Opened in 1959, the service area at Newport Pagnell on the M1 motorway near Milton Keynes by Motorway Services Ltd was the company's first service area under the Forte name and was only the second service area to be constructed on the fledgling UK motorway network. The name "Welcome Break" came from a chain of rival restaurants to Little Chef, created by Allen Jones. These restaurants eventually either became Happy Eaters or closed. The name was brought back to life when Hanson Trust used it to rename Ross Food's service stations. The company's portfolio was expanded to five motorway service areas during periods under the ownership of the Imperial Group and subsequently the Hanson Trust before being purchased by Trusthouse Forte in 1986. Under this deal, the Welcome Break name was adopted across the entire estate, with Trusthouse Forte's sixteen existing service areas re-branded as Welcome Break.
Welcome Break also operate Days Inn motels, Days Hotel and Ramada hotels at other sites other than their own, at Services and Town/City locations:Days Inn Peterborough services (A1(M)
Days Inn Cambridge services (A14)
Days Inn Stevenage Baldock services
Days Inn Winchester services
Ramada London Stansted
Days Inn Cobham services (M25)
Ramada Wakefield (M1)
In January 1996, the Forte Group was the subject of a £3.9 billion hostile takeover by the British media group Granada. Due to Granada's existing major presence in the motorway services market, a subsequent investigation by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission ordered Granada to sell 27 of the Welcome Break sites. The company was eventually bought by Investcorp in 1997 for £476m. Investcorp then sold Welcome Break to Appia Investments in March 2008 for £500m.
The facilities available at Welcome Break service areas varies at each site, with most sites open 24 hours a day throughout the year. Typically, each service area comprises a café or restaurant, a retail outlet, a hotel and a petrol station. All sites have WHSmith, Burger King, an eat-in restaurant, a coffee shop (Starbucks Coffee) and a petrol station (Shell or BP).
The majority of hotels at Welcome Break service areas are franchises of Days Inn or Ramada; many of these were once branded under Welcome Break's own brand, "Welcome Lodge" – the last of these, at Newport Pagnell and Charnock Richard, were rebranded to Days Inns in May 2009 and also took over operation of three former PURPLE hotels at Cambridge, Peterborough and Stevenage in July 2009, each three have reopened as Days Inn taking its total to 26. In September 2012, Welcome Break opened a Days Inn at the new Cobham Service area on the M25 and 2013 saw a rebrand of Days Hotel London North and Days Inn London Stansted into Ramada hotels In December 2014, Welcome Break purchased Days Hotel Wakefield, after a full refurbishment it was re opened as Ramada Wakefield in January 2015.
Eat In was Welcome Break's own brand self-service restaurant. However, these have since been replaced with food courts, featuring a selection of brands varying from location to location:New to the Welcome Break facilities is Subway opening 15 new units from January 2015 to May 2015.
Welcome Break have recently opened Harry Ramsden's, a UK-based fish and chip restaurant, also offering a range of breakfast to eat in or take away. It's currently at most sites.
Waitrose has franchise stores across many services, including Newport Pagnell, Leicester, Hopwood Park, Fleet, Keele, Warwick North and South, Oxford, Membury West, Corley North, South Mimms, Gretna, Gordano and Cardiff Gate.
In May 2006, a branch of the international coffeehouse chain Starbucks was opened on a trial basis at Corley services on the M6 motorway. Starbucks is now available in most Welcome Break services. Some services have drive-through Starbucks in separate buildings.
Welcome Break is a long-standing KFC licensee, operating KFC fast food restaurants at 24 of its service areas. In May 2005, Welcome Break announced a deal with KFC designed to bypass tough UK motorway signage legislation. UK law currently prevents motorway service area operators from displaying additional brand names other than their own company name on roadside signage. To circumvent this restriction, a new subsidiary company "Welcome Break KFC" was registered.
Burger King restaurants operate at all Welcome Break service stations except Burtonwood and Derby South.
In 1995, it was announced that they were going to add a McDonald's to every one of the services, but the process was stopped after just two because Forte were acquired by Granada (now Moto), a deal which included Welcome Break and lost out to Burger King being added instead. There are only two McDonald's now, at Fleet services and Woodall services.
Recently, Welcome Break service areas have followed the industry-wide trend towards partnership with High Street brands. W H Smith stores have been introduced at the majority of Welcome Break sites as a replacement for the traditional unbranded retail outlets. Initially launched as a trial store at the Newport Pagnell site in February 2007, W H Smith stores have now been rolled out across the Welcome Break portfolio.
Fone Bitz sell electronics across the motorway network and operate at most Welcome Break sites. Fone Bitz sell a range of Mobile Phone, iPad, iPod, Laptop, electronic and car accessories in general.
Welcome Break Gaming is a self branded betting arcade located at all Welcome Break sites, except the Welcome Break operated Days Inn hotels and motels.
In July 2011 it was announced that the green energy provider Ecotricity will be providing fast and normal electric vehicle charging stations at Welcome Break service stations, linking London in the south with Exeter in the west and Edinburgh in the north.
Welcome Break introduced a new company logo in September 2006. The swan, integral to the previous company logo, has been removed. The new logo features a black background with the words 'welcome' and 'break' in green and white respectively. Each site now also has a large mural depicting a local landmark unique to that site. Many of these were commissioned from artist David Fisher.Abington
Fleet - Featuring the Scott Mills bridge
Sedgemoor (Northbound only)
Leicester Forest East