Lilley’s extensive involvement in the sector spanned the creation and building of restaurant chains including Est Est Est and Piccolino, founding the software firm Fourth Hospitality, as well as the birth of BigHosptality's sister title Restaurant in 2001.
A passionate and committed businesswoman, Lilley launched Restaurant as an alternative and inspirational chef-focused magazine ‘for the professional and the passionate’. It developed into the leading trade title for the UK’s eating-out sector, and spawned the hugely successful World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2002.
The business was sold to Restaurant’s current owner, William Reed Business Media, in 2005.
With her husband, Derek, Lilley opened her first restaurant in 1980 in Parkgate, Cheshire. The pair went on to establish the Est Est Est chain, which they sold to City Centre Restaurants (now The Restaurant Group) in 1993.
They then formed the Individual Restaurant Company, building successful restaurant brands including Piccolino and The Restaurant Bar & Grill.
In 2000, the Lilleys created Fourth Hospitality as a software provider specifically tailored to the leisure and hospitality sector. Having built Fourth into a successful international business employing 250 people, the couple sold a stake in it last year in a deal that valued the company at £50m.