A restaurant with eight bedrooms, the Peat Inn has just been named AA Scottish Restaurant of the Year and won a Michelin Star in January. Co-owner Geoffrey Smeddle talks to Kerstin Kühn.
Housed in a 300-year-old former coaching inn, the Peat Inn is situated just six miles from St Andrews in Fife and was first put on the culinary map more than 30 years ago by former Catey Restaurateur of the Year winner David Wilson.
A restaurant with eight bedrooms, it was taken over in June 2006 by Katherine and Geoffrey Smeddle, who share front and back-of-house responsibilities respectively.
The husband and wife team has continued the Peat Inn's tradition of excellent hospitality with a focus on fine cuisine and locally sourced ingredients and has been rewarded for their hard work by recently picking up the AA's Scottish Restaurant of the Year award and winning a Michelin star last January.
Open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday through to Saturday, the Peat Inn's lunch clientele varies from locals within a 45-minute radius to international tourists, while at dinner, guests are a "wide and eclectic" bunch. "It's not unusual to hear a whole host of different accents in the dining room at night," says Geoffrey.
The eight rooms are consistently busy during the week and on weekends, and overnight guests nearly always dine in the restaurant.
How does it stand out
Being relatively remote, the Peat Inn has to make itself a real destination to capture trade beyond the lunching locals. To ensure standards are as high as possible the husband and wife team are as hands-on as possible.
"We have a simple, old fashioned approach to hospitality," says Geoffrey. "Katherine takes care of the business side of things which allows me to really concentrate on the cooking. It's not unusual for me to work all stations of the kitchen."
How does it market itself
The Peat Inn is part of two consortia: Best Loved Hotels and online service offpeakluxury.com. The Smeddles occasionally advertise specific events and promotions in the local press but generally rely on their own website to drive custom.
"It never ceases to amaze me how many restaurants don't recognise the importance of a good website," says Geoffrey. "We constantly update our website, change menus, update promotions and we even change the images of the restaurant and the food according to the seasons. When we add new packages we instantly notice a difference in response."
Picking up a string of awards this year - including a Michelin star, Best Restaurant in the Scottish Restaurant Awards and the AA's Scottish Restaurant of the Year - has also helped boost business.
"We've definitely noticed an increase on the back of these accolades. We have consistently improved year-on-year but this year has really seen a surge which has catapulted us into our best year yet," adds Geoffrey.
The Smeddles will close the Peat Inn for four weeks in January to completely refurbish the restaurant's kitchen. The revamp will see Geoffrey with a brand new kitchen which will include a new, more ergonomic layout and a bigger storage area.
"The two things I'm most excited about in the new kitchen are the new layout which will allow us to work much more smoothly without tripping over each other as well as a new stove, which is fantastic for any chef," says Geoffrey.
Best business advice
While both Geoffrey and Katherine had worked in the industry before taking over the Peat Inn in 2006, Geoffrey says there's a big difference in running your own business. "The biggest word of advice I can give is the importance of a big cushion of working capital," he says. "This gives you more flexibility and allows you to control your business as you stay on top of the cash flow. So many businesses fail because of a lack of working capital."
He adds that it's equally important to always look ahead and draw up future business plans taking into account numerous factors. "We always draw up more than one set of plans looking up to 18 months ahead. We take into account anything ranging from varying interest rates to increased supplier charges," he says.
SPOTLIGHT ON BEDROOMS
The Peat Inn's accommodation offers eight individually designed suites including several which are spread over two levels. The Smeddles refurbished the rooms when they took over the Peat Inn back in 2006 and in-room facilities include flat screen televisions and CD players, while fresh flowers and sherry are also placed in the rooms.
"I hate hotel kettles, they're so small and stupid. So we put proper big kettles in the rooms that boil water in a minute," says Geoffrey. "Small touches like putting fresh flowers and sherry in the rooms make a big difference."
Favourite hotel The Sala Samui on Koh Samui, Thailand, because we had our honeymoon there. It was stunning
Favourite restaurant For conviviality, gutsy food and atmosphere, the Breton bistro Chez Michel, near Gare du Nord, Paris. For full-on gastronomic indulgence, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Gleneagles
What book has inspired you? Culinary Artistry by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
What would your motto be? Cook today, paperwork tomorrow
If you weren't a chef, what would you have been? A history teacher. I didn't start cooking until after I had completed a history degree
Which hotelier do you most admire? Isadore Sharp, founder of Four Seasons Hotels
Describe your business in five words Our home, open to guests