Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor and Imtiaz Ali enjoy a meal onboard a long distance train during the promotions of Tamasha. Get ready to be spoilt for choice the next time you go on a long distance train journey as a number of startups are revolutionising the railway catering space with quality food that’s delivered right to your seat
Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor and Imtiaz Ali enjoy a meal onboard a long distance train during the promotions of Tamasha.
Get ready to be spoilt for choice the next time you go on a long distance train journey as a number of startups are revolutionising the railway catering space with quality food that’s delivered right to your seat For most passengers taking a long-distance train, the only thing more worrisome than bathrooms is the quality of food served onboard. Be it the bland veg ‘biryani’ or the classic one-day-old vada pav, the poor quality of railway pantry food helps potato wafers and fruit vendors make a killing at railway junctions. But the next time you settle in for a long-distance train ride, you can safely go easy on the crisps and munchies, because good food and that too of your choice will be on its way, delivered to your seat. Ventures like Travelkhana, Khanaonline and RailYatri are three start-up ventures that appear to be doing things right to bring the quality of food in trains back on track.
While TravelKhana is a service to be made available through a tie-up with IRCTC, the other two are app-based services where one needs to download the app or simply visit the respective websites to place their order. While Travelkhana offers comprehensive menus compiled from over 1,100 restaurants that they’ve tied up with, RailYatri works with information collated from previous users to design their menu. While some of these ventures have online payment options, services like KhanaOnline work through call-centres, where one places the order on phone and then pays cash on delivery. While items on menus usually come with a mark-up and can be anywhere upwards of Rs 100, the challenge is to find restaurants with lower minimum order range because many restaurants on these portals come with minimum delivery order of Rs 2000 and above.
These startups may be running the same race, but they have one thing in common — all their founders have suffered train ka khana at one point or the other. And although many have faced the same problem over the years, for these young, idea hungry entrepreneurs, every problem is an opportunity. Travelkhana, which was one of the first players to tap this market, has so far completed a whopping 1.5 million orders. But for its founder Pushpinder Singh, the potential of this segment has hardly been tapped. His reason to start the venture was simple. Singh says, “There are not many things today that technology cannot help people with. The biggest problem that I faced while travelling on trains is to be completely disconnected from technology. The idea was the result of my own experiences. I studied in Varanasi and stayed for quite some time in Jamshedpur. So I had to travel by trains quite a bit and every time, the moment I sat in the train I felt this sense of disconnect from services that I am used to. And one of the most major issues was food. There are millions who travel long hours from Delhi to Cochin etc. and they have no choice but to eat the bad food. That is is what I wanted to change.” While big numbers are the focus for most of the players, for Maharashtra-based Ashish Jain the focus is a lot more personal and niche. Ashish’s Khanaonline.in serves a very niche clientele with a very particular need — Jain food. While finding pure Jain food is often quite hard, on trains this problem is even more pronounced.
This is where Ashish says his service comes in. “I come from a Jain family and being a big family we have travelled together on trains so many times. But the biggest problem was getting food that was compliant to Jain traditions — especially for my parents and the elders in our family. So we put together a service where we partnered with hundreds of restaurants across the country in all major cities and towns to make sure that Jain food is available during train journeys.”
Another new entrant RailYatri.in, has already engaged over three million users on its app. While not entirely a service dedicated to food, RailYatri’s model is a little different from its competitors, says its founder Manish Rathi. “Most of the times, the major problem is not availability but rather information. So we modelled ours as a crowd-sourced platform and started answering questions that travellers had. And food was among the most frequently asked questions. We started answering those questions by mapping and extending our presence to over 80 major cities. Our users can go to the app and get information on where to get good food while on a journey, how to get it, how safe and healthy it would be and so on.”
While the startups have been making deep inroads into the railways related services sector for a while now, major changes have only happened in the last couple of years, points out Pushpinder. “The problem is that since the railways is such a large network, getting the authorities interested depends on finding the right people. We have already tied up with the railways to market our website on IRCTC, which is one of the biggest platforms for rail travellers and recently we also started data sharing with the railways. It is a big push for the sector and now the situation seems very conducive as the current railway minister has pushed for more involvement from startups. In any case now seems a good time for startups to engage with this giant market,” he says.