Roadchef is the smallest of the biggest operators. Being the only one of the big three not to have had an affair with Granada, Roadchef tended to stand out. They now have one of the oldest brand names on the motorway network.
Roadchef's most popular partner is by far McDonald's, a contract they negotiated in 2012. Roadchef are keen to point out that their McDonald's franchises do not charge a motorway premium.
To help customers who are worried about social distancing, Roadchef's website allows customers to see how busy they are, and to pre-order some snacks online.
Roadchef have only really had two house styles: tall, glass buildings from the last 25 years and a low-roofed, dark, more secluded design for anything previous. Inside, both have had their restaurants stripped out and turned into a walkway which takes customers past all of their food offer.
The head office used to be located in Barnwood, Gloucester, before moving to a purpose-built space at Norton Canes. Norton Canes is arguably their premier site, one of the busiest and most profitable, and repeatedly the most highly-rated in England. The 2019 survey graded Roadchef as the most popular of the major operators.
In 2014 they purchased their only A-road service area at Sutton Scotney, refitted each unit. Further investments in greenfield sites were proposed at the end of the decade.
By the 2020s Roadchef began to focus on their more personable credentials, drawing attention to their many sustainability policies, their success with Transport Focus and their appearance as the only service area operator on the UK's Best Companies list. By 2022 they had been named the UK's seventh best big company to work for.
After an unsuccessful stint with McDonald's in the 1990s, and a period of falling behind competitors who were building new shops and popular fast food stores, Roadchef formed a new partnership with McDonald's in 2008. This time, under a more relaxed franchise agreement, it was a success and eventually rolled out to all their sites, which has significantly increased turnover. In 2015 they also joined their rivals in providing convenience stores, with Roadchef's partner being SPAR.
After several experiments with restaurants, Roadchef appear to be the only one of the main operators to be pursuing their sit-down restaurant format. Fresh Food Cafe has one of the more extensive menus available, even though it takes the format of a food counter rather than a traditional motorway buffet.
New restaurant refurbishments have included posters with local history.
Recently Roadchef have began to sell some of their forecourts to Euro Garages, allowing them to focus on the more profitable amenity buildings. By the end of 2017 Roadchef had moved their focus entirely to hospitality, rather than trying to balance it with fuel sales.
Following COVID-19, Roadchef launched their "outdoor summer" campaign. This involved adding kiosks to the front of their busiest service areas, to help with capacity and visitor confidence. Curiously, as well as including the popular names that are already well-known as service stations, Roadchef also turned to much smaller firms like The Phat Pasty Co., Flatstone Pizza Co. and their own The Garden Square Deli. Elsewhere, they suggested their new Catterick services have a farm shop selling local produce. It is unusual for such a large operator to be so willing to deviate from their usual franchise partners, but they have suggested that the 'outdoor summer' would be used as an opportunity to trial potential new brand partners.
As with other operators, Roadchef are now investing in their charging facilities, but they are also the first to provide them with wet weather protection, perhaps in preparation for a British outdoor summer.
Roadchef currently work mainly with the following brand names, either as a franchise or similar arrangement, or as one of their own creations:
Catering: Costa, Chozen Noodle, Fresh Food Café, LEON, McDonald's, The Breakfast Kitchen, The Cornish Bakery, The Garden Square Deli, New York Bakery Co., Costa Express, Krispy Kreme, West Cornwall Pasty Co.
Shops: Cotton Traders, SPAR, Top Gift, WHSmith
Main Amenities: Fourex Money Exchange, GRIDSERVE, Game On, Jackpot £500, Regus Express
Hotels: Days Inn
Roadchef have previously used the following brands:
Catering: Cafe Continental, Coffee Republic, Dr Beak's Chicken, Foodfayre, Hot Food Co, O'Briens, onRoute, Orchard's, Pizza Hut Express, Restbite, Subway, The Burger Company, Wimpy, Wimpy Chicken, J.J Beano's, Typhoo
Shops: Boots, Fone Bitz, reStore, RoadShop
Main Amenities: Ecotricity, Regus Express
Hotels: Travel Inn, RoadChef Lodge
Fuel: BP, Texaco
See also: History:Roadchef
The Roadchef name was first used in 1972. Despite several problems with finance and image they continued to grow, taking in several former operators and working with many different brand names.
While they broke through as a motorway operator, they also had a side-gig as a chain of restaurants on smaller roads, which never really took off.
Roadchef's first logo showed a motorway symbol wearing a chef's hat. On amenity buildings, the company name would be written as one word, in gold/beige.
In the late 1970s, the logo was completely changed to showing a mug and a chef's hat, all in red. It would sometimes be accompanied by the slogan "serves the traveller". The company name would be written in exactly the same font.
In 1984 another new logo was introduced, which for the first time emphasised that "RoadChef" is two words. The 'Road' was written in light blue and the 'Chef' in dark red, each word with a large capital letter that looked like it was about to eat the following three letters. Interiors were normally brown, with tainted windows and bare brick walls.
This was simplified in 1989, when the text was made entirely red and a red border was introduced. Spin-off brands RoadShop and RoadLodge were proposed in the same style. Evidence of this logo can still be found, if you know where to look. A blue background was used, and each branch had its own welcome sign, along with dark blue internal road signs (where non-standard ones were used). From 1997 they worked with Pentangle Interiors.
In 2001, another significant change was made, this time writing the company name entirely in lower case and adding a halo below. In a refurbishment carried out with Lucid, each site was given a new, red welcome sign at the road and building entrances. The 'chef' portion was emphasised and the corporate branding began to insist that 'Roadchef' was one word again.
In 2006, Roadchef's Managing Director suggested names like theirs could be phased out of public use in favour of big brand names. The first sign of this was in 2005 when, in line with the other operators, Roadchef started promoting themselves as 'Roadchef Costa Coffee', in what they called a "campaign" against government regulations that preventing them promoting their facilities. Part of the trial at Strensham involved making the headerboard read 'McDonald's Costa', leaving their own name out entirely, something which the others soon picked up on.
Within their service areas, Roadchef continued to use their own name, alongside their partner brands. Changes to the advertising regulations in 2012 saw them happy to continue.
From around 2013, the Roadchef logo would normally be written in red on a plain background, or white on a clear background, but was substantially unchanged. All service areas now have large Elonex advertising TV screens placed over road junctions. As of 2018, internal road signs are now provided in bright red, often with the company logo.
See also: List of Roadchef services
The following services were owned by Roadchef:
- Harthill (M8)
- Nene Valley (A45)
- Nuthill northbound (A1)
- Teddington Hands (A435/A438)
- Thrussington (Green Acres) southbound (A46)
- Winchester (M3)
Roadchef are currently developing plans to build:
The following service areas were planned by Roadchef but they were never built:
- Calcutt (A419)
- Gloucester (previous design) (M5)
- Great Wood (M4 westbound)
- Hesley (M1)
- Seven Bridges (A419)
- Wootton Bassett (M4)
A further 'restaurant and filling station' site was planned at Springfield retail park on the A34 near Stoke-on-Trent. This wasn't on a main road and would have catered mainly for local traffic. It's the only known venture of its kind from Roadchef.
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