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Convenience Food Puts End To Buffet Cars

The Times reported that:

“The buffet car, one of the few remaining civilized pleasures of traveling on Britain’s over-crowded railways, is to be axed on several routes between London and the West Country.”

All the usual reasons were given — it takes up room, adds weight, etc. But many passengers were unhappy:

“The buffet car is part of the ritual of train travel. I remember the days when you would sit down for afternoon tea and there would be waiters on the tables. Having somewhere to go and get food breaks the journey up — traveling long distance can be very tedious. The other problem with the trolley [Pundit note: The proposed replacement for the buffet car, which Americans would call a diner car, is a rolling trolley, which Americans would call a cart] is if you’re at one end of the train, then by the time it gets to you there can be nothing left.

Another passenger said:

“Eliminating the buffet car will detract from the whole experience of traveling by train. It is deceitful of First (the train company) to claim that the trolley will be a good substitute. It cannot carry anything like the range of products, and passengers will have to wait while it is hauled all the way down the train. Trolleys also have an annoying tendency to be off-duty when you want them.”

But it is interesting to note how societal changes in one area lead to unexpected changes in other areas. For example, we have discussed the plans of Tesco to open in the US both here and here. In the UK, many Tesco Express stores as well as similar concepts from others are right in the train stations. As one sharp consumer noted about the buffet car:

“I think it’s overpriced — especially the water — and it’s not nice food. These days, when there’s a supermarket at the station, why bother?”

And as a spokesman for the train company noted:

“Only one in eight passengers used the buffet. Most people would prefer to be served at their seats rather than leave luggage unattended.”

So, in a sense, the opening of convenient food stores with high quality product enabled people to react to the growth of crime by buying food at the station and eating it in their seat, near their luggage, rather than going to the buffet car, getting inferior food and putting one’s property at risk.

All true, and yet as the nostalgic reference to tea service with waiters points out, although the overall cost-and-benefit ratio may dictate the loss of things like buffet cars, there is a loss of things that made life more civilized. That is a loss indeed.

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