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Catering facilities on Heritage Railway trains (ex WSR and SVR Threads)

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by paulhitch, Aug 11, 2017.

  1. Copper-capped

    Copper-capped Well-Known Member

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    Crikey Robin! Where were you two pages ago?!!
     
  2. Matt78

    Matt78 Well-Known Member

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    I don't think it's quite that simple. Some of the "shorter" lines provide successful cream tea ventures which (I stand to be corrected) may be more difficult to achieve on a longer line with regularity. This is also a significant financial opportunity and an alternative take on "on train" catering:

    Having just extended our line we are having a debate about whether to build a second cafe at our middle station or invest in "on train" catering. We have decided to invest in some catering trolleys on-train for the time being.

    If effective and enthusiastic volunteers are available to run on-train catering then I'd suggest that a profitable operation could be achieved regardless of length of line. The concept can be extended to selling guide books/raffle tickets, all good "secondary spend" items although the trend in the last few years is that this type of expenditure is less common.

    Regards

    Matt
     
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  3. burmister

    burmister Member

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    I suspect as always the answer is a mix of all the above viewpoints and if free input and all costs are included in the accounting. I am suspicious of painstakingly restored Pullman type dining trains that have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds as well as taking thousands of hours to restore ever earning enough to make a true return for a railway when you have to do it all again every 10 years. But a simple dining service using private outside caterers in a bulled up coach with tables, curtains etc can generate a true return.
    Same principal should be applied to Buffet operations.
     
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  4. I quite agree. If the WSR was limited to a base at, say, Lydeard, offering a trip to Crowcombe, back through Lydeard to Norton and back to Lydeard, then the WSR would not need buffet cars or on train toilets. But the WSR offers much more than a [linear] circular trip. It offers a train trip with a real purpose. "Heritage" also means reliving train travel of the past - a proper journey with (several) possible destinations where folks can get out and enjoy several hours of fun - away from the Railway. Just like the old days.

    On a longer line (lots to choose from), especially one with a bargain week-long rover ticket, it is possible to plan several days out using the railway to get there and back. And to be assured of refreshments on the journey (and a facility on board when the "need" arrives). A proper day out by train.

    Steve
     
  5. Matt78

    Matt78 Well-Known Member

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    That's certainly part of the market out there but equally families can also appreciate a shorter ride with some more time to talk to the driver and observe the loco at close quarters at a more lengthy stopover at a station. Some of the most popular features such as this and a visit to the signalbox, are far easier to accommodate on smaller lines than at a larger operation.

    At the end of the day there are no hard and fast rules, the diversity of experience at every railway is what makes it so interesting and why the debate is relevant. What works at one railway does not necessarily work on another.

    Regards

    Matt
     
  6. Your last comment is quite right of course. But I should point out the WSR too entertains many visitors at its more accessible signal boxes at quieter times - and many a visitor has enjoyed a chat with the loco crew whilst on the footplate itself before departure time. We may be one of the longer lines but we are just as accessible as other lines.

    Steve
     
  7. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    As an aside, I visited a railway last weekend that has basically a 10 mile round trip, starting and finishing at an intermediate station; and with all non-corridor stock (so no option for on-train catering).

    On a previous visit, there was a single cafe at the main station. However, the time round, I noticed that two additional catering outlets had appeared at the main station (making three in total at one station), supplementing the main one with the option to get cake / coffee (and in one case pasties / sausage rolls), in addition to the main outlet doing more substantial food.

    That rather suggested to me that in the case of that railway, there was a definite attempt to tap into a discretionary market, i.e. people deciding on the spur of the moment to buy a cup of tea when they were maybe remote from the main cafe (in the case of that station, remote might mean two hundred yards away and separated by a level crossing from the main cafe).

    Feels to me that that is not so different in kind from on an on-train RMB: the main cafe is there and caters for more substantial meals, but the option is there for people to decide on the spur of the moment to buy a cake and coffee. The only difference being whether the cake-and-coffee emporium was mobile or not: either way, it was providing a service for people who were remote from the main outlet.

    Tom
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2017
  8. A timely comment as that is exactly what we are trialling this evening aboard a scheduled Quantock Belle. A respected local catering firm is running the kitchen along with regular QB staff front of house. The same arrangement will apply during Quantock Belle's 60103 hauled services next month.

    Barrie
     
  9. michaelh

    michaelh Well-Known Member

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    You should not assume that "onshore" refreshment facilities are necessarily profitable. The classic example is Abergynolwyn on the Talyllyn Railway which is only busyish for the 30 minutes or so whilst the train is present - and even then individual sales values are pretty low - mainly cups of tea/coffee and crisps or cakes/sandwiches. For the rest of the time it's pretty much empty, but the staff still have to be paid.
     
