Wednesday, 5 June 2013

One for the road?

Three months ago, I reported how Wetherspoon’s had applied for planning permission to build a pub at the Beaconsfield service area on the M40. These plans have now been approved and they expect to open before Christmas. Not surprisingly, this news has attracted a wave of ill-informed and often hysterical comment, so it’s worth getting a few facts straight.

For a start, this is not a service area that can only be accessed from the motorway, like Knutsford and Keele. It’s off a roundabout at the motorway junction and can be reached from the general road network. If you look at the location, it’s close to a number of substantial built-up areas from which, like any dining pub, it is likely to draw much of its custom. I’d say it’s likely that a majority of customers won’t be long-distance travellers. Wetherspoon’s would not be interested in a service area right out in the country.

There are already large numbers of pubs in out-of-town locations that are mainly dependent on car-borne customers. While this blog may express regret over the extent to which they have become dominated by the food trade, they are not, by and large, responsible for substantial levels of either drink-drive offending or antisocial behaviour. Take, for example, Robinson’s Windmill at Tabley which is right next to Junction 19 of the M6. And there’s already a pub, the Cherry Tree Farm, at Derby and Burton Services which, although it is at the crossing of two major A-roads, effectively fulfils the same function as a motorway service area.

It also must be remembered that, while some may wish it otherwise, it remains legal for drivers to consume some alcohol provided they remain within the legal limit. You would be perfectly entitled to eat your Gourmet Burger, down your pint of Ruddles, and be on your way, just the same as millions of people up and down the country do lawfully and safely every week. Mind you, I suspect the location, and the fact that it will probably be one of Spoons’ more trendy and less “pubby” designs, will act as something of a deterrent to consuming alcoholic drinks anyway.

The Wetherspoon spokesman was quite right to place the emphasis on individual responsibility by saying “We believe the majority of people that use the pub to drink will be people that aren't driving - coach parties or people travelling with others. We won't be asking them whether they are driving. It's up to them.”

The catering at motorway service areas has long been notorious for its high prices and low quality, and surely this introduces a welcome element of competition. The idea that it will result in the widespread drink-driving problems that some fear is quite far-fetched and simply not borne out by the experience of the many similar pubs that already exist.

It’s ironic that the news comes shortly after it was announced that the once-iconic Little Chef roadside dining chain is finally to be put out of its misery. Rather than trying to keep a failed brand going, it must be a good idea to give one of Britain’s most successful eating-out operators a crack at the market. If it proves a success, I can see it being rolled out to other service areas in similar locations such as Hopwood Park on the M42 near Reddish. If it fails, then Spoons have the muscle to stand the loss and will deserve credit for having tried.


  1. All the reasonable priced travel outlets appear to be slightly off the motorway and of course there is no sign on the motorway network to them.

    this is quite interesting on pricing

    and this book appears popular enough to warrant a few publications (10th Edition)

    Good publicity for Spoons, lets lots of people know about it. The A roads are full of struggling dining pubs, maybe Spoons pricing is the magic formula.

    The £4 Burger and soft drink is a better option than the £8 Burger Kings.

  2. I always plan my longer car journeys using the Good Pub and Good Beer guides for an enjoyable meal/drink break in a convenient location. I probably wouldn't pick a busy Wetherspoons for this though although it's great to have the choice.

  3. Actually I haven't noticed any out-and-out dining pubs closing in the local area, Cookie, and some seem to do very good business, the Brunning & Price chain in particular.

    It always used to be said of the "Good Beer Guide" that it conveniently fitted in the glovebox - but the book has become bigger over the years and gloveboxes smaller ;-)

  4. This forum post by a young local guy explains the situation in the surrounding area very well, I think. It underlines the point that most of the customers will be locals, not travellers.


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