Food lovers travelling by Indian Railways trains have reason to rejoice. After incessant complaints over poor-quality food provided by it over the years, the Indian Railways has decided to offer passengers the flexibility to choose meals of their choice, thanks to a tie-up between Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC – irctc.co.in) and 70-odd food vendors as well as food-delivery-on-demand aggregator Foodpanda.
Indian Railways passengers can now satiate their taste buds by ordering from an array of cuisines, ranging from a humble vada pav to chicken chettinad to continental food, in addition to the food items provided by IRCTC. Officials with the catering wing of the railways said talks with Zomato, a restaurant listing and service provider, was also under way. People can order food items online while booking tickets, or they can soon call toll-free number 1323 to place an order for the delivery of food on trains.
“We want to give a choice to our passengers. We want to ensure that we are able to provide whatever food they wish to have, and the tie-up with Foodpanda is another step towards customer satisfaction,” said RN Kalita, director of catering at IRCTC.
“We received all the necessary documents from the food aggregator on Thursday. Only the final due diligence is pending,” he added.
However, in the case of the Indian Railways Rajdhani trains, where the cost of the meals is part of the fare, there will be no rebate if a passenger opts to order food from non-IRCTC sources.
IRCTC officials said Foodpanda will initially start services from the New Delhi railway station and will later provide services through IRCTC at other stations. The Indian Railways caterer had earlier this year tied up with with over 70 food vendors, including Dominos, KFC, Travel Food Services and the recently-inducted Hello Curry. Officials said snack food giant Haldiram has also shown interest in collaborating with IRCTC.
Saurabh Kochhar, CEO of Foodpanda, said: “For long, consumers had limited food options to choose from while travelling by trains. But the newly-launched e-catering service by IRCTC is set to change the way Indians eat while travelling. We are excited to begin action in the Delhi station by December and are looking forward to extending this service to other stations as well.”
The Indian Railways’ food aggregator policy states that interested parties should have an agreement with food and beverage operators in 10 cities with valid licence from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. The policy also mandates prospective parties to have a minimum of one year of experience in the business and a minimum annual turnover of Rs 25 lakh.
IRCTC has been managing on-board catering services in some Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duronto and mail express trains and is also involved in static catering services across various stations. As a pilot project, it started providing e-catering services for seven trains in September last year, but with the Indian Railways directing IRCTC to implement ‘station-based e-catering’ on 45 major stations all over India, its portfolio and reach has expanded.
“We are providing 500 meals per day through e-catering (through various vendors), even though demand is not on a par with our estimates. We are confident that e-catering will pick up at a tremendous pace in the coming future,” IRCTC’s Kalita said.
IRCTC officials said they were confident the catering business for all trains in the country will be handed back to them in the near future, as was the case before Mamata Banerjee became the railway minister.