The motorway service station has been around since Watford Gap opened in 1959. Back then, it was all fine dining and table-side service – what we’d call a ‘destination event’ today, but sixty years later, it seems that the prices are still aimed fine dining, but without the experience, or table-side service, or decent food.
A cheese sandwich, refrigerated sausage roll, ready salted crisps, Wine Gums, Dairy Milk chocolate, Coke and water – typically around £6.90 from the average supermarket, but if you’re shopping at a motorway service station, expect to pay a little more. OK, maybe more than that, and that. In fact, those seven items could cost you over £16.
We’re fully aware that motorway services tend to make the most of their pricing and captive audience, but an average of 14% more expensive for fuel, and a whopping 135% costlier than a supermarket for snacks? That’s quite a markup.
Of course, if you ask one of the service station operators, those prices are completely justifiable. A spokesman for Roadchef, which operates 30 different services on 21 sites, cornering 24% of the market share and generates revenue of around £115m per year, said:
“Motorway services are complex businesses and, unlike many high street operations, are required to be open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. We also maintain around 10-40 acres of land around our sites, as well as access roads, lighting, extensive parking areas and in some instances, water treatment works. It means that our overheads are significantly higher than the majority of supermarkets and convenience stores.”
“Our own research suggests we are competitively priced against other service areas on these products and we strive to offer customers a range of choice in all areas, including fresh, high-quality sandwiches and snacks which are prepared in our own on-site kitchens in most cases.”
It’s worth noting that the Heart of Scotland services (M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow) would charge just £9.31 for the same items.
The top ten rip-offs
Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be much of a North/South divide, with just £0.51 covering the top ten, covering regions from the North East and the West Midlands, through to London, Wales and the South East.
- Durham Services A1(M) – £16.21
- Lancaster (Forton) M6 – £16.17
- Woolley Edge M1 – £16.17
- Hilton Park M6 – £16.16
- Leigh Delamere M4 – £16.16
- Beaconsfield Services M40 – £16.01
- Bothwell Services M74 – £15.96
- Magor Services M4 – £15.81
- Birchanger Green M11 – £15.75
- Reading Services M4 – £15.70
Bottled water seems to be the favourite for inflated prices, with some service stations charging as much as 420% extra over a typical £0.44 price from the supermarket, with the Beaconsfield services charging £2.29 for just half a litre. All services offer free water refills though.
For some years, government ministers have been promising to clampdown on the price inflation, but to date, nothing has been done, and there’s no plans to do anything. Clare Egan, head of Motor Product at Admiral Insurance (that commissioned the mystery shopper research) admits that most drivers expect to pay a levy for the convenience of the motorway service station, but that the prices at some service areas are nothing short of “highway robbery”.
“Grabbing the essentials from home or at least a supermarket before setting off could result in some big savings on the overall cost of your journey. Given the availability of free water refills at all of the service stations and the push to be plastic-free, motorists don’t need to spend anything on bottled water, let alone a forking out as much as 420 per cent more than in a supermarket.”
“Many of us will be making cross-country trips with our families over the coming weeks, and it will be tempting to stop en route for a snack or petrol. By planning ahead, you could avoid the hyper inflated service station costs, save some money for Christmas and help the environment at the same time.”
A reasonable cost
In the world of marketing and commerce, there’s a saying that goes along the lines of “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” – think along the lines of Facebook, Google, Twitter et al … it’s your data that’s of value to the company.
Clearly, when a company is offering a service (such as the motorway service areas), you expect to pay a premium for the convenience, but at what point does that ‘premium’ become blatant profiteering? While the operators claim to be ‘competitively priced’ with other providers, that doesn’t really say much, aside from the fact that they’re nearly all charging too much, and it’s unlikely to end anytime soon.
Do you use service stations? Are you happy paying the extra for the convenience? Or is it just a case of a bathroom break and nothing else? Let us know in the comments.
Image credit: © Copyright Mark Anderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Use free toilets,full stop.
You’d be better off using free toilets, short stop….
Next Coin operated doors?
So do I, but if you drive on the continent you find that the toilets at motorway services are generally coin-operated. UK M-way services have to contend with 24/7 opening hours, a large turnover of short-stoppers such as you and me, who don’t buy anything and – most of all – they have to contend with outrageous site rental fees. If government is serious about tackling hefty pricing, it could do its own bit by reducing the site fees. Simply by charging for toilet use, M-way services could start to offer better value on the goods they sell, which paradoxically might then help them to sell more as well. Final note – I once stopped at services somewhere in Belgium and had a fantastic freshly-cooked meal from a buffet for around ten euros. Just that experience improved my opinion of Belgian M-way services and I didn’t begrudge spending 50 cents on the toliet afterwards. UK services could learn a thing or two.
