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Little Chef's Big Makeover

Posted by Gavin Lucas, 20 January 2009, 17:10    Permalink    Comments (26)

Last night, in the first installment of Big Chef takes on Little Chef, a new series on Channel 4, Heston Blumenthal, the culinary genius behind the Fat Duck restaurant, began a mission to revive the fortunes of ailing British roadside restaurant chain, Little Chef. If you missed the programme, there's a rather good review of the programme by Susan Smillie on

To cut a long story short, Blumenthal has been given the Little Chef eatery in Popham to deliver experimental menus to find out what kind of food might entice the British public back to the restaurant. Read on to see images just sent in to us by design agency Praline who, in collaboration with interiors specialist Ab Rogers Design have transformed the frankly minging Little Chef at Popham into a spanky new clean and bright environment where customers can choose from Blumenthal's menu. Will it be a success? Tune into Channel 4 tonight to pick up the story...

Is this what Little Chef CEO, Ian Pegler meant by "blue-sky thinking?"


With the regards to the interior, it's certainly an improvement, and a big change from the Little Chefs I remember dining at as a kid. However, with all that white, and the blue sky tiling, it looks, well, chilly.
And judging by what I can see on the menu, did anything Heston created actually make it onto the final one? It all looks very British (which Heston was pushing), but without the "explosion" that Ian Pegler seemed to be demanding from Heston. I guess we'll find out tonight.
Will I be trying out the new Little Chef though? I'm still not sure it's enough to win me over.
Back and Forth Design
2009-01-20 17:27:11

I'm looking forward to the second part of the show tonight!
I think the interior is spot on - I would have done clean, bright retro diner style too.
2009-01-20 20:28:47

An improvement in presentation and a recognition of a healthier, tastier option. However, the inherent problem that Little Chef is still in 1958 restaurant locations, A and B roads, distant from a quality work force catchment area, will not be solved by a Magic Menu Wand, remains. As evangelical as the message may heve been there is an absence of faith and confidence in the employees to be able to create the change. As inefeective as Pegler may be, the management in recent years carry a huge responsibility, interesting to note that Pegeler was made redundanat from LC in 1994.
Damian Scannell
2009-01-20 22:24:22

the problem with little chef is its so expensive. if they cut their prices by 1/2 they would get more than double the business. you can have a meal out at a nice restraunt for the same price as a little chef meal. It needs to offer cheap convenient places to rest and refil.
Dave Smith
2009-01-21 10:24:23

I like the chef and his attitude, I think he is well focussed on the job in hand and could only improve Little Chef if his menus are allowed to be introduced, the makeover is a lot better than expected, a dramatic difference and Little Chef needs some drama.

Pegler is the new man in charge, he must have only just taken over the reigns of the company when this chef Heston came in which was nothing to do with Pegler, the bewilderment on Peglers face about what Huston thinks he is there to do and what Pegler thinks he is there to do is understandable when you know this fact, but maybe for good television they decided not to point this out to us?
2009-01-21 11:04:30

I love the silhouettes and parking lot stuff, and is that a historical photographic timeline of Little Chef? Interesting design!
2009-01-21 12:34:00

Does anyone know if Little Chef intend to roll this out to all their restaurants, or is this just an isolated marketing stunt?
2009-01-21 13:50:00

Why is George Dawes on the Little Chef menu? Something to do with peanuts?
Vernon Tutbury
2009-01-21 16:46:55

Amazing. I used to drive past the Little Chef at Popham for years on my way from London to the West Country and never ever went in (it looked so bad).

The car park at this Little Chef was always virtually empty - only time it was busy was during bank holiday weekends.

This goes to show that there really is no excuse for bad branding. It's just shear laziness on the part of execs who don't get it.
2009-01-22 09:06:48

horrible - why does the interior look like the fit out that Mcdonalds have so wisely left behind? and with regard to George Dawes - the 'peanuts' song would be a good addition to the loo soundtrack!
keith stephenson
2009-01-22 13:18:36

Good to see the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, off Ghostbusters, back in business on the outside signage!

