I will be taking a break from writing a blog for August so thought I’d do a summer blog that is right up my street, in terms of Food and Railways.
Railway catering has in the past been the butt of many comedians jokes. The British Rail Sandwich had a bad reputation but in the last year of British Operating 8 Million sandwiches were sold. See here for information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_sandwich Even “The Goons” a popular British Comedy Series dedicated a whole show to the subject of “The collapse of the British Railway Sandwich System”
In the early days of the railway system the various companies prided themselves in providing an at the table service in their dining cars. The Pullman Trains in particular boasted about having a full freshly cooked nutritious breakfast for Businessmen.
For the general travelling public it was either food from the various railway catering outlets usually just called the “Buffet” or later under the branded “Travellers Fare” banner. On the trains either a trolley service of snacks and light refreshments or a Buffet car selling various items which at times were neither appetising or cheap but if you were hungry that was it.
Times have changed and when the government in 1994 de-nationalised the railways and British Rail was no more the same happened with Travellers Fare.
Since then individual train operating companies have provided a variety of food for their customers either on-board or by means of contracts with external companies to provide a trolley service. With more and more outlets appearing at stations the catering and trolley services on some routes has diminished or finished altogether. In fact in our own region, London Midland withdraw catering services on trains altogether from the August Bank Holiday last year stating the following which is taken from their website.
Over the past 3 years we have trialled catering on a number of routes - Birmingham to Liverpool, Birmingham to London, and Crewe to London - and recently increased the number of services with catering facilities to assess demand at different times of day.
Whilst a small proportion of passengers appreciate the option to buy on the train, the greater range of products at station outlets means that the majority choose to purchase food and drink before boarding. On this basis we regret that we can no longer justify the high cost of providing on-train catering.”
On-train catering is not cheap to run whether from a trolley or a Buffet so hard decisions have to be made and in London Midlands Case I can see their point.
There are many new outlets springing up at stations across the country and nearby to stations so the public can whatever they need. On many railway stations you see the same companies selling their food and if your canny you will get yourself a free Bite Card https://www.bitecard.co.uk/ which gets you 20% discount at the establishments mentioned on their website that are based in the railway stations. Quite a choice but there are some independent operators who offer something different not only in the food and drink they supply but also the surroundings in which you can purchase and consume
Those passing through Birmingham Moor Street station will know it has an air of yesteryear and may well have visited an establishment I can highly recommend having been there a few times. Its called Centenary Lounge (http://centenarylounge.com/) The internal décor is inspired by the 1930’s Art Deco Bistro and on entering you will have a feel of luxury and warmth as well as noticing that it has all the features of a 1930s Great Western Railway Facility. Its licenced as well so if you almost all if not all your catering needs are sorted whether you are travelling or not. It’s a great meeting place as well.
Take a long at their website to get the feel of the place and now they have introduced a takeaway outlet at Birmingham Snow Hill Station which I had the privilege of being there at the official opening on Tuesday 17th July, when the Chocolate and cream ribbon was cut by non-other than Mr Phil Tonks (http://philtonks2.blogspot.co.uk/) and on twitter as @philtonks2 who is renowned in these parts for being partial to a quality bacon roll.
Whilst station outlets and on board catering has changed there is an open market for delivering good quality food and drink at a reasonable price to the travelling public. And if it can offer something different like Moor Streets “Centenary Lounge” and at Snow Hill “Refreshments by Centenary Lounge” then that can only be good for business as well as the discerning public who like to be treated special. The manager of Centenary Lounge tells me that plans are far ahead for opening an establishment at Stourbridge Junction Station in the very near future and of course that was part of the Great Western Railway who knew how to do things in style.
Railway refreshment facilities may have changed over the years as well as our requirements in this fast moving world of ours but its good to know some people are taking refreshment facilities to much new heights and I think the Centenary Lounge Branding and Art Deco style with real wood (Its Walnut) s their unique selling point and worthy of a visit. And if that wasn't enough for themselves they have been shortlisted for the “National Architecture Award” together with a B.A Award from “Business Today”
See you back here in September