It never ceases to amaze me that the main thing that hits you in the service areas is the amount of gaming machines, partnered with smelly toilets, and the feeling that dirty old men are watching people in the gents. Yuk
Really… I think you spend too long in the toilets.. 😂
Beware the limbo dancers!
Winky watching ummmmm, not my cup of tea! Next you’ll be paying for lip service hehe
Thieving bastards. I avoid them like the plague
Of course these places are expensive..always have been but ,to be fair, standards are way higher than the bad old ‘Wimpy’ days. As the man says, the loos are free and you get to stretch your legs. Plan ahead..take a picnic.
I do take a picnic. Including a flask of coffee. let the dog out, use the toilet, maybe even have a sleep, but I do park in the far corner of the overflow section. I only sleep for 10 minutes more than that is counter productive.
We always take our own sandwiches. And plan fuel stops for off motorway if we can. Using petrol prices.com helps with that if you plan ahead a little!
Regularly do NE Derbyshire to Portsmouth. I carry a flask and food. I make sure I have enough fuel for the journey. Cherwell services about halfway for loo break. Until they become realistic in their pricing I continue in same manner.
Always start a long journey with a full tank from the cheapest local filling station. Take our own food and drinks for the kids. Only use the services for toilet breaks
I remember a story a few years ago where security at at least one service station was moving people on for eating their own food while parked on the car park. Don’t know if this still happens.
You don’t know if it happened then. Just a story!
I don’t recall seeing ANY ‘security’ at my many stops over the past year?
And a quick kip 🙂
I use the services every single day for commuting the 100-150 miles to work and back. I make my lunch and buy drinks from the local supermarket. I always have a coffee and sometimes have a bacon roll in the morning. At Hilton Park services for example you can get a decent coffee and bacon roll from Greggs for £2.70 👍. Get a coffee from Costa and you pay £3.30 just for a coffee and to be fair it ain’t a great deal better 👎. Never ever buy fuel or water or snacks as they’re a rip off !
Coffee is dubious at the best of places with Costa serving up the blandest of liquid. What amuses me is the sight of those buying the largest size coffee. A small bit of mental math of volume in vs capacity to retain and unless you intend to have the inside of the vehicle like a sauna sweatbox, that liquid equates to yet another stop in the place you least want to spend time in.
Aye greggs is value for money
150 miles to work an back? Is it worth going to work since it costs you about 300 quid a week to get there? ( average cost of car per mile being around 2 quid) . But your right, lots of Gregg’s now for cheap breakfast and m&s aren’t to bad with price either for lunch.
Take a pack-up, fresher, cheaper and no queuing until the sarnies out of date 😱
My guess is that the lion’s share of the markup goes straight back to the government in business rates.
Smartphone SatNav gives us a choice these days, even when towing a big trailer it’s easy enough to find motorway junctions with supermarket filling stations within a four minute drive of them.
My favourite solution is my imported RV, it may only do 8 mpg but food is right there in the fridge, the toilet is right behind the bathroom door, the children much prefer a 40+” TV over a headrest screen, wife finds a kingsize bed ideal for a rest stop and I love the coffee maker.
Nice to read your doing your bit for the environment!!!!
Nobody mentioned the environment . That’s just a mad idea to raise the price and taxes
What do you do fly in a jet like the royals ?
And the savings outweigh the fuel costs.
I would hope you do love the coffee maker, after all, you married her. 😁 As for your RV only doing 8 mpg, wouldn’t it be cheaper to get a cheaper car and then spend, spend, spend at the motorway services?😂
8mpg is terrible, are the brakes dragging? Even 44 tonne artics do 10 or near these days.
8 mpg a gallon and you are bragging ,I,ve got this ,I,ve got that ,so what ,you probably spent insensible money buying it and cannot afford a cup of coffee , 8 mpg in this day and age ,well time to grow up and realize that people like you are just snobs ,yet your kids will suffer from your consumption !
If a long journey, I identify a suitable Supermarket ( Sainsbury,ASDA, Moorison etc) that have a filling station within close proximity to a M Way junction. For instance yesterday left Jnct 7 M3 for Sainbury. Fuel much cheaper and snacks reasonable.
