They say that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and I dare say the same goes for women. At least that’s what train operator First Great Western is hoping as it launches its new dining services, featuring an on-board chef, this autumn. And it had better be good, for trains are not currently riding high in the popularity stakes. If they’re not running into strike action, they’re running late or off the rails. With each new disaster, train operators are running up a huge debt of goodwill to customers who see their fares flowing into vast company profits, with little payback in service.
Cynics might say that First Great Western’s initiative is a ploy to deflect attention away from the more pressing matters of punctuality and safety. However, Alex Willcock, managing director of The Nest, which developed the interiors and graphics for the project, says, “Actually, it’s been in planning for a few years. I think it was quite brave of First Great Western to recognise that food on trains is traditionally quite appalling and they wanted to provide higher quality food and make the whole experience a lot more lively and friendly.”
The curling British Rail sandwich has been something of a clichÃ© for many years. Most train operators such as Great North Eastern Railway and Eurostar have made some attempt to upgrade their offer, often as part of a wider rebrand. Virgin Trains is currently revising its first class on-board product. It is also doing away with the buffet car altogether with its recently launched Voyager fleet, in favour of a shop-type set-up where customers can browse, pick up products from shelves and take them to the counter to pay. However, First Great Western is unique in focusing on the food offer as the selling point.
Brand and design consultancy The Nest was originally brought in by First Great Western to submit ideas for a revamp of the vestibule area of existing trains. As all the hard elements were existing, and work had to be done within corporate guidelines, The Nest’s role was limited to rethinking colours and graphics. “Blue and magenta are the corporate colours. We chose to focus on blue,” says Willcock. The Nest also provided a new surface pattern for the walls in the toilet areas and redesigned the basin and vanity areas, but the extent of implementation depends on budget.
More exciting for The Nest was the branding and graphic work it did for First Great Western’s three new dining concepts. The first is First Great Western’s on-board cafÃ© concept, Refresca. The name, brand and logo were provided by Interbrand, while The Nest developed graphics and interiors. The idea was to convey the impression of a fresh and trendy, yet familiar and friendly cafÃ©, as it had to appeal to a broad section of customers – from schoolchildren to pensioners. “We looked at what was in the marketplace and built on that. We weren’t given any specific references as First Great Western didn’t want to replicate any particular outlet,” explains Willcock.
The Nest specified finishes, rather than having the opportunity to redesign the space. Timber, stainless steel and laminate in corporate blue give the Refresca buffet car a contemporary feel. Instead of own-brand products, Refresca has big-brands like Yo! Sushi, Costa Coffee, New Covent Garden Soup Company and Rocombe Farm ice cream on its shelves.
In addition to the cafÃ© concept, First Great Western wanted to revive Pullman Dining, the traditional, more formal dining car service. The Nest looked at old books full of heritage trains from all over the world. “We noticed that there’s been some amazing identities done for trains over the years and that a lot of it came from strong graphic elements,” says Willcock. This proved to be their inspiration and the resulting mark comes from an abstract play on the “P” and “D” of Pullman Dining. When used in a repeat pattern, the mark creates a retro, 1970s-look that is very now, yet sophisticated in its different shades of blue.
Refresca will operate on all First Great Western’s 41 trains in combination with Pullman Dining on 11. The rest will feature an on-board chef who cooks up fresh food to order from a menu that changes with the seasons. The Nest designed the menus, posters in stations and on the train, and neat packaging solutions to transport the food. The travelling graphics feature illustrations of cooking utensils. “We wanted to incorporate cooking elements to convey the fact that the chef is on-board, yet do it in a friendly way,” says Willcock.
The print ads also feature vibrant photography to bring the brand to life and emphasise the freshness of the product. At the shoot, The Nest used one of the actual chefs. “He’s a complete caricature of what you expect a chef to be,” says Willcock. “All he was worried about was that his face wouldn’t show so that his mates down the pub wouldn’t recognise him. As far as he was concerned being a model was no job for a man.”
Let’s hope, for the sake of the passengers travelling on First Great Western, that he’s more comfortable in the kitchen.