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Foodservice Cateys 2019: Retail and Leisure Caterer of the Year – London North Eastern Railway (LNER)

14 October 2019 by
Foodservice Cateys 2019: Retail and Leisure Caterer of the Year – London North Eastern Railway (LNER)

Sponsored by Britvic

The London North Eastern Railway – or LNER as it is more commonly known – struck a chord with our judges for achieving the one thing that is often missed: thinking about the customer experience. It also demonstrated excellent staff engagement. The company runs train services the length of the east coast route, from London King's Cross station up to Inverness, and has 44 trains, between them making 200 journeys a day.

The food and drink offer to the 23 million passengers a year comes from two points of sale per train: a café bar and a trolley offering an at-seat service. LNER serves 2.5 million customers in standard class each year from its Let's Eat café bars, which have an average annual turnover of £10m.

Let's Eat has recently undergone a major rebrand with upgraded graphics and tariff boards. Alongside this, in preparation for the introduction of a new fleet of Azuma trains, the range of food and drink items on sale at the café bars was reduced to cope with a smaller space allocation for Let's Eat on the services.

To protect the top 20% (by sales) of Let's Eat's product lines, LNER divided the old stock lists into categories (breakfast, snacks, confectionery, etc) and culled the tails of each, shrinking the range from 100 products to 50. Commercial success has resulted from this rationalisation, with Let's Eat sales revenue rising following the range reduction.

LNER also launched a highly successful crew incentive called Retail Stars, which was designed to inspire Let's Eat staff members to sell. Over the course of eight weeks, everyone was motivated with prizes, including a £5,000 holiday for the winner and 40 prizes of £200 for the best sales results week on week. The company calculated that the initiative generated an extra £180,000 in revenue.

LNER introduced three guest seasonal items along with Made on Route products that support communities and producers on its trains' routes. The Made on Route line included kinoko kombucha made in York and popped chips from Perthshire business Wholesums.

‘Hero chefs' were recruited to help design the first-class menus and some of the products, with a panel of eight chefs representing Scotland, the North, the Central region and the South. They were encouraged to visit local farm shops and farmers' markets to source and champion local suppliers and producers.

Earlier this year, LNER scored 89% on the biennial National Rail Passenger Survey – two percentage points higher than the average for long-distance train operating companies.

Melissa McMinn, onboard category development manager for LNER, says the most meaningful thing the company has done to make a difference was to "listen and react". Our judges wholeheartedly approved.

What the judges said

"The passion for delivering an improved customer experience really shone through. From the Made on Route initiative to promoting staff initiatives with hot heroes. Well done!"

Danielle Mitchell, sales and marketing director,the Genuine Dining Co

"The company has taken great steps to place food and catering at the heart of its offer."

Piers Zangana, director, Susa Comms

The shortlist

London North Eastern Railway (LNER)


Past winners




Jockey Club Catering




Levy Restaurants




Green & Fortune

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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