Guess M Way service stations, apart from captive customers, will claim they pay high Lease Fees to Highways England!! This may be true. Who knows?
Tebay on M6 and Gloucester services provide high quality, and a good shop for local produce. I don’t mind paying their prices, but don’t risk fuel prices. I remember Morrisons at Rubery (M5J3) inflating their fuel price a few years ago, but I nipped a mile back to Sainsbury’s Northfield and filled up there. Don’t let these people get away with tat. Encourage the good ones though.
Tebay services are absolutely brilliant! Not your usual whsmith, Costa. Instead local farmers’ fare, butchers and high end quality artisan goods. Love that place! not what you’d imagine when you think service station
Always stop at Gloucester en route Derby to Burnham on sea every 6 weeks. Meal outside in beautiful surroundings (not outside in winter unless mild enough!), and we love their coffee beans – a bit pricey, but worth it in our opinion. The farm shop is wonderful too, and promotes local farms and other businesses. NEVER buy petrol, even with their 10p per litre off – still cheaper at the supermarkets.
I enjoy Tebay on the M6 north and south bound going up and down from Motherwell to Rochdale … Prices are reasonable for food but shoos still extortionate … The other one I frequent is the Kendal Services but the south bound ones not the same since they shut the food hall and put a MacDonalds in.
Business rates must surely be low in the remote zones which house M-services, thus the operators must get a substantial overhead break there. They enjoy fantastic, constant ‘footfall’ which gives them high volumes of sales; so, in fact they COULD sell at Tesco prices and make plenty of money.
But – why would they, when there is no nearby competition? We’d all milk it, in their position, I suppose.
Further I suspect that business vehicles could be their biggest percentage of fuel buyers. Those drivers have no reason to care how much per litre their firm is paying.
Business vehicle drivers DO have an interest in how much they pay-they owe their jobs to solvent employers
Great idea Andrew,
Anyone any ideas on easy to get to Supermarkets with filling stations or similar off the M4 route somewhere near to Reading Services as this is my normal halfway stop between Bristol and M25 Junction 29 (near Dartford ie @ halfway around M25)
Reading Services are expensive, Costa gets boring after a while, and the other hot food is pricey and not that great 🙁 Thanks 🙂
Sainsbury’s Savacentre on the A4 1/4 mile from junction 12 has cheap fuel ,and there is a cafe in the store
Hi Mike B
Re Your Alternative to Reading Services….
I looked it up!
I can see it is so, so close to M25, Junction 12!!!
What a brilliant tip – Will try next time 🙂 Thank you 🙂 🙂 🙂 !
If anyone else is interested, the Store and Garage are NOT 24/7
but they have very LONG opening hours
– see: https://stores.sainsburys.co.uk/0559/calcot
Sainsbury’s Superstore in Calcot, Bath Road, Calcot, Reading, RG31 7SA
motorway services/garages are deliberate and blatant rip offs. i refuse to pay. always get mine and extra shopping before the journey. use toilet facilities only
Comfort stop only, how hard is it to make a flask and sandwich before you fill your tank and then head for the motorway.
The phrase “Captive Audience” springs to mind. of course they charge more, a lot charge more for fuel as well than away from the motorways, same phrase as above again.
Would only buy at Gregg’s at service station. It is the only decent price.
I totally agree, their coffee and a breakfast roll is around £3 and is surprisingly good. I frequently drive the A1 from Hertfordshire to Scotland so by Scotch Corner I’m ready for some hot food and a decent cup of coffee, Greggs hits the spot. I cant remember the last time I bought fuel on the motorway.
We usually stop at scotch corner for a toilet break 3 hours into our 5 hour journey from Beds to the nth Cumbrian coast. I once made the mistake of having to put fuel in due to poor planning £1.52 per litre when all the other services were £1.31! Needless to say I only put in enough to finish our journey.
Any service stations which have a Greggs shop will have reasonably priced drinks and food at the moment. Otherwise I stop for the loos and cups of tea only and take my own sandwiches from home.
bathroom break, may buy a newspaper as they can’t price that up as already priced, otherwise we normally take own food and hot water in flask to make a fresh brew and add milk afterwards, prevents stewed tea. Got caught out with petrol one time but only put £10 in, normally make sure completely filled before hand but that time was 3/4 and thought we will be ok but then worried.
we really hate these mind destroying places, the crowds walking by your table, not nice or healthy if you think of all the stuff coming off us like skin and dandruff never mind coughing and sneezing. Saw one person openly prepare her drug intake right next to the walk way… wow, oblivious need eh?
otherwise we like to use some A and B roads on our journeys so we can see real countryside and not some bank and come off onto a side road for a breather and not become brain dead with concentrating to make sure some idiot is not going to pull out in front of us from a left drive lorry who can’t see us in small car etc; as we were over taking him. Another thing we hate is sat nave sending us on main roads all the time and miles out of our way to get to where we want to be. Am learning to break down the route now to smaller lengths to keep on A roads and off the Ms when not in a hurry.
