Railway sandwich jokes were never funny even in their heyday. But no passengers and no customers for hundreds of station coffee outlets is no joke at all in 2020.
5000 jobs are likely to go from Upper Crust and Café Ritazza. The ubiquitous sandwich and coffees brand are owned by SSP. The company is descendent of the catering division of SAS Scandinavian airlines, but it also incorporates a lot of DNA from the old state-owned British Rail’s Travellers Fare.
In fact, although the business has almost 600 outlets in the Britain, mostly in stations and airports, there are almost 3,000 around the world. And their rather ambitiously named Rail Gourmet division delivers, or until Covid-19, delivered, the on-train trolley service for many of Britain’s train operators.
They are a FTSE 250 business and they will survive. But with only ten outlets open during the lockdown ‘do not travel’ period the future may not look quite the same.
Rail privatisation brought a lot of new ideas to the railway – including in catering. But not all the new ideas were from big corporates. The buffet at Bury St Edmunds would make you up a sandwich on the spot. And a lot of stations gained great new pubs – often labours of love. And the two ladies who ran Grantham buffet were a delight – until they lost their space to a big brand.
There’s going to be a lot of change when people start to travel again and some things won’t re-appear. Let’s wish SSP and their staff the very best and hope that if a few outlets disappear that will also be a lot more local entrepreneurs giving it a go – there’s likely to be space.