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Alcohol at motorway services

The Hope and Champion.
The pub at Beaconsfield services.

Between 1961 and 1994, motorway service areas were forbidden from selling alcohol. Many people believe that this rule still applies, but it does not. Service stations are allowed to apply for a licence to sell alcohol but often they will not be allowed to allow people to consume it on the premises, indoors or outdoors.

Beaconsfield services has a full JD Wetherspoon pub. It opened in 2014 and trades mostly on the food Wetherspoons serve, but the alcohol is available and they are expected to take the same precautions that any other roadside pub might have to so as to discourage drink-driving.

The first motorway pub actually opened at Trowell services in 1975. Called The Friar Tuck-In, it was entirely alcohol-free and was aimed at families as well as lorry drivers. It was designed in response to concern that many drivers, especially in lorries, had been bringing their own alcohol with them and drinking it during their breaks. The idea was short-lived and very little has been written about it.

In 2015 Moto introduced a pub-themed restaurant called Bar & Grill.

Legal Situation

The earliest motorway services were allowed to serve alcohol with food. It was the licencing bill of 1961 that outlawed the sale of alcohol on land that the government owned next to motorways. This created a loophole where operators could build a hotel on their own land next door to their service area, and the hotel could then operate without government legislation.

When the motorway services were all sold off, a special rule was required to keep the alcohol ban going. When the regulations were rewritten in 1998, that special rule was forgotten. It's understood that this was a total oversight and wasn't supposed to happen, but after a while operators started applying for alcohol licences.

In 2008 the regulations banned alcohol again, but this only applied to new facilities and was removed again in 2013.

The Hope & Champion's status as a motorway service area meant it could remain open in the late stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite all other pubs in England facing a 10pm curfew.

These regulations have never applied to services on A-roads. Many Little Chef restaurants, for example, were licenced, and their menu included a note reminding people not to drink and drive. Pubs have played an influential role in the history of some A-road service areas, as they became important landmarks in the pre-motorway era.