Egon Ronay (1915 - 2010) was a food critic whose guides to British restaurants became well-circulated in the 1950s, with many attributing his reviews to a vast improvement in the 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 stuck 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 Report 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 2000, Egon Ronay worked with Welcome Break to create a new menu for Food Connection, after remarking that their all-breakfast tasted like they had been hanging around all day. His advice led to the creation of Coffee Primo. In doing so, he managed to raise customer satisfaction to an impressive 70%.
In 1961, Egon Ronay wrote about the new Newport Pagnell services. After his first visit, he wrote:
Occasionally good words were spoken. In 1990 Ronay said that Trusthouse Forte were "the stars", while in 1972 he spoke highly of Harthill and Tebay. In 2000 he again spoke highly of Tebay, as well as Magor.
By the 1990s, Egon Ronay's criticisms were at their harshest, and service areas had almost become resistant to it.
He complained that he had to spit out a Yorkshire pudding at Sedgemoor because it was "pigsswill", and among the worst food he had encountered for 30 years. He described Gordano's steak and kidney pie as "having the consistency of axle grease".
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"|