Spotlight Interview: Charlie Gilkes (Inception Group)

Charlie kindly agreed to an interview with us to discuss the state of the hospitality industry today. He founded the multi-award-winning Inception Group with his partner Duncan Stirling in 2009 and they have made it their mission to create unique and memorable experiences ever since.  


How did your career in the hospitality industry start?

I ran and promoted club nights whilst I was still at university. Our first late-night venue was Kitts, in partnership with Sloane Square Hotel, and our first independent venue we owned was Barts in Chelsea Cloisters, which is still going strong 11 years later.  We now have Barts, Maggie’s, Cahoots, the two Bunga Bungas and the Mr Fogg’s chain, of which there are six.  


What projects are you currently involved in – what have you got planned for Inception Group for the next year?

 The key focus for us is on reopening all of our venues and welcoming our loyal customers back.  We are looking to keep on improving on our guests’ experiences in our current estate.


What pitfalls do new bar concepts fall into when creating a new venue?

When people start out they need to be bolder, don’t follow the crowd, make a name for yourself.  Quite simply: people need to innovate rather than imitate.

The other trap that new operators fall into is starting too big.  You need to make the numbers work on smaller venues and concepts before moving onto larger projects. My advice is to start small!

“You need to make the numbers work on smaller venues and concepts before moving onto larger projects. My advice is to start small!”

You also need to work out who your customers are going to be. Once you understand your demographics and what kind of concept they are attracted to, things will become a lot easier for you.  


What would be your one piece of advice to new businesses launching a new bar?

Cash is king, turnover vanity, profits sanity.  


What do you make of the challenges facing the industry due to the pandemic and how do you think bars will adapt to overcome them?

Customers will be far more cautious, so hospitality will have to continue to reassure our guests that we provide safe spaces to socialise and do business in. Higher levels of hygiene and hand-washing will become the norm.  


A lot of retail has moved online, but hospitality can’t move online. We have to innovate and prove that we can remain relevant to the way people socialise. 

“hospitality can’t move online. We have to innovate and prove that we can remain relevant to the way people socialise.”

People will always want to socialise face to face rather than virtually, so we just have to keep that in mind and provide for that need.


Another ongoing challenge has been the tenant/landlord relationship. I see more flexibility in the future with landlords basing their fees on the performance of the tenant’s business – a more collaborative and supportive relationship.


The past year has been the worst on record for our industry – what positives do you take out of it?   

It’s brought the industry much closer together. We really have been ‘all in it together’ and I’m sure that spirit will continue for a long time. We are all backing each other and celebrating other successes now. 


There’s a real sense of a ‘united hospitality’ and people like Kate Nicholls (CEO UK Hospitality) have been absolute stars, speaking up for all of us in the industry and fighting our corner. 


I think that in the wider population people have realised how important hospitality is in their everyday lives. It’s an industry that needs care and love and can’t be taken for granted.

It was great talking to Charlie.  He has done an incredible job creating nighttime venues with personality and quality. 


Inception Group has been so successful because he knows his market so well.  All their venues have huge personalities and eccentricities, allowing them to stand out in a competitive marketplace. They have successfully found the right balance of ensuring a high-quality product, whilst maintaining a laser focus on profitability. All their venues have fantastic cocktail offerings and wonderful, attentive staff which people are happy to pay a premium for.

It has been a great pleasure to witness his success over the years and we wish Inception Group a swift bounce back this year. For those of you who haven’t visited one of their venues, we suggest you make a booking soon to experience some truly innovative cocktails, bars and atmosphere.