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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 3 (July 24, 1926)

Railway Catering — Past and Present Methods

page 28

Railway Catering
Past and Present Methods

Until the latter part of 1917 Railway Catering in New Zealand was conducted in dining cars on the principal long distance express trains and in privately leased refreshment rooms for the less important trains.

The dining car system, quite apart from the financial loss at which it was operated, was not at all satisfactory from the viewpoint of either the Department or the majority of the travelling public.

The seating accommodation of each car was limited to 24, and as the cooking and galley facilities were also limited, one can readily appreciate the difficulties attendant upon serving several sittings and at the same time maintaining a desirable standard for the meals served. In many instances it was found impossible to cater for all who desired to partake of meals.

Most of the dishes required during the journey were cooked off either in land kitchens or in the dining cars some considerable time prior to the commencement of the meals, which naturally affected the standard.

The difficulties connected with the working of the cars were considerable and resulted in passengers suffering much discomfort and inconvenience in travelling backwards and forwards through long trains to reach the dining car and this discomfort was very severe in cold, wet weather.

One way to have overcome some of the inconvenience would have been the provision of a second dining car, but as this would, in most cases, have meant the loss of a passenger car on account of haulage limitation, such a step was considered inadvisable. In any case, such relief would have been only temporary, as the traffic throughout has increased.

The alternative method of effecting the desired and permanent improvement was found in an entire change in the Department's policy, and the decisions reached in this respect included:-


The immediate discontinuance of the dining car service.


The establishment of a railway refreshment branch.


The taking over and immediate control by Department of eight privately leased refreshment rooms.


The ultimate control of the refreshment room service over the whole system, as and when opportunities and circumstances warranted.

The far reaching effects of such a drastic change in policy will be appreciated, and not the least of these included arranging for all meals and refreshments to be provided in refreshment rooms at which adequate train stops had to be provided.

The internal fittings of the dining cars were dismantled and the cars refitted as passenger cars for the exclusive use of ladies and children on express trains.

With the inauguration of the new policy it became possible to immediately set and maintain a much higher standard as regards both quality and service and at the same time provide greater variety of items than was possible when the dining cars were running.

Owing to the widely divergent views held by different members of the community as to what constitutes a satisfactory standard, or sufficiency, of the meal in order that the inner-man may be satisfied, it would, of course, be impossible to please everyone no matter what system was in vogue. The almost entire absence of complaints, however, leads us to conclude that the Department's efforts are appreciated and meet with the approval of the great majority of its customers.

One of the first serious obstacles to be overcome by the newly constituted refreshment branch under the control of Mr. Irwin Faris, was connected with the general construction of the refreshment room buildings and it was found that in some cases entirely new buildings were required whilst in others alterations and additions to existing buildings sufficed. As already indicated, the dining cars were unprofitable, and in this respect the refreshment room system is in marked contrast. The Branch is run on purely commercial lines and is required to meet all legitimate trading charges accruing in the conduct of the business and some of these include rent of refreshment rooms and offices, interest on capital invested in stocks, depreciation, and railway freights.

The policy of ultimately assuming control of all the refreshment rooms is being gradually given effect to and twenty-five refreshment rooms, also the catering on the Lake Wakatipu page 29 steamers, are now under Departmental control. The revenue of the Branch has increased from £49,702 for the year ended 31st March, 1919 (the first complete year) to £133,339 for the year just ended.

The staff employed at 31st March, 1918, numbered 117, whilst at 31st March, 1926, the number stood at 363.

The latest refreshment rooms erected by the Department are commodious structures, well furnished and fitted, thus enabling customers to obtain their requirements with promptitude and a minimum of inconvenience. The provision of modern, and up-to-date equipment for the assistants with adequate facilities for the preparation and preliminary work, enables the organisation of the rooms to be run without hitch.

It is proposed, in a future article, to give a descriptive account of the internal organisation, fittings and equipment of both dining and counter rooms.

All items sold at the Department's refreshment rooms are of standard size and as far as is practicable, of standard quality.

Bakeries have been erected at Frankton Junction, Marton and Oamaru rooms, where qualified tradesmen are in charge. The bakeries turn out the bread and small goods required by the refreshment rooms situated within convenient distances; such supplies being conveyed in suitable hampers fitted with trays.

N.Z. Railways Refreshment Room, Marton

N.Z. Railways Refreshment Room, Marton

Waitresses-in-charge of refreshment rooms not served from the bakeries are required, before being placed in charge of a room, to become thoroughly qualified in the making and baking of pies, small goods, etc., to the standard set.

Responsible officers of the Department who have travelled in other countries are unanimous in stating that the refreshment room standard and service on our system-having due regard for the tariff charges, cost of commodities, wages, etc.-is equal to anything met with during their travels, and the latest officer to affirm this is Mr. J. Pickard, who has recently returned from abroad.

Cadet, in Manager's office, took off message “No 111 delayed one hour. Injector on engine refused to work.” Cadet suggested to operator that he supply injectors' names as it would probably be a case for suspension.

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The noblest contribution which any man can make for the benefit of posterity is that of a good character.-Winthrop.

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You cannot dream yourself into a character, you must hammer and forge yourself one.- Froude.