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Egon Ronay

Motorway restaurants were rarely seen in a good light.

Egon Ronay (1915 - 2010) was a food critic whose guides to British restaurants became well-circulated in the 1950s, with many attributing his reviews to a vast improvement in the catering standards at the time.

By the 1970s Egon Ronay regularly featured motorway service stations in his reviews. Often creatively written, he rarely had a good word to say, and operators blamed much of their poor reputation (which stuck for the following 30 years) on what he had to say.

In response, service station operators argued that he was reviewing them as if they were a fine-dining restaurant, yet by this point service stations had found most customers just wanted a cheap and quick meal. He would complain about their use of frozen and convenience foods, and draw comparisons with transport cafés as if that were a bad thing. Customer satisfaction was never as bad as his comments would have you believe. Although seeing as he had visited every service station several times over, there is no doubt that he also had to digest a lot of terrible food.

His reviews formed part of the government's Prior Report into motorway service area regulation in 1978, which concluded that the quality of service area varied dramatically, but not all were as bad as their reputation would have you believe.

In 2000, Egon Ronay worked with Welcome Break to create a new menu for Food Connection, after remarking that their all-breakfast tasted like they had been hanging around all day. His advice led to the creation of Coffee Primo. In doing so, he managed to raise customer satisfaction to an impressive 70%.

Positive Review

In 1961, Egon Ronay wrote about the new Newport Pagnell services. After his first visit, he wrote:

Stop with confidence. Sensibly devised dishes which you can eat at the counters in full armchair comfort served as if you sat at a traditional restaurant table. The other room was neat and appetising whenever I ate there and has tables too. Charges are very reasonable.

Occasionally good words were spoken. In 1990 Ronay said that Trusthouse Forte were "the stars", while in 1972 he spoke highly of Harthill and Tebay. In 2000 he again spoke highly of Tebay, as well as Magor.

1995 Sample

By the 1990s, Egon Ronay's criticisms were at their harshest, and service areas had almost become resistant to it.

He complained that he had to spit out a Yorkshire pudding at Sedgemoor because it was "pigsswill", and among the worst food he had encountered for 30 years. He described Gordano's steak and kidney pie as "having the consistency of axle grease".

1977 National Review

As an example of his work, Egon Ronay's 1977 service station reviews are included below:

Services Verdict Notes
Anderton poor "the atmosphere is pleasant even if the food is not"
Aust appalling "tomato soup had a striking resemblance to gloss paint"
Birch poor
Bothwell appalling "no obvious effort had been made at presentation"
Burton West appalling
Burtonwood acceptable
Charnock Richard poor "not fit for human consuption"
Corley poor
Exeter appalling temporary facilities
Fleet acceptable/poor
Forton appalling "an insult to one's taste buds"
Frankley acceptable
Gordano poor
Hamilton poor original building
Harthill poor/appalling original building
Hartshead Moor poor
Heston poor
Hilton Park poor
Leicester Forest East borderline acceptable/poor
Leigh Delamere acceptable
Keele appalling "the public wisely fixed their own boycott"
Killington Lake poor original building
Knutsford acceptable/appalling "food is not arranged with any idea of presentation"
Medway poor
Membury just acceptable
Michaelwood appalling
Newport Pagnell just acceptable
Rownhams acceptable temporary facilities
Sandbach poor "doughnuts like a cannon ball"
Scratchwood poor
Southwaite poor
Strensham acceptable/poor
Taunton Deane poor
Tebay West poor "all is pleasant until you get to your food"
Toddington acceptable/poor
Trowell good/acceptable "food is almost good on occasion"
Washington appalling "tea like dishwater"
Watford Gap poor "peas nasty"
Woodall moderate/poor
Woolley Edge poor