Consider the following: Tebay South, a motorway service station in Cumbria, has recently been awarded an unimprovable and unprecedented five star ranking from VisitEngland. The tourist board praised the family-run and -owned business for its excellent ethics, including local sourcing, own-made food, professional service and in general making the inevitable pitstop one of unconfined joy and delight for the driver.
Now consider the next story: Little Chef, that perennial roadside favourite, has had an ignominious time of it in recent years, not least the debacle that was its alliance with Heston Bloomin-Ecky-Thump at its Popham branch – clearly that idea went down like the proverbial… In the last year they’ve closed their Sheffield HQ and 67 of their 161 sites across the country, leading to hundreds of redundancies. They’re rebranding their signage in a bid to help us forget who they are. Their latest tale of woe comes courtesy of a rushed and peckish waitress who decided to take her apple pie dessert home as she hadn’t had time to finish it during her allotted lunch break. Putting aside the matter of actually wanting to leave the premises with Little Chef leftovers (would this – could this – improve the pie?), the act resulted in her immediate dismissal as apparently it’s against their rules to leave the premises with food (clearly a short delay does not improve the eating quality…). Compare and contrast with the family-run, jolly Tebay South services – who no doubt would press upon you a slice of pie for the journey along with accompanying warmed custard – and you wonder how, with their polar-opposite business methodology, the two can exist in the same universe.
In fact, the vibe is a little more positive than the latter story would have you believe. VisitEngland have apparently been terribly impressed by the level of service in our service stations across the country. Of the services reviewed in their Motorway Service Area accreditation in conjunction with the five main operators, 90% achieved a three-star ranking or above and 19% more services achieved a four-star ranking than last year.
We think it’s good to know that someone somewhere is keeping an eye on one of the most neglected areas of the hospitality industry (although it’s almost impossible to locate the listings on the website (just Google it) – why make such useful information hard to access?). We are so reliant on service stations, it makes it almost unfathomable why some of them – in fact whole motorways of them – are so generally appalling (hands-up anyone who’s ever enjoyed stopping on the M1. Anyone…?) Their captive market makes it almost impossible to complain, or at least feel said complain is acknowledged. It’s good to know that there’s an association on our side.
We want to know your recommendations. Have you come across a really excellent/independent service station? Do you even visit specially? What are your horror stories? Do tell.