Berth of new food service for train passengers

Written by Namrata Rao | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 27 2014, 08:19am hrs
Food railway stationsHot, fresh meals from restaurants being delivered at railway stations
If you are a frequent traveller on long-distance trains, chances are that you would have come across at least one instance of unhygienic food being served by the railway pantry or simply gotten tired of the same old fare. Navneet Choudhary, a 21-year-old engineering student, experienced it too, during one of his journeys last year, and thus was born The startup, along with other similar ventures such as Mera Food Choice and TravelKhana, is providing train passengers the option of ordering hot, fresh food from restaurants online or over phone, and having it delivered to their berths at a railway station of their choice.

All one has to do is log on to the website, enter the PNR number of the train and choose the railway station one wants the food to be delivered at. Next, one can select the restaurants the company has partnered with, check out their menus, choose a dish and place the order either over the website or through a phone call. One also has the option of net banking payment or cash-on-delivery.

Food-related problems are quite common during train travels in India. We wanted to fix that, says Choudhary, who operates TrainKhana from Jodhpur

in Rajasthan.

However, finding first-time customers is easy, getting them to like the food and satisfying their tastebuds is not. To make sure that happens, these businesses are leaving no stone unturned to offer customers a menu that is as vast and varied as Indias culture. So while, Mera Food Choice boasts of pure vegetarian, north Indian, south Indian, Gujarati, Chinese cuisines with a special focus on Jain food, TravelKhana keeps changing its partner restaurants depending on whats most popular among customers. We dont have any limit on our offerings or types of cuisines. Based on customer feedback, we keep changing our offerings, says Pushpinder Singh, CEO, TravelKhana, which is based in New Delhi.

Piyush Kasliwals Mera Food Choice delivers food to hungry passengers at more than 170 railway stations across India. It has tie-ups with around 300 restaurants across the country and serves up to 1,000 meals a day. Orders can be placed from a month in advance to an hour before the train reaches the designated station for delivery. I used to travel by train frequently to my hometown Nashik from cities like Mumbai, Visakhapatnam and Bangalore. Food would always be a problem. It was during one of these journeys that an unfulfilled craving for a particular snack led me to launch Mera Food Choice, says Kasliwal.

Unlike TrainKhana and Mera Food Choice, though, what led to the launch of TravelKhana was its CEOs keen observational skills and business acumen. I saw that many companies were actively solving problems of travellers like helping them buy or book air/train/bus tickets online. They were even providing hotel bookings. But there was nothing in terms of food for rail travellers. So I began to focus on this area, says Singh of TravelKhana, which serves up to 8,000 meals a day to travellers at around 160 stations across India.

These businesses have a similar working model. They tie up with restaurants across India on a commission basis, and take orders from customers on the restaurants behalf over the Internet, telephone, SMS or through dedicated apps. They then coordinate the delivery of the food with the restaurant, keeping an eye on train timings (in case a train is running late, they simultaneously inform the restaurant and the customer through SMS or phone call, indicating the new time of delivery) and ensuring the food reaches fresh and hot to the customer using the delivery mechanism of the restaurants from where the food has been ordered.

Most of these food items come at a price range of R100-250. We get approximately 20% commission on the total amount of food ordered, says Choudhary of TrainKhana. Naturally, choosing the right restaurants to partner with becomes imperative for these businesses. We look for restaurants in different cities and select those that have good-quality food at affordable prices, says Choudhary. We also take feedback from customers on each and every order we deliver. If theres negative feedback, we contact that specific vendor and sort it out, he adds. Singh of TravelKhana, which has a tie-up with 500 restaurants across India, says they have a strict selection procedure for restaurantsone that doesnt end once the restaurant is on board. Our inspection continues in the form of customer feedback. So including and dropping restaurants is an ongoing process, he says.

Looking ahead, Singh of TravelKhana is now targeting bus travellers with a similar service.