July 21, 2024

Rail caterers meet again

The International Rail Catering Group (IRCG) has met for its first in-person General Assembly since 2019.

Hosted by JLV a.s., the Czech and international rail caterer, the conference was held in the National Technical Museum in Prague, surrounded by many reminders of the great travel innovations from a bygone age.

Some 15 member companies attended, representing rail catering in 20 countries,  met face to face after a three-year hiatus to experience again the irreplaceable value that comes from direct dialogue with like-minded industry experts.

Members’ business updates revealed the huge changes to hospitality across the railway industry since 2019 with trends across all countries showing that while operating is now fairly normally, the flow of customers is different with leisure travel far more buoyant than business travel.

With slow returns to offices and video calls replacing client visits, first class business travel demand is weak, often restricted to Tuesday-Thursday. Travel budgets are slow to rebuild and any catering spend is focused on value for money. Conversely, higher leisure demand has extended weekends to include Friday and Monday, and even though we are now back to the normal working months, this trend is still strong.

This trend is reflected in new menus aimed towards the ‘freedom to journey’ clientele – customers with more time to travel, who are more discerning, environmentally sensitive, spending their own money and looking for a rewarding journey experience.

These passengers often choose to travel by train to help reduce journey pollution compared to cars or short-haul flights, and are interested in the sustainability of services and products they buy. They understand the impact of single-use plastic, excess packaging and waste and support and participate in schemes that help reduce environmental impact, such as recycling and re-use.

Delegates agreed that intuitive ways to order and pay, using everyday technology, are now expected by customers who have become much more tech-reliant. Most railways now have apps for food and beverage choices. Some offer pre-order where seat reservation systems allow, but most are for onboard use with QR codes quickly becoming the new ‘point-of-sale’. Caterers can easily update menus by season, time of day, train type and even reflect real time stock availability for either ‘click and collect’ or ‘service to seat’.

To take the association forward, the group has appointed four new vice-presidents – Benoît Vignon (Newrest), Fernanda Veiga (Kaelis), Christian Hölbl (DoN) and Tim Uebersax (Panoramic Gourmet).They’ll work with president Petr Pospišil to encourage best practice and innovations, improve social media communications, promote the value of rail catering for customers and railways, and expand membership into new geographies.

Chairman Roger Williams said: “As a voluntary, non-political and not-for-profit trade association,  are very fortunate to have such a dedicated membership and executive team. A big thank you to JLV for hosting and organising this fantastic conference and we look forward now to a brighter future together. With many tributes being paid to Queen Elizabeth II, delegates agreed it was fitting that they were able to live out her words of wisdom: “We will meet again”.”

If you are interested in joining IRCG, either as a railway caterer or established product supplier, contact roger@thecateringexplorer.com or petr.pospisil@jlv.cz