Exams aren’t everything, as Robin Hutson proves. He failed all but three of his O Levels, but is one of the UK’s most successful hoteliers.
As CEO of Lime Wood Group and Home Grown Hotels (The Pig Chain) Robin has changed the atmosphere of British hotels forever. We find out more over a perfectly poured cup of tea…
Espressos, no ties in restaurants and power showers. When you launched Hotel du Vin in 1994 you reinvented hotels.
None of those things sound like much, but they were revolutionary at the time. Now that I’m at the other end of my career I’d love to help the young with their ideas.
Hospitality is seen as a tough career. Is this still the case?
The industry had a terrible reputation, but long hours for little pay is, by and large, no longer the case. There’s such a staff shortage that if you did run things in an abusive way you wouldn’t be able to operate.
How do you challenge perceptions?
We actively attract bright youngsters in transient phases of their work life – students on holiday or in gap years, for example. Often they realise there could be something in it for them. Five years ago we set up an internal management scheme called Budding Entrepreneurs. At our most recent opening in Kent, six heads of department were Budding Entrepreneurs.
What do you look for in employees?
I don’t care if you’ve zero qualifications or a double degree, you need a passion for the true sense of hospitality. One of our bar managers has a degree in chemistry. Yes she makes great cocktails, but what she brings to the job can’t be learnt at hotel school.
What challenges is the industry facing? Recruitment is a serious problem. Hospitality has never been acknowledged by the Government as an important part of our economy, despite accounting for around 10% of the total workforce. The number of technical colleges has been reduced, and apparently Brexit means we don’t want as much immigration. There seems to be a presumption that technology will cure everything. Environmentally it’s really scary – I was freaked out the other day when I learnt that every plastic toothbrush ever made still exists. As a business we try hard, we don’t use plastic packaging and have got rid of the in-room amenities that don’t get used.
“I don’t care if you’ve zero qualifications or a double degree, you need a passion for the true sense of hospitality”
Is there anything you don’t love about your job?
There are a lot of plates to spin. Hanging on to the boring bits while doing the creative bits is challenging. You have to keep an eye on health and safety regulations and financial metrics or you don’t have a business. I don’t want to spend my life pouring over spreadsheets. I’d rather be on the riverbank with chef Mark Hix talking rubbish!
Your wife Judy is Home Grown Hotels’ interior designer. Have your sons gone into the business?
Ollie, the eldest, runs the 20-odd kitchen gardens for The Pig hotels. My other son is the artist of the family and works as a tattooist in Brooklyn, NYC. Tell us about The Pig: Tales and Recipes from The Kitchen Garden and Beyond I’m very excited about our first book. It’s a nice reflection of what we do: food, design, gardens. My favourite recipe is the monster vol au vent with homegrown mushrooms.
We’re launching Grade II-Listed Madehurst Lodge near Arundel, and the Poldark-esque Harlyn Bay near Padstow. The latter has incredible views of the coast and has been a private house since 1638.
Tales and Recipes from The Kitchen Garden and Beyond