The Guardian reports rescue attempts to stop the roadside restaurant chain of Little Chef going into administration. As an exercise – what images come to mind when you think of this brand? Probably the chubby chap in the logo, nipping in just to use the loo, wipe clean menus of sausages and sundaes, “Mrs Overall” staff?
In public relations terms, these are not positive icons, and it is hard to feel more than a nostalgic “there goes another of my childhood memories” about Little Chef. I often think about the brand and how public relations could help it when I drive past one of the 235 restaurants (that is a misnomer to start with).
What are its values? I think it could have made more of being family-friendly and accessible. A revamp of the menu, staff-training and landscaping an interesting view out of the window would have been simple tactics. They have some excellent locations and opportunities to counter soulless motorway services.
A simple PESTEL and SWOT analyses would have identified long-ago how it needed public relations to address trends. I don’t mean marketing public relations in terms of getting media coverage, but in understanding how life is changing and building a reputation that still continued to claim a place in British cultural life.
Autoblog in posting on environmentalists targeting the German autobahn cites Timm Krägenow of the Deutschland Financial Times: “Derestricted driving on the autobahn is to the Germans what pesto is to the Italians and the baguette is to the French. No one in Italy or in France would dare to try and ban the cultural characteristics of their country.”
Little Chef epitomises Britain’s road-culture – we don’t speed silently along autobahns or stop enmass for Le Picnic as our French cousins. Our long journeys still involve I-Spy and singing games, before the children cry “are we nearly there yet” and “I need a wee” (despite all the in-car entertainment systems). At a time where there are demands for protecting British culture, surely it couldn’t be too late for strategic public relations to resuscitate the reputation of Little Chef?
[P.S. My favourite memory of Little Chef is with my family and friends near Cambridge 30 years ago when the manageress threw a wobbly, locked the doors and verbally lambasted all the customers – that was before the days of “was everything to your satisfaction, sir’!!]