After months of research into customer buying habits, Salim and Mumtaz Patel decided to put food to go at the heart of a £1.2m renovation of their forecourt store. Marcello Perricone found out if the gamble paid off

I have been in the retail business for nearly 22 years, but this is the first time I have tried a food to go area,” says Salim Patel, owner of Crown Service Station in West Yorkshire. Thirty-year-old petrol forecourt Crown Service Station used to have a 500sq ft shop before Salim and his wife, Mumtaz, decided to completely rebuild it. 

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“Now it is four times bigger, about 2,000sq ft,” Salim tells RN. The renovation, which cost £1.2m and was made possible by funding from the Royal Bank of Scotland, involved months of research. “Me and my wife, Mumtaz, designed the store with a premium feel, like Marks & Spencer, and we researched what the customers wanted, such as healthy meals instead of processed food. In line with that, we decided we didn’t want grocery-heavy stock and focused more on food to go.”

To that end, the Patels built a Grab & Go food kitchen that prepares meals on-site, alongside a seating area and a Costa machine. All staff members are trained by an ex-food inspector before they start, and the same expert carries out random kitchen checks every two weeks. “The cleanliness of the kitchen is very important to me, as I understand the mentality of the customer,” Salim adds. “This is no ordinary takeaway, so we have to set a high standard.”

Focusing on food to go was a risk, but the gamble has paid off, Salim says. The new range of hot food was an immediate hit with customers.

“Our shop is in a transient site, so we’ve got a lot of customers that want to grab something and go,” he tells RN. “We do morning breakfast, from 6am to 10am, and then keep the kitchen open until 9pm, serving everything from sausage rolls and baked potatoes to sandwiches. People love the concept, the cleanliness, the presentation, so they are willing to pay for it.”

The transformation has been challenging, Salim admits. But the process was made much smoother with support from Nisa. “They keep checking on us, and if we don’t know how to do something, they will come in and do it for us,” he says.

And now this dedicated approach is generating results, with the shop seeing revenue of £600 to £700 a day from the food to go area alone. “The shop is very busy – it is a petrol station with a lot of services, such as an ATM, parking for customers, disabled toilets facilities, electrical charging – we aim to provide customers with a place where they can take a break,” Salim says. “My wife is a very good communicator. She is always at the food to go area making our customers feel comfortable, so they spend more.”

My wife is always at the food to go area making our customers feel comfortable,
so they spend more

This philosophy has been at the heart of Salim’s store for years, and it really paid off when they were forced to temporarily shut the store for refurbishment. “We closed for six months, and when we opened, all our customers came back. I couldn’t believe it – we reached our monthly target in two weeks, and it was all due to the relationship we had built up with our customers,” says Salim. “My staff are like a family and we have been in this game a long time. I believe customer service is very important.”

Looking to the future, Salim and Mumtaz plan to expand the store’s food offering and operating hours. “Chicago Town pizza heard of our store and approached us through Nisa, so we are going to start working with them next month. We also received a 24-hour permit last week, so we’re planning to recruit and train staff to start operating 24 hours,” he says.

But above all, Salim is adamant that his customer service must continue to improve: “We treat our customers like guests, and I always ask my cashiers to treat customers well. If your service is good, your customers will always come back.” 

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