Poor value for money food and tight overnight parking restrictions, say motorists. Motorway service stations should stop taking advantage of motorists by charging a premium for products but delivering a budget level service.

These are the findings of research by the RAC which found the main reason drivers stop at motorway service areas is to visit food outlets (75%) – second only to answering a call of nature (99%).

However more than half (56%) say they do not find visiting services a pleasurable experience and a further 88% believe they represent poor value for money, while 46% only rated customer service at motorway services as average.

The RAC, which surveyed more than 1,200 motorists on the RAC Opinion Panel, says operators are missing an opportunity as the average spend at a UK services is only £5 to £10, probably due to the fact 71% say they spend as little time and money as possible when they visit.

The RAC believes there is a real opportunity to provide better value for money and transform the experience for visitors, who may then be more inclined to increase the amount they spend.

The experience of motorists of services in the UK contrasts strongly with their views on driving elsewhere in Europe. Sixty per cent of those surveyed said the overall approach to services and rest areas was better in Europe.

Motorists also say there should be fewer restrictions on parking times as 38% feel operators are making money unnecessarily, exploiting the need for drivers to rest mid-journey. In fact 84% say motorway services should introduce free long-stay or overnight parking, as available on the continent.

The research follows data from the RAC released in October that showed motorway service station fuel is on average 10p per litre more expensive than the national average, and sometimes as much as 16p dearer.

RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams says: “Millions of motorists depend on motorway service areas for a well-earned rest, and it is important for their safety and that of other road users that they take regular breaks so they are not tired when behind the wheel. But motorists feel they are being seriously let down by what they see as overpriced products and a lack of good service to match those premium prices.

“For a family of four to eat a quick, relatively basic meal together, the bill can easily pass the £40 mark, and even then, motorists tell us that the food on offer in some cases just doesn’t meet the mark.

“There is an alternative model out there – the motorway services offered by the Westmorland Family company at Tebay Services on the M6 in Cumbria and at their new Gloucester Services on the M5.

“They have taken a very different approach, sourcing good quality ingredients from the local area, producing home-cooked food which many consider to provide better value for money, as well as being a better quality and possibly healthier option.

“Motorway services play an important role in providing the break needed by thousands of motorists every day and should take the opportunity to become leaders in service and value for money. Surely this would make more commercial sense and lead to more money being put in the till.

“Motorists resent having to pay over the odds for food while on a journey, especially when they don’t even enjoy the experience and are already being held to ransom by high fuel prices at service stations.”