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Tebay Services, M6, Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield finds the only independent service station in the country needs cleaning

Written by . Published on August 8th 2011.


Tebay Services, M6, Reviewed

TEBAY is the UK’s much praised privately owned motorway service station. It's the only one of its kind and will be well known to Confidential readers in the North West, located as it is between Kendal and Penrith on the M6. 

Weirdly the shop is nothing like this. It’s like Jekyll to Hyde.

It has a foodshop with deli counters, a cafe/restaurant, a duck pond and good views. As motorway service stations go - and this is saying much -it's famous. 

The ownership makes it distinctive. It was built by farmers, the Dunning family, who sold off some of their land under a Compulsory Purchase Order for the  M6 to be built, but kept ownership of adjacent fields for future development. In 1972 they went into partnership with a number of local businesses and formed a company called 'Westmorland' to develop the Tebay services.

It’s a multi-awardwinning service station. In 2009 Tebay won Egon Ronay's British Academy of Gastronomes’ Grand Prix award, the first time a service station had even approached winning such an esteemed gong.

So my recent couple of visits have been unsettling in how far the experience has been from anything awardwinning. Au contraire they've been bad, bad, bad. Apart from the shop, but more of that later.

The visit on Saturday 6 August was typical.

The server at the food counter looked as though she would rather be anywhere else than serving our family group – she looked as though having this job during difficult times was a punishment. 

But worse was the state of the place, it was a disgusting tip. 

The main dining area had a floor laden with discarded napkins, crumbs, bits of fallen food. Look at the picture below for a view under our table - and this was one of the better areas. It's the second time in two visits it's been like this. Tebay is consistent.

Tebay 028Scum on the floor

The filth seemed ingrained. The bottom corners of the room height windows looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in months. Even the duck pond immediately outside the window needed its surface and banks cleaning as it was rank with duck muck. Outside a roof junction was clumsily fixed with a big ruched up tarpaulin, showing more carelessness.

As for the food Tebay’s own publicity claims it is ‘serving fresh food made by enthusiastic chefs using local produce’.  That’s a joke surely? 

The steak and ale pies were slops, loose degenerate confederations of blurred flavours set back further by some old, hard, ultra fatty chips. The ‘Tatty Pot’, lamb and black pudding I think, seemed to come in thick Bisto with all definition and flavour removed. Both dishes were over £8. 

Tebay 0331970s' school dinner in 2011

Back to the service.

“Is there sausage and mash for kids?” I asked the woman behind the counter who had clearly just swallowed a wasp. 

“There is, if you want to wait twenty minutes, there’s none prepared,” she snapped triumphantly. 

“We’re in a hurry and look, there’s sausage in that tray and there’s mash in that tray. I can see them, ” I said. 

“But the sausages are bigger than the kids ones. That wouldn’t be a kids’ meal,” she said. 

“My boy’s eleven and likes his food so we’ll have the sausage and mash you’ve got here,” I said cheerfully. 

“But you’ll have to pay full price as it’s an adult meal - you can’t get this at a kids price,” she snarled as though I were a trickster and rogue trying to get away with not spending an extra three quid or something. She didn't consider maybe serving less mash for instance - obviously a huge cost saving for the service station.

"I bet you're lovely when you smile aren't you?" I suggested.

The whole dining experience reminded me of Morrissey’s song ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’. That famous ditty is about a trip to a dying British seaside resort (click here). It should be Tebay’s theme tune. 

The catering is exactly like a return to a Skegness cafe from 1978, or an end of the pier mess at Llandudno. It shows casual contempt for the people paying the bills. It seems to be saying, yea, you needed to stop on your travels and now you’re trapped so just bloody accept what we’re going to throw at you. 

Weirdly the deli-foodstore is nothing like this. It’s Jekyll to Hyde. It’s sparklingly clean, well-managed and interesting. For a motorway service station it’s almost exciting. 

Tebay 047Lovely pies

I got a big shoulder of mutton for a tenner - all the lamb and beef comes from the company farm at Tebay - that I cooked for about five hours for a good Sunday roast. I secured a lush Allerdale goats cheese from across the county, and some cracking back bacon. There are stacks of jams, Cumbrian ice creams and great trays full of pies. It's impressive.

