Aren’t you tired of killing your desire for lip-smacking samosas and finger-licking pakoras during a train journey? What happens when you are stuck at the mercy of railway food vendors to deliver food accompanied with a host of tummy disorders? India takes pride in its rich and diverse cuisines, why then should travellers in trains be devoid of any option to enjoy those?

The online marketplace for food, YatraChef, has helped address the issue. It helps passengers order food from their preferred restaurants across the country and gets it delivered right to their train seats.

The initial spark for the startup company, based out of Kerala, came out of a personal experience of the Co-founder and CEO Arun Rajan who was down with food poisoning after having eaten poor quality food during a train journey on the new year eve in 2013.

“I thought, why not have something like a ‘home delivery’ service for the trains, which would ensure that quality food is delivered to the passenger, and more importantly allow the passenger to order and eat what they want from popular restaurants across the country as well as try out local delicacies en route, ” Rajan explained. Currently, YatraChef is bootstrapped but is looking forward to raise funds from investors to expand the business.

How to satisfy hunger pangs?
Customers can place an order either through the website or the multilingual call centre. The customers, who visit the website, need to enter their journey details or their PNR numbers. The system automatically populates their travel routes and provides them with the information about the stations where the services are available en route and also the food providers at each station. The passenger can choose a station, select a restaurant, check the menu, place their order and then wait for the food to be delivered at their seats at the selected station. Manual assistance is also given to the passenger through the call centre and chat support. “Our system also tracks the train in real-time, which helps us to precisely coordinate the deliveries done by our client restaurants, thereby decreasing the error rate of delivering orders to a moving entity like train. The pricing depends on the client restaurants and the food they are serving. However, we offer the lowest price compared to other services that have listed the same restaurants,” Rajan explained. Customers can make the payment either online or through the cash-on-delivery option. “The primary revenue stream follows a revenue sharing agreement with the client without incurring much price variation,” Rajan added.

Almost 65 per cent of orders are done through the online mode. It also offers discounts for group orders, and presently there is a holiday season discount. It doesn’t deliver individual orders after 10 PM, but group orders can be delivered 24/7. YatraChef also has a live chat which is a web-based operator console offering on-the-go service and support to customers visiting the site or those who need help trying to order food online.

“We collect reviews of the restaurants both from online and offline sources and we then make use of the service of mystery shoppers to check the quality of food served at the prospective restaurants. Contracts are signed only after ensuring that the restaurants have Health and Safety certificates issued by the government. Talks are on to rope in major fast food chains to our clientele,” Rajan informed.

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Survival of the tastiest
There are many players operating in this space like Travel Khana, Traveler food, Train Khana and Mera Food Choice that deliver food to train passengers similarly. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a subsidiary of the Indian Railways, also stands as a strong competition to all the players operating in this space.

Rajan though believes that their differentiating factor is pricing. “We offer the lowest pricing among similar services that have listed the same restaurants as clients and also a price beat guarantee on online listed prices if our prices are higher for the same restaurants. We have an intelligent ordering platform that splits and sorts the menu according to breakfast, lunch and dinner based on the time the train passes the station, thus ensuring that no order placed will be cancelled.” Rajan said.

YatraChef is currently marketing itself through social media. It claims getting daily unique hits of more than 1000 and is currently doing 300-plus orders a day. “We are now planning to start both online- and offline-based marketing to reach out to more potential customers and for a better visibility in the market,” he added.

Travails in the journey
“Being a startup and emerging with a new service, we faced some initial problems in convincing the client hotels to join us and agree for a revenue sharing model. We had to meet each concerned person of every client hotel and personally convince them to join our service,” shared Rajan.

According to him, language also has been a barrier in communicating with both customers and clients. “We face a very difficult situation in hiring the right people. We have come across many situations where candidates rejected our job offers because we are a startup company. There are lots of other issues related to train cancellations and delays which affect services like us, which we are slowly and successfully overcoming,” he added.

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The track ahead
YatraChef is currently serving at 120-plus locations and is expanding to other locations on a weekly basis. It is aiming to reach 200 locations in the next two months.

“Our immediate focus is to introduce more number of food providers at our existing stations, enabling the customer to choose from a much wider choice of restaurants. We are also trying to pull in popular fast food chains and restaurants to serve our customers in train and we are also focussing on expanding our reach to more areas across the country by adding more locations. Expansion to other means of transportation is also on the cards,” concluded Rajan.