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Rock Island Diner

Rock Island Diner
Used by:Granada
Successors:Little Chef

There used to be a few 1950s, rock-and-roll-themed Rock Island Diners across the country, although there are none left now. There were only ever two at motorway service areas.

At a time when Granada were rapidly expanding Little Chef, at two of their services they decided to trial a different restaurant option. Rock Island Diner had a similar appeal, but was much more lively. It had glossy chrome and red plastic fittings, 1950s-style posters, and played rock and '60s music.

Staff were hand-picked for the Rock Island gig, and put through two weeks of training, which was focused on their energy levels. A photocall for its launch had staff standing and singing on the tables. One review called it "genuinely fun to eat in", even though it wasn't very busy.

Granada's Rock Island trial began in summer 1994, in partnership with Pelican Group. Granada said it would "change the face of the motorway diner experience". A burger and fries cost £4.60, while the menu also offered southern style chicken and vegetarian chilli.

"Motorway service station food is heading for a revolution."
The Telegraph, 1994

At Tamworth, Rock Island Diner was provided in a 1940s restaurant car, which Pelican had imported from New York and it still had many original fittings, included a jukebox which charged 10c. In 1997 the branch was moved inside the main building, where its seating capacity was doubled. Insiders claimed it needed the exposure because it was failing, but Granada insisted it was a promotion.

When Granada was redesigned in 1997, Rock Island was treated as a core part of their offer. Granada said at least seven more branches were planned to be opening, but this didn't happen and instead the two existing examples were quickly removed in favour of the more simple Little Chef.

The diner format was used again by Welcome Break in 2016 with their tie-in with Ed's Easy Diner, which also used a purpose-built separate building.


Rock Island Diner used to be found at the following service areas: