COVID-19 Service Station Updates
Almost all motorway and A-road service areas have remained open, and will continue to be unless they are advised differently by the British and/or Irish governments.
As HGV drivers are categorised as "essential workers", service stations must continue to provide the bare minimum facilities. Those facilities are free toilets, free short-stay parking, a place to buy a snack, and fuel; all available 24 hours a day on the motorway (reduced opening hours on some A-roads).
Some of the larger service areas have arranged queueing systems outside their doors, in case these are needed.
- 1 Specific Details by Operator
- 2 When will service stations reopen?
- 3 Timeline of Events
- 4 Message From Us
Specific Details by Operator
We have been provided with the following specific details:
View our list of Moto services - under each branch we have posted a list of exactly what is open.
As a general rule, Moto are providing:
- WHSmith shop (all sites)
- Hot food menu (some sites)
- M&S Simply Food store (some sites)
- Burger King (most sites; limited menu)
- Costa Drive Thru (some sites)
- 3 hours free parking (raised from 2 hours)
The limited hot food menu is available free of charge for those who purchase overnight HGV parking, or for a charge of between £3 and £5.
Full information from Moto: this was our source; check with them to confirm details.
View our list of Welcome Break services - under each branch we have posted a list of exactly what is open.
As a general rule, Welcome Break are providing:
- either Waitrose or WHSmith shop (one of the two at all sites; some sites vary by side)
- a coffee machine branded Starbucks or Costa (all sites)
- a Starbucks Drive Thru (limited sites only)
- a KFC or Burger King (limited sites only)
- 2 hours free parking
Further openings are expected on 2 June.
Food vouchers issued during the 'lockdown' will be accepted until 31 July 2020, regardless of their expiry date, where no food was available at time of issue.
Full information from Welcome Break: this was our source; check with them to confirm details.
View our list of Roadchef services - under each branch we have posted a list of exactly what is open.
As a general rule, Roadchef are providing:
- WHSmith shop (all sites)
- Hot food menu (some sites)
- Spar store (some sites)
- Costa Drive Thru (limited sites)
- 4 hours free parking (raised from 2 hours)
NB: Bothwell (M74) is currently open 6am to 10pm only. All other buildings are open 24 hours.
Roadchef do not own any petrol stations, but all of their services have a petrol station run by another company attached. Those petrol stations are reported to be open as normal, but there may be exceptions in Scotland.
Roadchef report that they have increased their range of ready meals and introduced microwaves for drivers to use at all services. Food vouchers issued during the 'lockdown' will be accepted until 31 December 2020, regardless of their expiry date.
HGV parking for stays of 4-24 hours is now £15 at all sites. HGV parking at Bothwell is free. A free coffee voucher is available online for HGV drivers.
Previous problems reported with toilets and showers have been resolved.
Full information from Roadchef: this was our source; check with them to confirm details.
Extra are providing toilet/shower facilities. The attached petrol stations are normally run by Shell and should be open as usual.
Full information from Extra: this was our source; check with them to confirm details.
They report that petrol station and toilet/shower facilities are open. Their buildings are only open 10am-3pm, but their petrol stations/truckstop are open 24 hours and have showers.
The petrol stations are selling hot food from their farm shops. Reusable cups are not being accepted, but the loyalty scheme is continuing for people who present them.
Full information from Westmorland: this was our source, check with them to confirm details.
Euro Garages (EG Group)
Euro Garages run Rivington motorway service area, as well as many motorway and A-road petrol stations.
They have not shared any specific information, but they will be meeting the bare minimum requirements outlined at the top of the page, where applicable. Please note that most Euro Garages sites are not official service stations (as recognised by the Department for Transport with official road signs), and do not need to meet those requirements.
Stop 24 Folkestone
Stop 24 Folkestone has a shop, petrol station and toilet/shower facilities.
Full information from Stop 24: this was our source, check with them to confirm details.
Petrol stations owned by BP are mostly open as normal. Wild Bean Cafe is closed until 31 May 2020 at the latest. Hot drinks are always available at some (not all) sites.
Please note that not all BP petrol stations are owned by BP, and franchises will be able to operate their own policy. Also, most BP petrol stations are not official service stations and don't need to commit to the bare minimum outlined at the top of the page.
Full information from BP: this was our source, check with them to confirm details.
McDonald's are beginning to open their McDelivery service and drive thru lanes across Britain and Ireland.
All British and Irish drive thrus are scheduled to open between 2 June and 4 June 2020. This excludes motorway service areas.
Applegreen (UK & Ireland) are reporting that their branches are open as usual. There has been no word on their food franchises: in Ireland, many of their Burger Kings and Bakewells are known to be trading.
Applegreen are now reintroducing some Subway stores.
Reusable cups are no longer being accepted. Free hot drinks are provided to emergency service front line staff in Ireland.
Full information from Applegreen: this was our source, check with them to confirm details.
Ireland's Circle K's motorway and major road sites are open, with a deli counter.
Full information from Circle K: this was our source, check with them to confirm details.
Plaza Group (Supermac's)
Most Supermac's restaurants are closed. The petrol stations at their Plaza Group motorway services are reported to be open.
Full information from Supermac's: this was our source, check with them to confirm details.
Lidon Group (Junction 14)
Lidon Group operates Junction 14 Mayfield services. It has not reported any changes. Supermac's and Papa John's are available as a drive & collect service.
Full information from Lidon Group: this was our source, check with them to confirm details.
When will service stations reopen?
Everybody wants to know when life will return to normal, but we're here to talk about service stations.
Many well-known food brands are anxious to get open again, and throughout May 2020 they will be experimenting to see how they can manage their kitchen and public areas while maintaining social distancing. This will lead to procedures which can be applied in fast food restaurants across the country, including in service stations.
For service stations there is an additional concern. If everybody is staying at home, they might drive to their local drive thru, but they aren't going to be dining in service stations. The number of customers is currently extremely low and even if it was safe to reopen, it might not be commercially viable.
Over the next couple of weeks operators will be closely monitoring the government's announcements, the success of the restaurant trials, the amount of traffic on the roads and the public mood, all to decide what the right course of action is. We are expecting many major brands to announce their plans very soon. There is unlikely to be a sudden return to normal, but there may be a gradual reintroduction of many facilities.
The UK governments has announced that sit-down restaurants may be allowed to open in July, which gives us some idea of the timescales we are looking at, but in practice most service stations will be focused on takeaway food for the time being.
Timeline of Events
In early March 2020, everybody (including road users) would have been aware of what was happening in the news, and of the importance of practising good hygiene and social distancing. The British government had released its Coronavirus action plan on 3 March, but most people will only remember Boris Johnson's summary of it: "wash your hands and business as usual".
On 10 March, Applegreen were thought to be the first operator to publicly mention COVID-19.
On 12 March, the Irish government announced the closure of all schools and Boris Johnson made a chilling statement about deaths, but from the perspective of the road transport industry, there was still no public indication that major disruption was ahead. Events like Cheltenham were still filling service stations with thousands of customers.
The first it started to become public and clear that major changes were going to happen in every industry was on 16 March 2020, when Ireland's Taoiseach made a speech advising that unprecedented times were ahead. This was also the date that we received reports that service stations in France were closing, although these aren't necessarily comparable to the big British service stations.
On 17 March, McDonald's announced that following "UK and Irish government updates", all of their branches would be takeaway and drive thru only. This meant Roadchef and Circle K had to remove seating areas, while most A-road service station branches locked their doors completely.
On 18 March, Roadchef were the first major British operator to speak about COVID-19, advising that they were open and quieter than usual. Westmorland also advised similarly. Service stations had been stepping up their hygiene procedures, but reported that soap and hand sanitiser was being stolen.
Over the following days Moto and Roadchef announced discounts for health workers.
On 20 March, the British Prime Minister announced that all sit-down restaurants were going to have to close that night. Reports suggest that at least some operators were surprised by this announcement, and had so far been advised that the situation wasn't that serious. Earlier that day, the Prime Minister had advised that he would be travelling to visit his family.
While food stores were still allowed to open as takeaways, many big brands figured that they didn't want to be forcing their staff to work. Of course, whether that was for moral, PR or financial reasons will vary by brand. Most service station restaurants are run as franchises, which might have meant they could still open, but in some cases the brand didn't want to be seen to be open and were quite forceful about it.
Over the next few hours Starbucks, McDonald's, Costa, Greggs and Subway are some of the firms (of interest to us) who announced closures. Service station food offers became takeaway only, and game arcades were closed. Welcome Break initially advised that Starbucks drive thrus would still be open.
Customer reaction was mixed: complaints were received that the offering was too much and put profit before safety, while others (especially lorry drivers) complained that the offering was too small.
Things changed again on 23 March, when the British Prime Minister announced the so-called 'lockdown'. Supermac's, KFC, Wild Bean Cafe and Burger King announced closures. British service stations confirmed that their shops were going to be their main food offering.
There was confusion and concern among HGV drivers. Some had already experienced being refused access to toilets and showers at non-motorway sites, especially delivery addresses. Now Roadchef had been accused of doing the same. They later advised that they were reviewing their cleaning processes, and that there had been an internal misunderstanding. Reduced HGV parking prices were introduced.
Behind the scenes, Highways England and the Department for Transport were communicating with all British service station operators about what facilities were available. There were some reports that they were unhappy with what service stations were doing, but evidently an agreement was reached.
Despite the initial confusion and internal panic, by now things appeared to have settled down. Most service stations were trying to provide petrol stations, toilets and showers, and a shop and/or grocery store. They faced frequent and justified dissatisfaction for not selling more food, but they argued that they were having to contend with health advice, the closure of their brand partners and a phenomenal drop in trade - quoted as being up to 85% less than usual.
Some services were having issues with staff shortages (with Bothwell being frequently named), but most were over-staffed and placed most of their staff on the government's furlough scheme. Internal sources also told us that some staff were unhappy with the amount of abuse they were receiving from the public.
Over the Easter Bank Holiday, Motorway Services Online reported that its page views were around 2/3rds below their usual level. The actual fall in road users would be much more than that, but our figures include enquiries and people who are reading from home.
The settled situation lasted for a few weeks. By mid-April, all three of the large operators were reporting issues. Their premium grocery stores, despite being the main food offering, were receiving very little custom. They all announced that up to 70% of these would be closing, while they investigate other options.
In the last week of April, Moto began a new campaign to win over disgruntled HGV drivers. A small hot food menu to some of their WHSmith stores, free of charge to those who had paid for parking, available under the slogan 'Hot Meals Matter'. The free parking allowance was increased, and HGV drivers were offered free coffee from Costa Express. Roadchef followed with similar offers.
By May, many fast food brands were looking at opening their city centre locations, mainly for delivery. This didn't impact service stations, but Moto did open one Costa drive thru.
On 10 May 2020, the UK government relaxed restrictions on car travel (although there was considerable debate over whether this applied outside England). Motorway Services Online reported an immediate increase in queries; up more than double the previous week. BP announced a plan to reopen their Wild Bean Cafés and hotels were provisionally taking bookings.
In Ireland, McDonald's announced their plan for reopening, although rivals Burger King had kept some of their branches open, and Supermac's had recently reopened some. Subway then announced that they were returning.
On the evening of 13 May, Moto and Welcome Break both made steps towards returning to normal, with Moto announcing a plan to reintroduce Burger King, and Welcome Break announcing the immediate reopening of some Starbucks Drive Thrus and KFCs. Within a week, a number of food brands at both operators had reopened, with Roadchef opening Costa Drive Thrus on 21 May. The highly anticipated opening of a small number of McDonald's Drive Thrus happened on 20 May, including the branches at Sittingbourne services and Chelmsford services.
By the end of May, most service areas in England had some-sort of food brand. McDonald's seeks to open all their drive thrus in Britain and Ireland by 4 June 2020.
Message From Us
We appreciate that the current environment is difficult for everybody, including both those who's lives have been disrupted and those who are expected to carry on as normal.
Not much has been said about the staff who work at service stations. Many will have their own concerns about their own health risk; many will be worried about their friends or family; and many will find the current working environment stressful.
Yet they are still turning up every day to do their job; to meet their employer's obligation to provide a service and to make sure that the place follows all the current health guidelines. To them, and to those of you who are being kind to them: thank you.