Despite the success of high street branded station outlets at attracting customers to buy before boarding, virtually all onboard café bars and trolleys across Europe remain unbranded.
Instead they use a combination of individually branded products as part of a wider range but without any overarching catering identity. This approach means trains don't compete on equal terms and my challenge to caterers is: bring in suitable partners and ramp up the competition.
Experience shows that selling is as much about people as products. The best products, with the best presentation will be ineffective if the crew is not engaged or trained to sell. Our members continually look to find technical solutions to offer more choice and use of onboard services. Pre-purchase systems for meals are often via a link from the train operator’s website, and a few ‘buy at seat’ apps have also been developed, such as in Czech Republic by JLV and in Poland by WARS.
However, there is potential for more intuitive engagement on catering, as done for ticketing and scheduling information. The pace of development in Europe is a worry, especially with high-speed train journeys diminishing service times, and on busy services where customers don't want to leave their seats.The more traditional style retail restaurant cars
are still used by a surprising number of operators in Europe such as DB,
SBB and VR. This is mainly for societal reasons, but cost management is difficult and revenues variable. Elsewhere about 50% of meals are now pre-prepared in production kitchens, delivered in modules and served on trays to customers at seat. I think this trend will continue as it means more customers per train can be served, and costs can be included in the ticket price.
In the modern high-speed rail environment caterers need to provide ever-greater flexibility, to manage events and disruptions too. Whether it’s a last minute change of train, engineering or increases in passenger numbers, having the right structure with all services under one roof gives added protection to operators and enables continual improvements in cost and operations.
The growing popularity of ethnic taste profiles such as tapas, Asian fusion, sushi and Mexican food suggests onboard menus could reflect more adventurous recipes and ingredients, especially in café bar retailing which has been restricted to pre-packed
sandwiches for years.
The best products, with the best presentation will be ineffective if the
crew is not trained