Marks and Spencer is a national institution, a business that as a Brit I always felt proud of. It seemed not that long ago that M&S led the way, certainly in the food and wine stakes. Thank goodness it has decided to remedy some of its most pressing ailments. Recently I decided to investigate where M&S' woes lay. I visited two stores, the Reading and Oxford Street branches. I must confess I hadn't entered any of their stores for several years. I was greeted by the same boring out of date frontage, no pizzazz, no glamour, no excitement. Ghastly lighting, boring displays and hideous flooring. On reaching the food hall, if I had shut my eyes, I could have been in a hospital corridor. There was an air of sterility, no foodie smells, no announcements. I looked for staff. I discovered one lady on an information desk with a queue. Where were the floor staff? I spotted one who looked more like an M&S customer, flowery shirt, navy suit, no communication skills. I checked out the food which, to be fair, was superior to that at the big four supermarkets, but there was no vision, no layout, no obvious system. All the packaging appeared to be the same with a baffling array of cook-chill food. As well as a wine section there was wine at the end of each aisle with no reason or explanation of why it was there. On checking with a couple of M&S devotees, their main comment was that as soon as you started to enjoy a product the next time you visited, it wouldn't be there. I went to pay. I was greeted by a cashier in what appeared to be a puffa jacket, and this is meant to be summer. And, shock horror, I wasn't allowed to pay by credit card. Get real guys. Design and service seem to be the missing words, doubly emphasised when I walked across the road to Selfridges food hall ­ great smells, great smiles and exciting products. Wasn't it only a few years ago that they too were in the doldrums? There's hope for M&S yet. {{NEWS }}