Vive la France!

Food in transit — particularly motorway food in Europe — does not have a strong reputation and never has. With the emergence of branded food over the last 20 years or so it has become more acceptable, if expensive and not exactly healthy. Many U.K. offerings surround the cuisine of fried chicken, beef burgers and filled pastry. In most cases these outlets appeal to a captive market, as it is very common in Europe that the main motorways do not pass towns in close proximity to offerings. However, we recently completed a 2,000-mile (3,219-kilometer) road trip in Europe and were pleasantly surprised to experience what is happening in France.

First, in France the old motorway properties have, in many cases, undergone really good design and build upgrades, and several are still ongoing or due to start. Second, there is a clear thought process that has been engaged to cater to specific customer groups from infants to disabled individuals to those with special dietary requirements. Third — and this is a significant move — they are kept spotlessly clean.

Interestingly, we found several locations featuring local product and items of interest, which aids tourism and regional knowledge.

The largest improvement, however, is in the food itself. Products are well displayed, colorful, appetizing and selected and purchased with care. Raw product is often prepared fresh in front of you and is imaginative and flavorsome. Some branded products extend to fully serviced restaurants with good atmospheres. Beverages are strong selections and held at correct temperatures. These improvements present the overnight on a motorway in a far more attractive manner. It is likely to encourage and facilitate the development of more roadside rooms.

It does appear that in France a real effort is being made to apply the same principles to food services and customer care in transit as is done in the normal food and beverage arena. For us, this is welcome progress — long may it continue and develop. It is certainly preferable to the take-it-or-leave-it rip-off strategy to a captive market evident in the past and — in some cases, sadly — in the present. The days of those operations are, we feel, numbered.

Have you come across new styles in the transit sector recently?