Egon Ronay (1915 - 2010) was a food critic whose guides to British restaurants became well-circulated in the 1950s, with many seeing his reviews as vastly improving 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 went on to stick 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. Having visited almost every service station of the time 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 Review 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 1961, Egon Ronay wrote of the new Newport Pagnell services: "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."
1977 National Review
As an example of his work, Egon Ronay's 1977 service station reviews are included below:
|Anderton||poor||"the atmosphere is pleasant even if the food is not"|
|Aust||appalling||"tomato soup had a striking resemblance to gloss paint"|
|Bothwell||appalling||"no obvious effort had been made at presentation"|
|Charnock Richard||poor||"not fit for human consuption"|
|Forton||appalling||"an insult to one's taste buds"|
|Leicester Forest East||borderline acceptable/poor|
|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"|
|Newport Pagnell||just acceptable|
|Sandbach||poor||"doughnuts like a cannon ball"|
|Tebay West||poor||"all is pleasant until you get to your food"|
|Trowell||good/acceptable||"food is almost good on occasion"|
|Washington||appalling||"tea like dishwater"|
|Watford Gap||poor||"peas nasty"|