I use service stations on a regular basis through work and I am amazed at how many mugs pay the inflated prices the shops and petrol stations charge so while you keep paying they will keep taking.
I use services most days, but generally only to use the toilets. If I’m looking for anything else I will Google the nearest supermarket as I hate being ripped off.
I’ve traveled extensive throughout the British isles with work, mostly stopping at transport cafes for price and quality, since retiring service areas few are worth stopping at. I have travelled throughout France Germany Austria Switzerland Belgium and Italy and have rarely found a bad services, the food is far better and very reasonably priced. If they can why can’t we.
I don’t know where you’ve been going Michael but I’ve travelled the length of France and Spain from top to bottom, east to west and their services are massively inflated just like ours. The best thing is to find a nearby Carrafour, Leclerc or Eroski.
Heartely agree, we drive to Italy every year and use Carrefour in France and using the one in Chamonix before going through Mont Blanc (€45 RIP off). Please don’t tell me there’s a cheaper route, it’s usually longer and about the same overall.
In Switzerland, most Motorway Service Stations charge 1 CHF to go into the Toilets. The ticket can be exchanged for a frank off VERY expensive food. Switzerland is always expensive for food, but the Service areas again have a high markup!
because this is the UK noboby cares, they only want your money and they get away with serving rubbish overpriced food
I agree. Once about 8 of us had lunch in a French motorway service om Christmas Day on our way down South. Excellent & reasonably prices too. It could, of course, be done in the UK – but why should they bother? I thought there was some law about colluding on prices, so I suppose it is just a coincidence?
My hubby and I travel fairly often on M6 south and then home north bound. We never stop at services only if we are desperate for toilet. We always make sure the car is full up before we start, that then gets us where we are going in the south. I do not behold with the excuse that there are big overheads. With the amount of people using the services they are laughing all the way to the bank.
Don’t forget the Services often have to bus in Staff,all water used is metered,not to mention the mountains of rubbish we leave there,they pay to landfill it,I’m no fan of the Services.but I can see both sides of the debate😃
Only use them if absolutely desperate for the loo. I make sure I have a full tank of fuel before I hit the motorway. I also avoid motorways, wherever possible. Dangerous roads with disgusting and extortionate “amenities”!
Greggs outlets are generally not to bad re prices. Re petrol at services there always seems to be about 20 pumps available but only one in use – I wonder why?
Toilets are just about ok to use anything else they have to offer is not worth having . For food and fuel come off the motorway and get better value.
‘government ministers have been promising to clampdown’
Clampdown is a noun. The verb form is two separate words. This should be:
‘government ministers have been promising to clamp down’
That’s really interesting Bill.
He’s lying Bill, it isn’t!
Will never buy fuel at services. No justification for inflated prices. Will electric vehicle charging points also have extortionate pricing?
electric vevicles will never use motorways they cant go any distance without needing charged
Just use the toilets, nothing else.
Where possible will use off-motorway alternatives……quieter, much more pleasant and much cheaper.
NEVER buy motorway fuel…total rip-off.
The article states 135% more expensive. In fact it’s 235% more expensive.
You must have been to a different maths class to mine.
I only use the motorway services for toilet stops.
Fuel and food are much cheaper off the motorways.
Always do up a cooler with cold drinks and snacks. Also a flask of coffee and hot Chocolate. But will stop off and pick up a fresh coffee at a Services that has a Costa and have a stretch. However if with family or friends will plan stops and leave the motorway to go to a local town of interest for a break, petrol and meal. Very long Journeys over 500miles where three or more stops are required at least two would be off the motorway and one at a services but not for petrol as always get this off motorway (petrol car but good for 350 – 420 miles) – You can limit what you spend by not buying high cost items and bringing your own and stick to within £10 with care but as the research shows some are horrendous and its not just the major services – even local services are extortionate. Take an a road trip to Devon and you will see there is little difference at some places. However you do not have to go far to get cheaper unlike the Motorways.
