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.