Over the years, service stations have received bad press for being overpriced and dirty – yet they’re still a necessity for anyone on a longer journey. With more than 100 motorway service stations in the UK, surely their image isn’t all bad?  Some now even resemble high-end farm shops – offering homemade cakes and freshly baked bread! So, which is your favourite motorway service station?

Engineius has a network of more than 600 self-employed drivers and transport agents who collect and deliver vehicles all over the UK daily and naturally have driving experience in their leisure time, too. So, who better to ask?

Tebay services on the M6 received the most votes from the 121 respondents, with consistent praise for this family-run business that sources food locally and provides multiple EV charging stations. It was reported as looking and feeling welcoming, modern, and picturesque – setting it apart from other outdated and neglected service stations. Moreover, the locally sourced food and drink was considered overall to be of higher quality.

The population is becoming increasingly environmentally and economically aware, with home-based initiatives such as recycling, insulation, and water meter installation. It is encouraging then, to be reflected by the Engineius’ drivers too, with the move to electrification and the desire for locally sourced produce, along with a picturesque environment when they take a break highlighted. 

Close behind Tebay, were Rugby (M6), Gloucester (M5) and Annadale Water- (A74(M)) services. With comments about these four popular service stations seeming to highlight what matters most to the average motorist: 

  • “Fresh, well-cooked produce. No chains with inflated prices. Great fresh products on sale from local farms and great service too.”
  • “Stunning scenery, an independent retailer, and a nice selection of cheese! “
  • “Very scenic and lots of wildlife around.”
  • “Clean, nicer environment and farm shop food.”

Fast food chains did not hold the same attraction as the better-quality food from an independent retailer, and all with a nicer environment which provided somewhere Engineius’ drivers said they felt more comfortable stopping.

Over 50% of drivers stated that their primary reason for stopping was to refuel or recharge a vehicle. With plenty of electric charging points, situated close to the entrance, considered a main reason why some drivers had selected a particular service station as their first choice.  

Other reasons for stopping on a journey were as expected, with the need for a toilet break coming next. Followed by getting a hot beverage, stretching their legs, buying food, or just meeting someone.

Seventy-three percent of drivers stated that they are more likely to visit a motorway service station on their return journey rather than on their way to their destination. This preference could be attributed to the fact that they begin their drive in a well-fuelled or charged vehicle, making it more likely for them to require refuelling or recharging on their return. 

The length of their journey was a deciding factor on if, or when they would stop at a service station. The largest share of the votes at 42% indicated that they would stop once they had been driving for 3 hours, and only 13% of drivers would stop after 1 hour on the road. How long do you drive before you make a stop?

For most, this is a quick pit stop, with nearly 90% of drivers saying the length of their stay would be less than 30 minutes. Clearly, the reason for the stop and any queuing involved can add to this time, but what came out loud and clear in the survey was that even if the visit was short, Engineius’ drivers want the surroundings to be pleasant, the facilities to be clean and the food to be of a high standard, as well as good access to EV charging points.

Are we seeing a changing need for the service station? With scenery and green space highlighted as key reasons to stop. Perhaps what we see in France, with their stops called ‘aire de repos’ (rest areas), that do not have amenities but are just a place to take a break, could also be a popular addition to the motorway network across the UK. 

The top four voted service stations all seem to be incorporating this aspect too, so it would appear that Engineius’ drivers are not choosing the cheapest option but the ‘whole package’. 

Knowing that the Great British public vote with their feet, will this mean the demise of the ‘grotty’ service station we remember from previous decades and growth in the more pleasant farm shop feel? We do hope so!