We stopped recently at the South Bound services near Gloucester, They were great. Maybe not cheap, but excellent quality food. Wide range of other stuff from fresh meat to socks. Clean toilets. Helpful and happy staff.
Every driver should realise motorway services are expensive for just about all consumables. Plan ahead. I generally know where supermarkets are close to my motorway trips for fuel etc. If people do not carry a reusable water bottle then make them pay an exorbitant price to maybe reduce plastic waste. and encourage them to do so in the future.
Don’t use motorways! A lot of the time they are slower than other roads because of the congestion! Then the problem goes away.
Generally use the toilets and nothing else. Don’t these fools know if they cut their costs they’d still make a healthy profit as more people would buy from them. If people stopped buying in protest the prices would come down.
Ah, so if you stop there it’s impossible to ‘spend a penny’ however when you do all they offer is “taking the pi** “
I fail to understand what overheads or other costs are more than a Tesco Extra. I always take a flask of tea as even supermarket mark up for a cup of tea is daylight robbery. I’d go without before I paid services prices. Sat Nav will take you to fuel/food close to motorway but ultimate convenience is plan ahead and take a picnic.
I do use the service stations, but only for toilet breaks. And whilst there, I get out my coffee and sandwich’s and people watch. I do this whether I’m using the car or my bike. I pull out of the services feeling refreshed and rested, and never out of pocket- WHAT A GREAT FEELING.😁
I would never buy anything from these crooks. I just play them at their own game. I fill up at a supermarket fuel station first.
Interestingly, the only services on the list I actually go to is the first, Durham. I use the toilet facilities (free), then if I am hungry, I use my McDonalds receipt McFoodforThoughts survey voucher and get a Big Mac, medium fries with free extra lettuce, pickle and onions for £1.99! That’s cheaper than a cold sandwich from the cheapest supermarket.
I expect to pay something for the convenience (pun) but no as much as is charged. If the prices were less inflated they may do much more business.
Use free toilet and a short break
Can never believe that people fill up at the service station, as the prices are so much higher than any ‘normal’ petrol station.
What’s up with people who travel,why oh why don’t they pack something up at home before they travel,or are some people just too idle to pick up a knife and spread a bit of butter then add a nice bit of cheese,nothing wrong in that,no one laughs at you for eating your own sandwiches in a service station or motorway cafe,this might just stop them from ripping the Great British public off.
Leave the motorway and find the closest supermarket, plan your journey/stop.
Let’s be honest, it costs to keep one of those places open and you’re going to pay a premium for that and I wouldn’t object if there was something actually edible for lunch. In France, there’s always an impressive hot counter and delicious salads or baguettes if you’re not so hungry. But what do we get in our service stations? You’d be lucky to get a fourth-rate burger – everything is fried (or from a ghastly chain concession). There’s no doubt that they could – and should try harder. Who the hell wants a plastic-wrapped cold sausage roll? It’s no wonder many people opt to bring their own food with them.
Overpricing, dirt and noise, and just the overall tackiness of service stations have led us to pack picnics for long journies. M&S are the only bright spot in the experience. I will pull off on purpose to go get quick items for the evening meal at the end of the journey.
…This is not just any sandwich… this is an M&S Motorway sandwich….
Cut to slow motion sandwich being taken out of the box, packed full of filling then the underside bread droops and the filling slowly cascades out over your lap…
What or who pays for the free toilets?
…those that are using that one filling point. Go conscience-free, pump and dump
Most of my motorway driving is on the M74/M6/M40 from Edinburgh to Hants, and I have two favourite places to stop for a meal break, bec they’re nice places, esp Teebay with its locally sourced farm food. The other is Killington Lake for its view. Both are on the M6. Before starting my journey, I always fill up with petrol from the cheapest supermarket and resign myself to one refill en route, which I do at a service stop for convenience, but I should plan better for off-motorway refueling.
When I was working (retired now) I would drive around 30,000 miles a year covering the whole of the UK with occasional trips to Europe so did a lot of motorway driving, in over 30 years I can count on 1 hand the number of times I had to buy fuel on the motorways, which was usually because of being stuck in traffic for hours, and then I would only buy enough to get off the motorway.
With regards to food and drinks if I purchase anything it would only be from one of the franchise sellers such as Burger King or Macdonalds as their prices were generally the same as the high street shops, but most of the time I would take food and drink from home, I always carried several bottles of water in the car bought from super markets in packs of 12.