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Author Topic: Question 2 for Ben Rule - 19.12 - Buffet cars v Trolley service  (Read 53919 times)
Chris from Nailsea
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« on: July 13, 2015, 07:12:47 pm »

Question from John R:

Ben

Firstly, thank you very much for offering to hold this session. As a regular commuter between Nailsea and Swindon I appreciate the opportunity to ask you some questions about the new trains.

As is well documented, the new trains will not have a buffet car, but instead a trolley service. If I recall, at the time this announcement was made, it was stated that customer research indicated that more people would purchase from a trolley than a static buffet facility. Firstly I'd like to ask whether this research was really carried out in a neutral fashion, or whether the questioning was designed to elicit the answer that you (or maybe the DfT» (Department for Transport - about)) wanted to hear. Perhaps you could share the question(s) asked, and the responses given to enable us to judge.

I believe the abolition of buffets on long distance services is a retrograde step for the following reasons:-

You can go and use the buffet at any time it's open, not just when it passes you, and you're unlikely to be able to second guess when that might be. (How long will a trolley take to get down a 9 coach train?)
There is a vastly wider selection of items, and the ability to keep those items chilled or hot is improved
If the train is standing room only, it won't be able to journey down the train
It's difficult to pass a trolley if you need to
Keeping the trolley fully stocked will be more difficult

The only conceivable customer benefit of a trolley is that it comes to your seat (if you're lucky) and enables you to purchase whilst keeping your luggage in view.

I appreciate that you have said that hot food will be available, prepared and then served at the seat, but it would be interesting to understand how this will work in practice, if the trolley host has to get the said item from the other end of the train. What happens if they can't get down the train due to overcrowding, and how do they secure the contents of the trolley in the meantime?

The trains have been designed to have buffets fitted if need be, and indeed the other long distance operator of the trains has recently announced that it is to include them. So why do passengers in the FGW (First Great Western) franchise region have to put up with second best, and a catering facility that is more appropriate to regional services.

Again many thanks, and I look forward to your response.

John R

P.S. To Forum Administrators - thank you too for facilitating this discussion.
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BenRule
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« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2015, 07:23:24 pm »

Thanks for the question John.

This is an area where I think we have generally not been very good at articulating exactly what we intend to offer in terms of our food and drink services. What we are certainly not talking about is a trolley service like the one we have today. But more on that in a bit.

The customer research was carried out by an independent research body on our behalf, but as you say such surveys do not always tell you the full story, however careful you are about making sure the questions are neutrally put.

Perhaps much more revealing were the in-service trials we carried out across the network, which effectively sold twice as much as we would normally expect to sell at the buffet car. This is not simply asking someone's opinion, rather measuring their actual behaviour, which is much more useful in my view.

I completely understand that some of our customers will like a buffet car, but a very large proportion prefer not to leave their seats - and their increasingly expensive belongings - to go and get some food.
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BenRule
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« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2015, 07:24:09 pm »


I believe the abolition of buffets on long distance services is a retrograde step for the following reasons:-

You can go and use the buffet at any time it's open, not just when it passes you, and you're unlikely to be able to second guess when that might be. (How long will a trolley take to get down a 9 coach train?)
There is a vastly wider selection of items, and the ability to keep those items chilled or hot is improved
If the train is standing room only, it won't be able to journey down the train
It's difficult to pass a trolley if you need to
Keeping the trolley fully stocked will be more difficult

The only conceivable customer benefit of a trolley is that it comes to your seat (if you're lucky) and enables you to purchase whilst keeping your luggage in view.

It is true that the buffet is always in the same place so I would agree it is easier to know where to look! However the majority of customers are very clear with us that they want the service to be brought to their seat if possible. Our trials suggest that we will encourage far more people to buy from us if we do this.

Trolleys can also be positioned in a designated point on the train, so if there are problems getting down the train this is what we will do. The train is designed with a designated space to park the trolley.

On the busier trains we will run 2 trolleys to make this easier. This is one of the reasons we have said we will be employing 75 extra Customer Hosts to run the SET (Super Express Train (now IET)) food and drink offer.

All of the SETs have a full kitchen so we can supply the trolleys with extra supplies from there.

I accept though that we will have to think carefully about the logistics of the trolley service to make sure we overcome the potential issues, but we have time to do this.
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bignosemac
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« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2015, 07:25:57 pm »

What were the questions asked by this independent research body? When and where were they asked? How many passengers were surveyed?
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BenRule
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« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2015, 07:26:47 pm »


If the train is standing room only, it won't be able to journey down the train


Of course if the trolley can't get down the train you may not be able to get to the buffet from coach A anyway!

Our cleaning team tell us that they find very few of our coffee cups in coaches A and B, so we have quite a bit of evidence that people in those coaches do not venture to the buffet car at the moment even on a train that isn't crowded.
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« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2015, 07:30:12 pm »

I can't agree that this is second best - every SET (Super Express Train (now IET)) will have a fully functional kitchen on board - unlike our current High Speed Train fleet. This means we can serve hot and cold food on any service.

The kitchens are situated in First Class on each train, and will allow us to change our offering for First Class customers as well. In fact, the trolley is likely to go from First completely with a person, at seat service from a dedicated customer host, operating directly out of the kitchen.
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John R
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« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2015, 07:34:05 pm »

Ben

Thanks very much for the responses. As a 1st class season ticket holder your last comment is of interest. But I also travel standard for leisure and also enjoy using the open space in the buffet area now and again, hence the original question.   I guess I'm a bit puzzled if there is a kitchen area taking up space, why it couldn't have been made a buffet open to all, between first and standard as today?