Interior-wise a mix between public lav/swimming pool tiling and that expanse of blue sky just leaves me feeling cold, literally. A great opportunity to make it welcoming and warm has been missed. Little touches like the branded uniforms, parking bays, etc. are good but it does come down to the price too which seems to be extortionate. Then again I suppose we're used this when it comes to roadside eateries.
Waseem Ashraf
2009-01-22 13:28:50

It certainly is a big improvement! I've only ever made one visit to a Little Chef since being a kid in the 80's, which funnily enough was Popham (my nearest was originally a Happy Eater - anyone remember those? - before becoming a Little Chef). I only stopped in for a coffee because a friend was driving and he insisted. Needless to say it was, only word for it, rotten. It put me off ever going back. I'd definitely give the new facelift a chance..... but I think, as someone has already said, it's still so expensive! And has the quality of the food improved? If its still cheap crap then it won't last long, surely!
Giles Marsh
2009-01-22 13:33:50

Wish they could have done a more 'English' interior.

Why does everyone assume that people want Americana while they eat?
2009-01-22 13:57:58

Little Chef will not last from this publicity until the PRICE comes down, or at least you know you will get value for money. Hessian Bluearsedfly (or whatever his name) can paint it in gold, with pictures of supermodels in every menu, but if it still costs £3 for a cup of tea, or £12 to eat a mangy sausage roll with 4 chips, its days are numbered and frankly thats a good thing.
2009-01-22 15:12:33

Watched all 3 of the shows and I honestly thought it was brilliant what Heston achieved. To completely revamp the image of such a well known British company is a risky task in its own right, especially for a chef! But I thought what he did was not simply change the image but modernise it.

Whether it will prove successful it another story. It's easy to appear in good light when the restaurant was full of celebrities and press, but it may be a different story when life returns to normal.

Best of luck to them!
2009-01-22 16:00:08

Brilliant! I love it. Watched the show last night and wanted to pop on down to sample the food.

What a nightmare having to deal with Ian "the bo$$". But with that aside the design of the interior is brilliant. A great place to take your kids, after all they are the ones who will remember the blue sky ceiling and singing toilets. With great food to boot lets hope that this is a resurrection of a British institution with innovative creativity to make the new generation want to eat at Little Chef like in the past.

Hopefully this will be rolled out across the UK so the nation of truckers, holiday makers, commuters and breakfast meeting goers have a brand new, well designed and most importantly British place to eat.

A big well-done to Heston and his team. Now it's up to us to support all their efforts and spend our money in the chain.
Steven Grimmer
2009-01-22 17:02:53

Well worth watching. But a bit like a watered down Kitchen Nightmares though. I'm just wondering how long it'll be before Little Chef offer a 'Classic' menu, packed full of Mega Gut Busters and the like.
No doubt that the program worked, and Little Chef have got the best bit of advertising of their entire history. I think Heston may have had hit the nail on the head. Maybe just publicity.
Incidently, the re-design wasn't Hestons, but, and i'm pleased that we supplied the new chefs outfits at
2009-01-22 18:27:08

I truly detest Little Chef in it's current form, it has seriously needed some big changes for a long time but it now has a big problem in its established bad reputation (I know people who refer to the chain as Little Sh1t). From what I could gather Hester Blumenthal had a really confusing brief - he was asked for 'Blue Sky Thinking' but told to keep to a budget without being given any actual figures, a client who seemed reluctant to answer his questions and was trying too hard to look clever on television.

