Tell us more about the Tommyfield Hotel Rooms
Peake: We had been thinking about rooms for years and it’s been an evolving conversation between us. I thought it would happen when we took a pub outside of London - a country pub with rooms would obviously work. But then we realised that there are more and more people with pubs in London sticking rooms above them, and catering to different markets in different locations.
Reynolds: The Tommyfield fit the bill in terms of location, as it’s very central - a mile from the London Eye, a mile from the Houses of Parliament, a mile from the US embassy, and it’s a very up-and-coming area.
What appealed to you in the idea of running a hotel?
Reynolds: My father never had hotel rooms, but he always said that if he had them he’d be making money in his sleep, because people are paying to sleep.
Fox: There is a financial consideration of course, it’s a business, and we wanted to make use of space that wasn’t being used as well as it could be. But also there is also the hospitality element of it - the whole package of taking care of someone’s entire stay. At the moment we feed and water them, but if we could move into that space where they spend the night with us as well, that’s a lovely part of hospitality.
Peake: I’ve always dreamt of getting into small hotels. To be able to offer that all-round hospitality, look after people and take it on to another level by doing it all day and all night is a wonderful thing to do. The design bit is fun as well. It’s a creative thing and it’s new and it’s a new challenge.
How did your experience running pubs help you in this new venture?
Fox: To a degree it remains to be seen as we’re just starting out. From a design side, Tom’s experience helped enormously. Operationally there are things that you just know about how to provide people with an experience that they enjoy, remember and want to repeat. That’s just part of hospitality. But the other elements we’re going to learn over the next weeks and months.
Is this the start of a diversification of your business?
Fox: We’d like this to be the start of a diversification. Assuming that the Tommyfield rooms go well, we’d definitely like to continue. There is scope at the Latchmere and the Rosendale to possibly add rooms, so it’s definitely a direction that we’d love to move in more and more. We wouldn’t go into hotels on their own for the moment, but it is a long-term possibility for if and when we sell the pubs, not that we’re looking to at the moment in any way.
What are the plans for your pubs?
Reynolds: World domination (laughs). We’re trying to get north of the river, and we’re getting closer and closer and closer to it.
Fox: The bottom line is that we’re always looking for new pubs to take on. We would like to expand faster than the rate we’ve been going at, but the number of sites and the competition for them means that it is increasingly difficult to expand. The market London has weathered in the last six years or so means that there is a wall of money here - private equity, big pubcos, banks that are much keener to lend. If a good site comes along, a lot of people want it. Taking on The Latchmere and doing the hotel rooms was quite a bit for this year already. We may do some work at the garden of the Stonehouse to see if we can get more all-year-round use for that.
Peake: We want to grow organically. It’s very nice because we are private so there is no major push on us to take a lot of sites. We’ve got quite an old-fashioned attitude and model in a way and we need to keep growing but we don’t want to outpace ourselves.
What tips would you give to other pub companies that are looking to diversify?
Fox: Make sure you spend the money on the things you need to spend money on. You want to have comfortable rooms with a luxury feeling. It’s an important element, particularly in central London where people are quite discerning and there are endless options.
Reynolds: Manage your expectations: when you open a pub you’re busy straight away because people see it and pop in for a pint or a burger, so it’s an impulsive thing. Booking a hotel room takes a lot more planning. So it will be a slow burner – it takes two or three months to build business.
Fox: But the great thing is that the cost of running it is much less than the cost of running a pub, so you can afford to start a bit slower.
Reynolds: Keep your focus – We’ve got interest in a farm maybe to make our own charcuterie as well and we like to look around a little bit but at the end of the day we’re in pubs. Hotels are a natural movement, but we know what we’re good at, and we’re going to stick to it.
Peake: Some people are like kids in a sweets shop, starting lots of different things at the same time, but there’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple and focusing on what you’re good at.
What are your favourite things about working in hospitality?
Reynolds: Opening parties.
Peake: There’s a wonderful thing about breathing new life into a dying pub. Hearing a regular of 30 years at the Latchmere saying how much he loves the new look is just wonderful. People feel this real connection, almost ownership of their local pub, so to take on a place that’s had no love put into it in years is great. These pubs belong to regulars - we’re just temporary custodians serving the people and giving them what they want.
What would be your main piece of advice for young people wanting to start a successful career in hospitality?
Fox: Don’t do it by yourself. One of the great joys for us has been to do it together. If you’re doing it on your own it’s very tough and demanding, with very antisocial hours. So my advice for anyone starting out would be: if you can do it with a couple of great friends, it will help a lot. But make sure that you can inhabit different areas of the business, otherwise the potential for conflict is really high.
Peake: Yes, we complement each other very well, and that’s probably one of the reasons for our success. Don’t underestimate how much hard work it is. There’s certain glamour to this industry, and there’s lots of fun times to be had, but it’s not going to work unless you’re willing to put in the work.
Reynolds: We started when we were quite young - 26, 27. That was an advantage to us, because we were quite happy to be earning nothing as we didn’t have any children or mortgage. We were happy to do 80 hours a week and earn £2 an hour. If you leave it too late you almost miss it. Money’s not important when you start, and if it is, it’s probably the wrong thing for you. You’ve got to do it because you love it, and money will come if you’re good at it.
Peake: Don’t skip your experience and groundwork. I worked in lots of different places, which was a conscious decision because I wanted that breadth of experience. Small and big hotels, bars, restaurants - I had eight years to learn, as much from good examples as from bad examples.