Turns out of course, that the shop has a different manager from the catering. Good lord how it shows. A different manager who's clearly snaffled all the cleaning materials. 

Some elements were the same in both places. 

I took a photograph or two at the cheese counter. 

“You can’t take photographs,” said a server. 

“Why not?” I asked. “This is a shop, this is a counter with cheese in it, it looks lovely, I want to remember it.” 

“Commercial confidentiality,” she muttered half-heartedly. 

“In that case I think you should have one of those drugs they have in Men in Black that removes people’s memories. You can blast people with it as they leave the shop in case they remember any of your secrets. Or maybe you could keep the shop closed and let people look in from a distance.” 

“Oh I know, it sounds daft....” she said.

Tebay is a missed opportunity. The shop is a joy but the catering stinks. 

It's impossible to understand all the praise the place gathers.

Maybe the love people give it is just an anti-corporate thing. The service station is run by a company – called Westmorland - full of farmers, not suited spivs in London, or Hong Kong. It uses meat it rears itself. It’s local and ‘local’ is a modern buzz word. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Rick Stein have it implanted into their cerebral cortexes and vomit the word out during every interview. 

Local, independent businesses are attractive because they can be a relief from predictable franchises run by faceless international or national companies. 

But independent businesses still have to be good at what they do. Tebay in its catering is a slovenly disaster at present, avoid it. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

The Westmorland Motorway Services (M6, between J38 and J39), Westmorland Place, Orton, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 3SB


Rating: 5/20

Food: 1/10
Service: 2/5
Ambience: 3/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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31 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ChorltonianAugust 8th 2011.

Thats very disappointing to hear. Although I have not been for over a year, I have always found the food to be excellent.

CBAugust 8th 2011.

Is this the one next to the motorway?

Eddy RheadAugust 8th 2011.

"Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind" - pray tell - what other service station did you use a benchmark? Just out of interest - did you try the southbound services which are, in my experience, much nicer.

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 8th 2011.

Eddy - ones in France. As for northbound or southbound I was hungry going north. And why would the southbound staff be cleaner?

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 8th 2011.

CB, I don't understand. It's the Tebay motorway service station.

1 Response: Reply To This...
CBAugust 8th 2011.

yeah it was a joke.

You would have laughed if it had been Friday

Eddy RheadAugust 8th 2011.

Is it fair to compare one type of facility (using the formula of your own rating system which makes no reference to geographical location) with one in another country? Do you compare that italian restaurant you are always plugging (cant remember its name -San something) with comparable restaurants in Italy? The comparison doesnt hold up. And its also a bit dismissive to suggest that the southbound , which could well have different staff and management and which i notice has recently had a very nice refurb, could not be cleaner and more pleasant than the northbound. It like suggesting another regional news and listings website that you have never seen has excellent and insightful journalism just because this one does.

ChorltonianAugust 8th 2011.

Southbound is significantly different and better in my experience. Northbound has always lagged behind southbound, and the facilities were only recently brought up to the same standard as South

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 8th 2011.

Eddy, I was joking as well. You missed it, like I missed CB's. I suppose the comparison is with all those green, locally sourced, self-promotional cafes, coffee shops all over the country that aren't in service stations. And the ratings guide is just that - a guide. The filth in Tebay however - for the second visit running remember - was very specifically, filth.

ThrumAugust 9th 2011.

Sheep giblets

JoanAugust 9th 2011.

I always used to aim to stop @ Northbound Tebay in the eighties. Before it expanded to cover the other direction it was an independent beacon nestling in the hills and highly enjoyable, well at least when compared with the alternatives. Now it seems to be a victim of it's own success, often I feel overwhelmed by the number of customers. Still there's no excuse for ingrained dirt, even if it is away from the food areas. There's a few other establishment I know could learn that lesson.

H. ErdwickAugust 9th 2011.

That level of uncleanliness is terrible and does remind me of eighties cafes. I've experienced the same thing as well. The shop is good I agree. Maybe there should be a bridge over from one side to other, saying if you're dining, go this way.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Norman HoldenAugust 9th 2011.

The north-bound services are some 10/11 miles away from the south-bound, so no chance of getting to the other side. I was always under the impression that the north-bound was a poor copy of the south-bound. Is it under the same ownership? Northbound at Tebay is called Westmoorland Services. Southbound is called Killington Lake Services.