What struck me was that the company was trying to force too much profit out of too few customers by selling a low standard of product at too high a price. I also thought that the situation of the majority of Little Chefs was entirely overlooked - if I'm spending the best part of a day travelling I do not want to eat a massive meal and have that sitting on my stomach for the rest of the journey. However I do think that the outcome of a difficult brief was met well and the menus and little finishing touches to the flagship restaurant were very good, they suit the image the company should have of being (still not cheap but) cheerful with a fast turnaround.
2009-01-23 13:36:45

My most common experience of Little Chef has been slow service and a LONG wait to pay the bill, usually caused by under staffing. A little more investment in proper staffing would make the world of difference.

Last time I was in LC at Penrith, the manager was cooking one day and operating the till and serving the next because of staff absence(and one failure of an employee to turn up for work, with no explanation). The poor woman was rushed off her feet that whole weekend but still managed to have a smile on her face and some friendly chat for the customers. Food wasn't bad and the day she was cooking I had the best scrambled egg I'd ever tasted!
2009-01-23 14:24:16

well you couldn't have made it worse! I went keith moon last time I was in a little chef. No kidding.
da bishop
2009-01-23 19:00:41

Heston, what you did for Little Chef was amazing. I think the most important thing you did was change the employee's attitudes about their work. Their passion for their job now glows on each of their faces. At the beginning of your show they all looked miserable & disappointed about where they work.
Now,they are proud of where they work & what they do. When I go into a shop or a restaurant & the clerk has a miserable face, no matter how good the merchandise might be, I won't ever go back there again.
A friendly smiling face with an eager & proud attitude goes more then a long way. Thank you for doing for them.
And YES, the changes in the food was amazing!!
I am from Texas & have been in retail for over 17 years. Since moving to the UK the difference in sales & customer service is amazingly different. I have my theories why but I've babbled on long enough.
I really enjoyed watching the show. Thank you!
2009-01-25 10:33:22

where can i get some of those funky light shades?
2009-01-30 23:14:50

The comments here have been great...
I used to be an avid user of little chefs for many years, not that i liked them much but they did serve a purpose while travelling. However I have not been in one for over 10years now. I did try to have a family meal in one about a year ago at about 8:45pm the sign said they closed at 10pm, the staff said they were closing...I pointed out that the sign said there was an hour left til closing...then they said but I have cleaned the fryer plate....I don't want to do it again.
Well i Havent been back there you could guess.
But all i all, the fact is Little chef have to keep its customers happy and entice new customers, and I have no vision of Little chef investing Vast sums of money to remarket the restaurants images. They said it them selves really by not saying anything to Heston at all. He needed answers from them so he could help them. He didnt get them, so he was unable to completely satisfy their needs.
He also pointed out to them, they could not have what he serves his customers in his restaurant unless you pay £250 a head for his unique meals. It was quite clear, it was pure advertising PR for them, and sadly Heston knew it also, but brave as he was he pondered on. Well done.
Its weird the company are called little chef dont you think, when not one member of staff are chefs or are knowledgeable in the sciene of food. ( well most then if not all ). 'Little fat Fryer' theres a new name for them to have, and they can have that from me for free.
chris wade
2009-02-22 17:53:23

2009-02-25 14:24:26

In February 2009 I stayed the night at the Travelodge in Liphook .On checkin I asked what time the adjacent Little Chef closed and was told 10pm.I wandered across at 9.30 pm and sat down in the Little Chef only to be told they were closed.I asked how come the doors were open andlights on but was told the ranges had been powered down and on protesting further was given the manager's phone number.I repiorted the incident to Little Chef and received an emailed apology saying that the Liphook staff would receive appropriate training.
I am due there again this February and will be interested to see if the re-education of complying with advertised opening times hgas worked.
Roger Jones
2009-09-03 12:10:50

Good about improvements but feel that there should be more input from staff. Recently called in with both parents. Jacket potato withn cheese. Well where was the cheese. Asked staff about portion.....They had ran out of cheese.... Never mind the potato was so hard couldn't eat it anyway. Always went there with children as we travellled a lot. Wont be going back
2009-09-15 19:59:09

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