Justin Pinchbeck – My Life in Hospitality

23 April 2010 by
Justin Pinchbeck – My Life in Hospitality

For Justin Pinchbeck, being a hotelier is in the blood. His father worked for Trust House Forte for 25 years and spent several years as number two at the prestigious Imperial hotel in Torquay. It wasn't long before Pinchbeck the younger entered the same profession.

After finishing his diploma at Oxford Catering College, Pinchbeck fought his way through a series of rigorous interviews to gain a place as a trainee food and beverage manager at the Grosvenor House hotel in London's Park Lane, where he got experience of all three of the hotel's restaurants, as well as conferences and banqueting, and cocktail parties.

"I loved it - to work in a five-star hotel in Park Lane at the age of 19 or 20 and to get all the glitz that goes with that was great," Pinchbeck says.

When the training programme finished, he became assistant food and beverage manager but worked his way to night manager. Pinchbeck recalls: "Quite a lot goes on in Park Lane in the early hours of the morning. I have a couple of stories, although they couldn't be published!"

After doing nights for a while and, as Pinchbeck puts it, having got used to eating cornflakes at 6pm, he moved on to days and was made one of the senior assistant managers.

But when Tony Murkett, the Grosvenor's second-longest-serving general manager left to become managing director of the Sloane Club on Lower Sloane Street, Pinchbeck opted to go with him to become his deputy, at the age of just 24.

"For the first six months I think I was the world's worst deputy, but working with Tony as my mentor, I learned quickly," he says.

Having gained the valuable experience of working with Murkett, Pinchbeck's next move was to join Firmdale Hotels as general manager, where he ran two hotels - Number Sixteen and the Knightsbridge. But within a couple of years he got a call from Patrick Dempsey, who was then the chief executive of Restaurant Associates, part of Compass Group.

Dempsey was looking for someone to tackle Restaurant Associates' contract with the Royal Thames Yacht Club, which the company was in fear of losing. The contract had a heavy slant on food and beverage, but there were also bedrooms at the Yacht Club, so Dempsey decided to call on Pinchbeck for his experience of both F&B and hotels. Soon after joining, he secured another four-year contract.

From there he was approached by Mark Sainsbury, Lord Sainsbury's son, to help open the Zetter hotel in London.

"It was a tough two or three years before we actually started making a profit. This was my second opening and I literally recruited the whole team and employed all the heads of departments," he recalls. But the hard work paid off, after the hotel was awarded four stars and was voted best small hotel in London in 2006.

After six years there, he moved on again, this time to Lime Wood in the New Forest, which opened late last year.

"Towards the end of my time at the Zetter I met Robin Hutson and we started to talk about Lime Wood. I had three aspirations: one was to do another opening, another was I wanted to run a five-star hotel, and I always wondered what it was like to work in the country."

Working in the country, it turns out, has its advantages but also its disadvantages. For a start, Lime Wood has to provide staff accommodation because of its relatively remote location, and working with suppliers needs careful planning.

"You have to plan in advance. I miss the black cabs, but I love walking my springer spaniel in the New Forest," he says.

HIGHS… "All of a sudden I realised I had opened three hotels without even really planning - the Sloane Club, the Zetter and Lime Wood. Every time you actually do it you think ‘never again'. An opening is a big commitment but it is certainly rewarding when you see it grow."

LOWS… "When I was finishing my training at the Grosvenor in 1991, the Gulf War broke out and started to affect trade big time in London.

"All the business expense accounts stopped. We closed down sections of the hotel and a lot of redundancies were made. Our workforce dropped down from 800 to 600."

Family: Married. No children - just a Springer Spaniel
Age: 40
Holiday: Algarve, Portugal
Drives: Audi A4
Motto: Hospitality, not hostility


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