AnonymousAugust 10th 2011.

Norman, they're differently owned, Killington and Tebay. But Tebay does have a southbound side, about three hundred metres away.

Simon BoothAugust 9th 2011.

Can't argue with the dirt - no excuse for that. But every time I have been there I have found it to be very pleasant.

Let's hope this kind of review will be a kick up the proverbial. Have you told them about this review BTW?

WilsonlyAugust 10th 2011.

I stop here once a month on my way to Lanarkshire. The cafe may not be the best but the deli is noce for a service station. In fact i would be happy if we had a deli as good in the city centre.

Try their chilli jam it is the best!!

Sarah DunningAugust 10th 2011.

Dear Jonathan

We were very disappointed to learn that you had an unpleasant experience when you visited Tebay Services northbound on Saturday 6th August.

Unfortunately you visited us on a day when we had been extremely busy with 30 coaches in that morning. This may go some way to explaining why internally the cafe was not pristine. However I can reassure you that the duty managers have taken your comments very seriously and are putting more resources into a planned process of cleaning.

We refurbished Tebay Services southbound in 2008 and since then have been undertaking a phased refurbishment of Tebay Services northbound to get to a point where Northbound reflects the southbound offer. We are 80% there, so it is unfortunate that your article focuses on the cafes, which is the final 20% we are due to start in November this year.



Finally we are investigating the points you raised about customer service and can reassure you that we will do everything possible to make sure this is not repeated in the future and we will do more to encourage our staff to use their initiative as appropriate to deal with specific requests. The comments on customer service were really disappointing as we receive so many positive comments from our customers on the good service they have received which normally combines a warm Cumbrian welcome and a natural willingness to help the customer. In a recent Visit England inspection for example, Customer Service was one of a number of areas for which we received excellence at both our north and southbound services.

Thank you once again for bringing the issues you encountered to our attention and we invite you to come and see us again soon, particularly after our refurbishment is complete.

Yours

Sarah Dunning

Sakina MurdockAugust 11th 2011.

Sorry, Jonathan, it looks as if you have never worked a rubbish job for rubbish pay. Hotplate servers in Westmorland don't get a say on how much they put on the plates. They don't get to alter the product according to the whims of each and every grumpy, rude traveller that passes through. They have to give a set amount of each type of food to the plate and deviation has in the past led to disciplinaries. Unfortunately many, many customers look to see what is on the menu and then demand it, when it is clearly not there on the plate. Added to which, I'm not sure the saving on a spoonful of mashed potato quite matches up to the increased quantity of sausage that your son would have been consuming. Where do you import YOUR potatoes from, that they are so expensive?!
Sunday 6 August was a busy weekend - especially busy for the restaurants, with no less than 30 coach parties passing through. Any customers going in just after the rush will find a certain amount of disarray in the room. I note: it isn't the staff that drop food on the floor without retrieving it; leave chairs and tables in all positions and dump their empty/half eaten plates and trays on the tables. There are times that the sheer quantity of customers coming through the doors are simply too great for the staff to keep up with. At times like that, even the management and finance team help out. As far as ingrained dirt is concerned, perhaps you are right - I couldn't comment. I know each and every nook and corner is cleaned every day in rotation and that the cleaning staff have a great deal of pride.
The duck pond - Cumbria has now had rain again and these things tend to become clean naturally. I'm afraid Duck poo is a fact of life which can't be readily avoided. Perhaps if you don't like the different faces of nature, you should visit Southwaite, 25 miles towards Carlisle.
The North restaurant has recently had an additional piece added, very newly, which is likely to account for the tarpaulin which so offended you - everything is presumably not yet finished.
The food IS local, as local as can be achieved - I used to work in food development and am still very proud of the food there. Producers include the Artisan baker Patrick Moore (at Staveley nr Kendal) - check out the sandwiches - and Brookside at Maryport for Cumbrian bacon, salmon and other delights.
I hope your next visit to Tebay Services takes place shortly before 30 coach loads turn up and you will be able to watch the devastation for yourself!

Thanks for the opportunity to rant.

Sakina

Jonathan Schofield - editorAugust 11th 2011.

Sakina, I'm never rude to staff in restaurants. The restaurant was filthy and the food was poor. However the response from Sarah Dunning was magnificent.

AnonymousAugust 11th 2011.

