Happily, in spite of the hugely negative publicity generated by the demise of Little Chef, and your correspondent Derek Allen (Caterer, 4 January, page 18) stating that "people don't want to sit down for a meal on their way to visit the in-laws any more", I can confirm that there's still a lot of life in the roadside market.
We operate an expanding chain of authentic US-style diners (currently eight). Our formula is not rocket science but freshly cooked, good quality food served by friendly and efficient staff in a clean and well-maintained environment. Doesn't seem a lot - obvious, really - but something that the large operators seemingly struggle to achieve. Incidentally, we went fully non-smoking three years ago after talking to our customers and have seen the business grow from strength to strength since.
Although the business market is without doubt increasingly time-pressured, there's a huge family/leisure market out there, people who do want to break their journeys for a "proper meal" with waitress service and good food in a pleasant environment. I know from many of our regular customers that they actively plan their routes around our locations, so that they can make a pit stop with the family and enjoy a burger and shake in one of our OK Diners.
So let's stop the doom-mongering. Not all roadside food consists of "ropey paninis" and dodgy coffee - there are those of us out there going strong. Give customers what they want, and they return time and again to prove it.
So there is an alternative to the big brands…
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