A couple of nights ago, I stopped at a Deli-to-go, with the intention of putting myself in the right frame of mind for the long drive ahead. Remarkably, I was told that I could not be served coffee at this time of night as it fell under their license for alcohol restrictions! The whole ethos of a service station is to provide the right fuel to see the motorists safely on their way, and while I can appreciate that alcohol may well be hazardous to road users, I failed to see how coffee could possibly be heading the same way.
Some years ago, I took it upon myself to try and persuade motorway services to serve a decent cup of coffee; it’s the life blood of us road crews across the world. Particular focus fell on Road Chef, who seemed to use a leading coffee brand’s logo as a means of attracting motorists into their service stations. Great during the day, but at night, these were always closed, and very few had an alternative on offer from a machine or a human. After dozens of letters to Road Chef about their false advertising claims with regards to this brand, I was very pleased they took notice of a growing body of disgruntled customers, and started to staff the coffee shops overnight; it was now possible to get a good cup of coffee when you needed it most.
Well, not exactly. You see, things have recently taken a turn for the worse. Now, you rarely find a coffee outlet open, or you’re forced to buy coffee from an express machine, or worse still, you head over to a burger chain and try your luck there. I tried a latte at one such place recently, only to discover it had subtle overtones of cardboard, and a stewed metallic taste throughout.
When I asked if the machine was doing its job properly, and suggested it might need cleaning, the spotty teenager remarked: “You probably don’t know, but these machines are self-cleaning.” Hmm.
If you are lucky enough to find a coffee outlet open, it’s very likely to be staffed by somebody who is unable to read the temperature gauge of the steaming milk, uses milk which has already been steamed, or is desperate to use up the skimmed, no matter what your preference. Or worse still (again), a coffee which gives you the impression you just paid somebody three quid to heat up a pint of milk.
In my time, I have seen it all. From the girl in the burger joint who took three attempts to vend the correct coffee from a machine with a choice of two, to the two morons who were sitting drinking coffee from branded coffee cups in a motorway service station who, when politely asked if they could get me a coffee, informed me that the coffee outlet was closed at night, as was the shop that also sold coffee, while sporting the uniforms of these two respective franchises, and name tags to boot! After a little discreet photography and letter writing, I was quick to enquire as to their whereabouts on a subsequent visit, only to find that sadly they no longer worked there.
I believe we in the UK don’t speak out enough when things are not what they should be. We seem to accept and, dare I say, expect mediocre service. We should perhaps in this respect be a little more like our American cousins whom, at the very least, expect to get what they pay for.
Words | Dan the Man