Little Chef worker on life behind scenes in ‘dirty, smelly and bizarre’ roadside icon

The red and white diners were found in their hundreds across the UK in their 1980s heyday but were relegated to the past when the chain closed in 2018

Anyone who grew up in the 1970s or 80s will know that the Little Chef was THE place to stop in for a bite to eat on long road trips.

Along with the equally memorable Happy Eater, the iconic roadside diners were dotted across the country in their hundreds on A-roads and motorway service stations.

From Olympic breakfasts to pineapple burgers and jubilee pancakes, the cheap but cheerful restaurants fed families on lengthy journeys or holidays for decades.

However fortunes change and the chain finally went busy in 2018, though many Brits could be forgiven for thinking the end had come long before that as the Little Chef’s heyday was long behind it.

Staff who worked in the red and white branches still remember what it was like to serve up hearty fare in simpler culinary times.

And Derbyshire Live has spoken to one of those former employees, who dishes the dirt – literally – on real life behind the scenes at one of the UK’s icons of the past.

Lots of people have fond memories of Little Chef, the chain which finally collapsed in 2018, but mine are bittersweet at best, having worked at a Derbyshire branch for a while as a teenager, my mum insisting that I get a job.

It is therefore time to spill the beans, so to speak.
Appropriately enough one of the foodstuffs I spent my time scraping from plates into a big bin while working there.

It was a dirty, smelly and bizarre introduction to the world of employment.

I operated the dishwasher, primarily, and made drinks for customers and also put together a salad once.

The dishwashing station was my ketchup-stained kingdom of food waste.

Loading the industrial dishwasher with dirty plates, unloading the clean ones and occasionally getting splashed with brown water from the gurgling contraption.

It was a skeleton crew with just three chefs, the manager and, I think, one waitress.

Non of them seemed to take their roles that seriously. Like me, Little Chef was just a stop-gap measure to earn a few quid while at college, university or preparing for the armed forces.

Working at Little Chef was probably not the best training ground for the armed forces but one day two of the chefs did have a fight in the kitchen with staple guns.

It’s a miracle that no staples ended up in any of the food or, if they did, then no customers noticed.

Many years later, I took my young children to a Little Chef on the way back from the swimming pool and the food and decor appeared largely the same.

They loved it even though it was pretty dreadful and quite expensive. At that moment, my parents’ reluctance to ever stop at Little Chefs was suddenly brought into sharp focus.

For decades Little Chefs were a part of most family holidays in the UK.

They were pretty much unavoidable and kids, myself included, loved them for some reason that appears hard to explain today.

Lots of them have been converted into Starbucks coffee shops and one on the A38 near Derby is now a sex shop which is hugely ironic given that nothing that I have ever experienced in my life has been less erotic than my time working at Little Chef.

At least it was better than Happy Eater.