Monday 11 March 2013

Motorway Spoons area

Tim Martin’s latest bright idea is wanting to open branches of Wetherspoon’s at motorway service areas. Now, there’s an obvious problem with that, as MSAs are not allowed to serve alcohol for consumption on the premises, and there’s no sign of that policy changing. However, setting that aside, you could well see it working. Wetherspoons already have successful branches in airports and railway stations, and anywhere there’s a lot of pre-existing customer footfall is likely to be attractive to them. And, if a non-alcoholic Spoons could be made to work, it would result in a substantial improvement in the quality and value of food available, which is often pretty dire.

It must be said, though, that for good reason Spoons have tended to fight shy of venturing into sites alongside major trunk roads, where the motorway alcohol restriction doesn’t apply. They want locations where there are already plenty of potential customers on site, not ones that most people have to specifically drive to.

Other pub operators have not taken the same view, and indeed Greene King and Marston’s have specifically targeted newbuild sites situated by major road junctions and on retail and leisure parks. And the recently developed Derby and Burton service area, situated where the A38 and A50 cross near the Toyota factory, includes a family dining pub, the Cherry Tree Farm, built by the Cloverleaf Pub Company, which was taken over by Greene King in 2011. The opportunities are there if Tim wants to take them – but those pubs are not really in line with the Wetherspoon business model. Maybe he could have tried to revive the now-demolished Bullington Cross pub at the busy crossroads of the A34 and A303 in Hampshire.


  1. With 900 odd pubs he can take a gamble on a new service model by opening one experimental outfit.

    I doubt he can offer too much of a bargain, a reasonable explanation is on wiki of cost & prices.

    but you know, there is some market for £8 burger king meals & £2 bags of haribo so he might do some business. He might also end up providing a free toilet which 90% of punters use without buying anything due to not liking being ripped off.

    Serving alcohol is neither here nor there. Punters on the road do not want a drink. Roadside temperance pubs might be an interesting model to see for when booze goes the way of fags. So long as there is root beer or vimto and not just diet coke, I'm happy.

  2. As an addition. The brewers fayre "A road type" dining carvery pub seems to be going the way of little chef down the pan, so if you ask me to take a punt, I'd gamble on "lose" unless he can serve burger & chips for around a fiver a plate, like his regular pubs.

  3. I see his thinking, but he'd be better off monopolising airports and train stations where people might want a quick drink and maybe a cheap microwaved meal whilst staring morosely at a subtitled news item. Spoons already have the whole "sitting waiting for something to happen" vibe down to a tee.

    How big a donation would it take for them to reverse the law on on-license alcohol sales at motorway services? Even I can see the problems with stopping halfway along the M40 for a few pints.

  4. In terms of wet-led pubs, there is an obvious long-term secular decline in that particular market which explains why many have closed or gone over to food-led formats. However, there isn't a similar decline in eating out, and so if you fail in that market then you must be doing something wrong vis-a-vis the competition. Greene King and Marston's clearly see the leisure/retail park family dining pub as a viable model, and fairly recently I've been in the Cloverleaf pub in Runcorn (which is in a fairly unpromising situation on an office/warehouse development) and found it absolutely heaving - although the food was IMV crap and below Spoons standards. A dining pub needs a local market, though, it can't depend primarily on longer-distance travellers in the same way as a motorway service area.

  5. I've noticed beer on sale at Autobahn service stations in Germany, and also in Belgium. Although I was travelling by coach, I wasn't tempted as it's not very comfortable sitting there with a full bladder wondering when the next "comfort stop" is going to be!

  6. From the article the pub appears to be a motorway service station franchise similar to the overpriced burger kings and what not you see there now. Not somewhere a family would drive out to visit, but somewhere for a traveler to stop.

    The thing is, this island is small. You can go end to end on a full tank. Most journeys don't require a stop. Those that do really you only need a piss. 99% of people can do without the overpriced crap.

    In order to get the traveler to stop for a bite to eat it has to be decent stuff and fairly priced. All other operators have failed miserably. Even Mcdonalds have more or less steered clear. He might succeed, he stands a better chance than most, if someone can it's Timbo, but you wouldn't bet money on it.

    Lots of successful companies do stupid things and piss shareholder money away. When tesco was at its height it decided to buy operations in America and failed miserably. M&S have tried to crack france more than once. This looks like timbos folly. But one pub outa 900 isn't a major thing so long as he doesn't drop any more balls.

  7. Lord Egbert Nobacon12 March 2013 at 15:14


    " This looks like timbos folly. But one pub outa 900 isn't a major thing so long as he doesn't drop any more balls."

    As you say, the man runs an operation with 900 pubs and you're an ex-beer blogger who has only ever stood on one side of the bar.

    Although I'm sure he's grateful for your expert opinion.

  8. Lord Egbert Nobacon: to take that argument (if sarcasm can constitute an argument) to its logical extreme, no one can have a view on anything unless they have lots of personal experience of it. That's 650 MPs out of work for a start.

  9. It’s often expressed on blogs that those with more skin in the game have a more valued opinion. A publican, brewer, beer writer knows more than your common or garden beer swilling punter. That is up to you. You can place whatever value you like on whatever opinion and it does not offend me to consider mine worthless. When it comes to Wetherspoon you can have skin in the game. You can buy a share or any number of them. If you think this venture will make or burn money, you can take a slice of that. If you, like me, follow the wisdom of Warren Buffett you will be familiar with the notion that your own opinion matters most. That as a customer you know whether a company is doing well or not. You do not have to believe the press releases of M&S when they express excitement at their new line, nor wait for the trading results. You can ask your mum, mum in law, missus what they think of them. If they tell you M&S is good this year or total crap you get a good indication of how they are flogging dresses. You know whether the supermarkets you use are getting better or worse by pushing a trolley round one. Back to beer you know whether Spoons is improving or going downhill for the cost of a pint. What you know as a common or garden punter is quite a bit and often more than the guy in charge.

    As a graduate trainee in the IT department of a national chain of stores I remember the big boss exhorting us all to support the store and buy the products we sold. All while standing up in front of us in a bespoke suit, shirt & get up he bought from a proper top notch pricey tailor. From one look of him you knew he never set foot in his own store. I give Timbo more credit than that. I gather he likes a pint of Abbot in his own pubs. Still, I reckon he is on to a loser on this one. By all means disagree.

  10. Lord Egbert Nobacon12 March 2013 at 20:05

    @ Cookie.
    The thing is " Timbo " has spent much of his career ignoring conventional wisdom and taking a punt.
    It's what separates entrepreneurs from nodding dogs in the back of cars.
    Who write beer blogs.

  11. 900 pubs with diminishing custom though, no?

  12. I'd happily take my kids in to a motorway Wetherspoons for food and a glass of coke, they just have to get the food served fairly quickly (which in my experience they do).

  13. Bar service can be slow in Spoons but IME once ordered the food is reliably quick.

  14. I see that Spoons have now got planning permission for their pub at Beaconsfield services.


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