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grahame
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« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2015, 07:37:41 pm »

And we have moved on to the next question.    Further follow up welcome (if you are typing) or at the end ... I'm not going to lock the thread, but it's not fair of us to bombard Ben with lots of questions at once  Wink
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« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2015, 07:42:06 pm »

Thanks for the question John.

This is an area where I think we have generally not been very good at articulating exactly what we intend to offer in terms of our food and drink services. What we are certainly not talking about is a trolley service like the one we have today. But more on that in a bit. -----



A cynic like me might suspect that FGW (First Great Western) "have generally not been very good at articulating what we intend to offer in terms of food and drink" because they wanted to conceal the fact that the new trains don't have buffets, until it was too late to alter this.
For some year on these forums I have offered as an opinion, and more recently I have stated as a fact that "the new trains wont have buffets"
Many respected members of these forums felt that such views were unduly negative.

"of course they will have buffets"
"they will probably have buffets"
"a buffet could be installed if the TOC (Train Operating Company) want one"
"a buffet could be retrofitted"

And eventually an admission that they don't have buffets.

I too share the doubts expressed by others as to how precisely hot food is to be served in standard class from a trolley, I also have doubts about the sufficiency of trolley stocks of chilled beer. I have observed very substantial volumes of beer being sold on some trains and doubt that a trolley could cope.
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A proper intercity train has a minimum of 8 coaches, gangwayed throughout, with first at one end, and a full sized buffet car between first and standard.
It has space for cycles, surfboards,luggage etc.
A 5 car DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) is not a proper inter-city train. The 5+5 and 9 car DMUs are almost as bad.
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« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2015, 07:43:49 pm »

What were the questions asked by this independent research body? When and where were they asked? How many passengers were surveyed?

I'm not about to reveal all here! However, the trial was carried out between January and March 2014, with a statistically significant sample size, on a selection of trains across the areas SETs (Super Express Train (now IET)) will run on.





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grahame
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« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2015, 07:45:27 pm »

Hey ... we're carrying on this conversation later as we've moved on to Okehampton now (but as it's a long answer I'm sure you were typing earlier, broad gage!)
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BenRule
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« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2015, 07:50:34 pm »

Ben

Thanks very much for the responses. As a 1st class season ticket holder your last comment is of interest. But I also travel standard for leisure and also enjoy using the open space in the buffet area now and again, hence the original question.   I guess I'm a bit puzzled if there is a kitchen area taking up space, why it couldn't have been made a buffet open to all, between first and standard as today?



The kitchen does save some space compared to an equivalent kitchen/buffet counter combination. Capacity is a huge issue for the franchise so this was a key concern when the train was specified. We know that some customers enjoy using the open space around the buffet car at times, but we have large numbers of customers who have to stand when they would like to have a seat. The decision on kitchen/buffet car/trolley had to be made bearing in mind customer preference for a service at seat and the need to deliver capacity.
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bignosemac
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« Reply #12 on: July 13, 2015, 07:51:17 pm »

What were the questions asked by this independent research body? When and where were they asked? How many passengers were surveyed?

I'm not about to reveal all here! However, the trial was carried out between January and March 2014, with a statistically significant sample size, on a selection of trains across the areas SETs (Super Express Train (now IET)) will run on.

So the trial and surveys were carried out after the interior design for the Greater Western franchise Class 800/801s was signed off? Pointless exercise really.

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John R
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« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2015, 07:56:20 pm »

Ben

Thanks very much for the responses. As a 1st class season ticket holder your last comment is of interest. But I also travel standard for leisure and also enjoy using the open space in the buffet area now and again, hence the original question.   I guess I'm a bit puzzled if there is a kitchen area taking up space, why it couldn't have been made a buffet open to all, between first and standard as today?



The kitchen does save some space compared to an equivalent kitchen/buffet counter combination. Capacity is a huge issue for the franchise so this was a key concern when the train was specified. We know that some customers enjoy using the open space around the buffet car at times, but we have large numbers of customers who have to stand when they would like to have a seat. The decision on kitchen/buffet car/trolley had to be made bearing in mind customer preference for a service at seat and the need to deliver capacity.

Thanks again Ben.
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BenRule
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« Reply #14 on: July 13, 2015, 07:59:07 pm »

A cynic like me might suspect that FGW (First Great Western) "have generally not been very good at articulating what we intend to offer in terms of food and drink" because they wanted to conceal the fact that the new trains don't have buffets, until it was too late to alter this.
For some year on these forums I have offered as an opinion, and more recently I have stated as a fact that "the new trains wont have buffets"
Many respected members of these forums felt that such views were unduly negative.

"of course they will have buffets"
"they will probably have buffets"
"a buffet could be installed if the TOC (Train Operating Company) want one"
"a buffet could be retrofitted"

And eventually an admission that they don't have buffets.

I too share the doubts expressed by others as to how precisely hot food is to be served in standard class from a trolley, I also have doubts about the sufficiency of trolley stocks of chilled beer. I have observed very substantial volumes of beer being sold on some trains and doubt that a trolley could cope.

Sorry this is your view, but we've not sought to hide it. Staff started looking at and giving feedback on the plans for the new trains around three years ago.

I think many of the concerns you mention are based on the idea that somehow we think we can deliver this service with something similar to the current trolleys. We can't.
There are plenty of more sophisticated trolleys on the market that keep things hot, and keep things cool, and even serve a proper cup of coffee. A quick google will give you some idea.





Edit note: Quote marks fixed, purely for clarity. CfN.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2015, 08:01:49 pm by Chris from Nailsea » Logged
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