More than 3 billion meals are consumed by long-distance train travelers every year. But, access to food inside train coaches is a major challenge. Food vendors empanelled by the Indian Railways offer a limited choice of poor quality, un-hygienic and overpriced food. Pantry cars are known for abysmal food preparation quality (cockroaches anyone?) and service; plus, they are highly unpredictable.
Travelkhana.com is a meal booking platform that connects train travellers with restaurants on the Indian Railways network and enables train travelers to easily place orders via website, phone, SMS, or mobile app. The travelers can select among the extensive choice of meal types and high quality food provided by selected restaurants on the rail network. Travelkhana’s platform tracks train running information to insure meal delivery at the right time, at the right seat, fresh and ready to eat.
As far as technology is concerned, Travelkhana has built its proprietary order-to-fulfillment product called “Oyatri”. This platform solves a complex logistical problem: to deliver food orders correctly to a moving target (the train traveler), having only a limited time window of opportunity to complete the delivery (the stop at the station). On top of this it the workflow is synchronized with the train movement and arrival timings in real time.
In terms of the product, all you need to do is search using either your PNR number or source/destination details and Travelkhana will throw up restaurant details at the station where the train stops. At stations where the train stops for less than 5 minutes, Travelkhana doesn’t accepts the order (imp: minimum order value should be INR 90/).
Started by Pushpinder Singh, who earlier was V.P Technology and acting CTO for INCA Informatics, TravelKhana has ambitious plans to replicate the same model in bus travel and also to sell VAS services around train travel (like taxi and even cheap hotels).
Here is a QnA with the team:
What about quality? How do you ensure quality and delivery of the product?
When we bring a restaurant on board we do extensive research. Among the aspects we look for is do online research, local reputation by visiting the place, personally tasting and rating the quality, Quality and Equipment of kitchens, Hygiene inspection, Ability to service in a given timeframe and packing quality. At many places we have local or regional brands who work with us.
On an ongoing level the feedback process which is an integral step of our overall fulfillment cycle ensures the quality is intact on a running basis. We have regular connects with the restaurants. In extreme cases when we are not able to maintain the quality we drop off the restaurant from the marketplace for that city.
What has been the traction so far?
From the inception of the project in August we have successfully processed 2700 orders, and served more than 8500 meals, including bulk orders, with minimal advertising effort. Since we have started promoting the service with targeted, low-budget marketing campaigns in September, gross sales have grown 40%-100% month on month. We have served an average 120 meals per day until 17 December. The current sales run-rate points at 100% gross sales increase in December over November.
Trying to solve a hard problem of last mile delivery, TravelKhana is certainly an interesting startup to watch out for. Being a marketplace player, the key is to gain immense traction without getting into a head-on battle with Indian Railways network. Having said that, the startup has a huge opportunity at hand. Thanks to increased airfare price, passenger train traffic is expected to grow at approximately 8-10% per year until 2020 and more than 6 million meals (on a daily basis) are consumed on board long distance trains.
What’s your take on the startup approach? Do give TravelKhana a spin and share your comments.