SBB FastLane catering service, source: SBB

Railways digitise catering services

Railway undertakings are paying more and more attention to self-service digital services. Tickets purchased via mobile apps or online shops have already become the rule for passengers. As a further step, the operators are developing multimodal platforms that allow their customers to buy tickets for several modes of transport. Why not try a digital catering option?

Swiss incumbent railway operator SBB played a pioneering role in this area. It launched the “SBB FastLane” digital catering service in November 2018. Initially, it was functioning in a trial mode until April 2019. During this period, only the passengers departing from Zürich Main station were being able to test the option. Now it is in full service and available at three stations: Zürich, Bern and Basel. How does the option work?

Click & Collect service

To use the “SBB FastLane” service, the customers need to create a personal account on the SBB’s website or install the company’s “My station” app. Both choices are the convenient opportunities for the passengers to order some food in advance, pay for it with a bank card, choose the necessary time and pick it up without any queues before boarding a train. It is a so-called Click & Collect service. Several cafés joined the project. As a result, customers can purchase a wide range of food – from sushi or burgers to coffee. The order can be changed or cancelled up to 15 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time.

Catering service in Sapsan high-speed train, source: Russian Railways (RZD)

Early order in Russia

In December 2019 Russian Railways (RZD) added the similar service but with a distinguishing feature. The customers need to take care of early order, no later than 48 hours before a scheduled train departure. They are able to do this at the company’s online ticket shop or its mobile app known as ‘RZD passazhiram’ (‘RZD to passengers’ in Russian).

Five different types of menu: “Full board” (breakfast, lunch and dinner), “Half board” (breakfast and dinner), “Breakfast only”, “Lunch only” and “Dinner only”. The passengers can choose some dishes from those menus. This service is available at the main railway stations in three cities: Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. From the mid-March until late August, the option was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak in Russia. Now it is fully operational.

At-Seat Order catering service of Avanti West Coast, source: Avanti West Coast

At-seat purchasing in the UK

Among the latest developments in digital catering is the “At-Seat Order” service introduced by Avanti West Coast, the British train operator that is jointly owned by FirstGroup and Trenitalia. In contrast to the above-mentioned practices, the UK’s railway undertaking decided to go another way. Currently, the “At-Seat Order” service is available only onboard during the trip.

“Customers can log on to the onboard Wi-Fi using their mobile phone, tablet or laptop and then visit the dedicated page in their browser to choose their refreshments. Payment is through debit or credit cards or PayPal. The order is then delivered to their seat by an onboard Customer Service Assistant,” Avanti West Coast explains the features of the digital service.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines RailTech.com and RailFreight.com.

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