You sound like a professional complainer to me.

Sakina MurdockAugust 12th 2011.

Hi Jonathan,
I agree that Sarah's response was very good. She cares immensely about the company and its workers.
However, I'm sorry but I disagree. The sarcastic, backhanded comment:
"I bet you're lovely when you smile aren't you?" I suggested.
is just the type of implicit, very personal 'clever' rudeness that is suffered by Westmorland workers all the time. That hotplate girl will have picked up the comment and all its nuances.
At least Westmorland workers are so well trained that they very rarely answer back.
In my time there, I found it terribly interesting to observe how perfectly respectable, educated people behave when using service station facilities. Or perhaps it is just a reaction to being told they can't have something, by someone they perceive as being less important than themselves.
Sorry you had such a bad time. I hope your next stopover will be much better.
Kind regards

Sakina

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldAugust 15th 2011.

Sakina, I bet you're lovely when you smile as well.

AnonymousAugust 15th 2011.

Hello
I travel up & down the M6 at various times 2 or 3 times a week & have done so for quite a few years. So I have met a lot of staff at Tebay both north & south. They are for the most part friendly & helpful.

I always get a coffee & quite often get something to eat going southbound from the made to go part or Cafe, sometimes from the northbound.

I called in this weekend & fancied some chips, it was getting late. Usually chips cost £2 a portion & they come in a brown cardboard carton but this time there was a sign saying chips 99p (I thought oh good special offer).

When I got them, gone was the brown box & a little white carton was filled with 9 chips! a 3rd or a 4th of the usual portion. when I asked was this a joke to the girl she said no this is the new size.

(Obviously Sakina with regards to your comment above Tebay are now importing the expensive potatoes!!)

This happened to the flapjack they sell, it used to be a square costing £1.95 now it is a finger of flapjack & cost 99p.

I have in the past bought the mixed fruit pineapple, melon & grapes LOVELY cost £3.30 steep for the size but nice
went to get one a bit ago just picked it up, all there is now is grapes (16) still costs £3.30.

What is happening - portions getting smaller.
seems the place is run on skeleton staffing levels.

1 of the duty managers in the Southbound Cafe seems to think that she can talk to staff (in front of customers) like something off the sole of her shoe Shouting & Carrying on.

I will still be calling as I love my large cappuccino which mysteriously is now called a medium?????

J Dunston

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 16th 2011.

You were lucky, I was charged £3.50 for 16 grapes for my children on Monday afternoon. Dread to think how much they will cost by Friday!!

AnonymousAugust 15th 2011.

GOOD SHOW

Wee NellSeptember 8th 2011.

I'm a regular traveller up and down this section of the M6 on my way to from Scotland and I make a point of stopping at Tebay services on my way home. I have used the cafe but not for some years now as I have to agree with Jonathan about the contrast between the shop and the catering sides of the business. The best I could find on offer in the cafe (ever!) was the home-made pea and ham soup, which was very tasty but needed eating with a knife and fork rather than a spoon by the time it had been bubbling away all day.

If I'm really hungry and it's the summer season, there's an outdoor hut which does a mean burger but my usual practice is to buy a "beef growler" or some interesting cheese from the shop counter. At least you have the alternative at Tebay, unlike the usual watering holes with their ubiquitous fast food counters - though I note there is an ncreasing number of Waitrose and M&S food shops making an appearance on the motorway network.

The recently extended shopping area has provided loads more space to browse (for those with time), but often the shop shelves and fridges are empty and I've not worked out if they are just sold out - perhaps due to 30 coachloads of tourists descending like a plague of locusts - or just not re-stocked often enough.

DanielleSeptember 10th 2011.

I was in the southbound farm shop on Friday and they are now doing offers like your local supermarket, this is a sad sign of the times that instead of reducing the high prices that they have they are resorting to supermarket hype to get money in the tills. I have also noticed that the shelves are in need of stocking up, is this because too much money is going into their other new project and not enough into the services that they have up and running.

AnonymousApril 25th 2014.

I've just been there the prices were far too expensive no seasoning (salt/pepper)suppose to be mayo. prawns fell out the sandwich when picked up tasteless too putting it mildly for that money whit a rip off! want to employ a CHEF! OR SOMEBODY WHO CAN READ A RECIPE.

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