Feature

By Roger Wiliams

Catering Explorer’s Roger Williams, the chair of IRCG, visits Poland and discovers how caterer, WARS, is delivering a quality branded service for Polish PKP’s intercity long distance trains

Poland, celebrating 100 years of regaining independence this year, is a large country by EU standards – the fifth largest landmass, and sixth largest population – nearly 40m and growing. With intercity journeys of between two and 11 hours, four designs of day trains, plus overnight sleepers, it has a complex railway network and WARS has a big task to maintain the quality of service on 300 daily train connections.

Franchising

Untypically for rail, WARS franchises its onboard catering – a system only really replicated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Rather than employing 800 catering staff directly, it works with 70 franchisees who employ their own crews for each specific train.

WARS’s main supply centre is in Warsaw, with four more in Gdynia (north), Szcecin (west) and Wroclaw and Krakow (south), from where WARS sells the products to the franchisees and supplies marketing and practical support. Each franchisee is responsible for sales revenue, quality standards and customer satisfaction. However, ensuring brand standards are delivered correctly is the key and WARS has 70 years of experience in making that work.

New trains

In a railway sidings on the outskirts of Warsaw, I met Zbigniew Terek, WARS ceo, and board member Piotr Adamczuk. Shiny new PKP Intercity trains such as the Pendolino and Stadler trains sparkle in the sunshine – and each one has its own style of catering unit built in.

Bean-to-cup coffee, digital screens, refrigerated displays, induction hobs and modern layouts, mean WARS is able to serve a wide product range, with the management focus on quality. Although externally the train is branded PKP Intercity, internal catering areas including tables and café fronts are branded WARS. The brand profile has been raised by the recent introduction of station and office-based restaurants serving superior quality meals – a reflection perhaps of the continuing dining culture in Poland.

“We have to maintain the onboard quality and are using our new app to do so,” Terek explains. “There is a lot of branded competition at stations from the likes of Starbucks and customers expect similar brand standards on the train.”

Digital monitoring

Adamczuk says: “As our franchisees run services all hours of the day and night, 24-hour communications over a wide geographical area is essential to maintain a brand standard. We already had our mWARS mobile app for at-seat ordering and this gave us the idea to look for a digital solution to aid compliance.

“Our new customised app means that our supervisors can monitor operations nationally and in real time, whilst franchisees can manage sales, staff, products, and obligatory training. “This includes videos on food preparation and presentation, information bulletins, and an event calendar of the latest marketing initiatives. The app and onboard wi-fi is free and initial feedback from all users is positive.”

Onboard experience

There is no doubting the potenial value of this tool which can be monitored by analytics. Any onboard operator could use it whether branded, franchised, fully employed, large or small and it seems to be working well.

Joining the Express Intercity to Gdansk at just gone 7am, I went straight to the restaurant car for a traditional Polish breakfast. Sausages, bacon and eggs were freshly cooked onboard, and a salad was added on the side. It was excellent. Branded cutlery packs, fresh bread offered in baskets, proper cappuccino and linen tablecloths all added to the onboard experience.

I returned on a newer Pendolino train – called an Express Intercity Premium service. This 200kph train can carry over 400 customers and offered complimentary morning snacks and beverages in First. Warm croissants, filter coffee, orange juice and even toasted ciabatta bread snacks, were served within 15 minutes of departure.

Lessons learnt

Lessons can certainly be learnt from WARS by many rail catering operators – utilising a strong recognisable brand identity onboard, supported by digital monitoring and communications with crews and customers, all ensure high levels of consistency. It is the intrinsic value of great onboard service that makes travel a delight.