we try and focus on here. We’ve never had televisions or iPod docking stations in our bedrooms and we made that clear right from the start. We didn’t want a reminder of the world that our guests were trying to escape from. We just provide really comfortable surroundings and that seems to still work now.
All three of your pubs with rooms have won numerous awards and are listed in some of the top guides, how important are those awards and guides listings to your business?
For a place starting out, they are important, because they give credibility. For us, being in some of the guides on a continuing basis demonstrates consistency and that’s really important to us. It’s important that we’re seen as consistently getting better as 17 years is a long time to be operating at eye level. The fact that we’re still in many of them is the thing I’m most proud of. Guides like The Good Hotel Guide are really good at picking out the wheat from the chaff and making sure people remain on top of their game. Some guide books don’t inspect and aren’t really assessing the quality, but those that do are so valuable.
Awards are still quite important in that they help to demonstrate that you’re performing at a high level and are still current and relevant. From a marketing perspective you have to keep getting your name out there and awards do that.
What industry issue would you like to solve most?
There are plenty of existential challenges for the industry to deal with which are being given a lot of column inches at the moment, so I will leave those to others. For me, hospitality would be a better place without that small minority of guests who think it’s acceptable to throw their weight around with waiting teams. It’s cowardly and weak and shows shoddy manners. We encourage guests to email us directly if they have a problem: it’s a more grown up solution.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?
My brother’s DNA runs through this business and he was the starting point with his friend. They thought this up and created the theme, so he has to be the inspiration for the business. I think he’d agree that our mum is also a great inspiration for us in terms of hospitality, because she taught us how to look after people, what a bedroom should look like and how important food is to family life.
Who do you admire in the industry?
I go to some of the industry conferences because I want to hear people talk. I’m fascinated to hear how they run their businesses. I heard Jeremy King of Corbin & King talk at The Independent Hotel Show last year and the 45 minutes in which he spoke were truly valuable to me. I wrote a lot of notes and still look back at them now. I recommend anyone goes to conferences to listen to people. You learn so much. Whenever I stay in another hotel I take pictures and gather ideas and I’d hope that others would do the same with our hotels. There’s not one particular person or business I aspire to be like, but I do like to listen to what others have to say.
Do you have plans to expand the business, or is three the magic number?
Three’s definitely not the magic number. I suspect it will be five or six. For the economics of a business like this five or six is a good number, but we’re not looking at anything in particular at the moment. We are just watching to see if the right sites come up. I think the market is in danger of being in over-supply quite soon and there is pressure on the market from the likes of Airbnb and specialist camping places. People consider so many different options now, not just hotels or pubs. It’s an uncertain market right now and I think we all just need to take care.
Hospitality & Catering News, Interviews Editor