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  10. Sidmouth4me

    Sidmouth4me Member

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    My view is that a well stocked buffet car is essential to a 1 hour+ ride heritage railway if it wants to encourage repeat travellers. It is not a simple matter of whether the buffet car pays for itself in terms of buffet car revenue / operating costs but whether the railway wants a happy and satisfied customer. Indeed could the land-based station tea shop otherwise cope with a train arriving with 400+ passagngers all wanting serving in the next 5 minutes?

    My wife and I had one bad experience on a heritage railway which failed to deliver the advertised on-board food refreshments, which means it got a 1 out of 5 tripadvisor review and we will never return. In that instance we got the bus back.
     
  11. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    Half a guess as to where you mean! That particular site is quite a large one with a deliberate attempt to broaden its attraction across groups, as opposed to providing further and further extensions to the route. They can be occupied all day with the various exhibits if they so wish and the different catering outlets, which are not open every day, assist in this. One is very newly opened so the results are awaited.

    PH
     
  12. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    One person? That's a hell of a survey sample.
     
  13. martin1656

    martin1656 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Paul made comment about catering not being a place for the untrained, No one these days is untrained, everyone, even the person pouring that cup of tea will have had to sit an food safety course, where they are taught the basics so at least do have an idea about what they are doing, the person in the kitchen, may not be a trained chef, but they will be a skilled person, i recently re sat my food safety certificate because its always a good thing to have , you never know when it may come in handy You dont take chances with food.
    As regards on train vs Fixed catering, on train, if using a trolley, you have a potential client base who are not going anywhere else, so a captive market, where as a restaurant room, your custom decide to go in, they have already made up their minds they want something to eat, on board train, they haven't, its a spur of the moment decision, so thats a potensial 200 extra customers only a few of which would have made that decision to eat, or drink, plus in that figure will be some who have decide, the buffet is packed and we will get something on the train .
     
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  14. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    Although I have already referred to them by inference I wasn't going to mention the T.R. specifically. I did not want to put their problems under the spotlight but they are not secretive and these problems, hopefully in the past, are well known. However, when I mentioned this situation to someone with managerial responsibilities in this field, his incredulous reaction was "How on earth did they manage to do that?"

    Basically, if you just let things carry on without keeping an eye on cost then catering can lose a packet, just as it can make one. This applies both to stationary and mobile outlets.

    PH
     
  15. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    IMO Paul doesn't "get" much about running a heritage railway or any other business for that matter. If every aspect is looked at in isolation it's easy to identify the less profitable lines. Removing these items won't necessarily improve profits as if they're one of the reasons customers visit and end up buying more profitable items as well, removing the less profitable items could mean losing the total spend. Supermarkets etc. do not stock loss leaders just for fun. Buffet cars can be looked at in a similar vein.
     
  16. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    The person concerned is known to me and one of his railway interests is taking long trips, sampling things like sleeper services. To hear him saying a journey is too long is akin to me saying a railway should double its route mileage and use larger motive power and it surprised me. As the word "incidentally" indicated this was an obiter dicta and no more a scientific survey than most other comments on NP.

    PH
     
  17. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    You assume very much too much about visitors motivations. Like most people on here.

    PH
     
  18. martin1656

    martin1656 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Catering done properly is a very profitable business, on many railways it can be the difference between making a profit or a loss, but its the extra opertunities it gives you, sunday luncheon trains, cream teas, breakfasts, all these have evolved to meet a demand, if your fortunate to have a first class dining train, with a suitable high class reputation it can work wonders, if i was a general manager, and i wanted to impress Spamcan to allow us to hire his loco, what better that to wine and dine him, before showing him you can look after his pride and joy , it many cases it can be the decider, and if they are suitably impressed, they may tell their friends, and even book themselves next time they are in the location ,or for a special occation, I view catering as being part of a multi facicated attraction to any railway, along with clean coaches, well turned out friendly attentive staff, clean and modern toilets and an ordered impression , its all to attract joe public into opening their wallet, and allowing us to extract as much as we can from them, and for them to say afterwards, that was good, we must come back,
    I have worked at the sharp end, on both loco and on catering, and i can remember one time, i had been firing the previous week end, and a couple came up, it was their weeding anniversary the following week end, and i got talking to them, they had booked on the dining train, on the strength of what friends of theirs had told them, , Now on that night, i was cheffing, and when i did my walk through with my team, i made the point of telling the train steward that it was this couples anniversary when i saw them, they were surprised that i remembered them, and even more when they were given a bottle of wine on the house. its little touches like that.
     
  19. huochemi

    huochemi Well-Known Member Friend

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    Should that be the other way round, that catering done profitably is done properly? Clearly there are many catering establishments that close down which provided a decent product. (or if they don't close down they switch to serving so-called tapas :eek:)
     
  20. Martin Perry

    Martin Perry Part of the furniture Staff Member Moderator

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    Whereas some people, of course,
    know it all ...

    Sent from my SM-G900F using Tapatalk
     
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