Travellers Fare (normally rendered officially as Travellers-Fare) was a company owned by British Rail that provided catering services on the rail network in Great Britain. Previous to 1973, hotels and railway catering came under British Transport Hotels Ltd, formed in 1962. In the late 1970s, BR's Shipping and International Services Division became Sealink UK Ltd from January 1979. In 1982
Travellers-Fare formally left BTH, having been the Travellers-Fare Division of BTH since 1 October 1973. It had been known as British Rail Catering until then. The peak of British rail catering had come in 1973 when 3.5 million meals were served. Quicker journey times meant less time to consume a full meal. In 1979 it celebrated a centenary of railway catering.
In the mid-1970s they were selling around two and a quarter million sandwiches a year. In 1977 its offerings were reprimanded by the Central Transport Consultative Committee. In February 1978 they introduced the Gold Star Menu for businessmen on Inter-City services, which featured poached haddock and grilled salmon maitre d'hotel. It offered a fixed four-course meal for around 5 pound, and replaced the former table d'ote service. The Great British Breakfast in the morning sold for 2 pound and 70 pence in 1978, and by 1984 it cost 7 pounds and 30 pence.
In the early 1980s, under improved management, the standard of food became more diverse. New brands were introduced such as Quicksnack. Turnover at stations increased 61% from 46m pounds in 1982 to 74m pounds in 1987. Before 1985 operating losses at stations were averaging around 4m pounds a year, which from 1985 became surpluses. Although the station catering was turning a profit, the catering on board the trains was not, and operating losses for these were around 6m pounds a year in the mid-1980s. In May 1986, catering on-board trains became the responsibility of InterCity and not Travellers-Fare, which had a wider range of food from the buffet car.
The brand did not have enough penetration to sell on the trains; its on-board full (cooked) breakfasts had a lot of popularity nonetheless (around 500,000 a year in the 1980s) in the dining car (first class). The British Rail sandwich was not a big seller on trains.
By 1986 the private sector was running the catering at 85 stations. Standards were improving under private ownership, which led to 96 more stations being put under private operation in 1987.
As a precursor to the privatisation of British Rail, the company was sold to a management buyout team in December 1988. It had been bought for 12.5m pounds, and had 270 outlets and around 3,200 employees. Travellers Fare Ltd had been formed on the 27th October 1987.
It was subsequently acquired in November 1992 by Compass Group for 31.7m pounds, who merged it with their airport, retail and leisure businesses to form Select Service Partner (SSP) in 1997. It stopped trading as Travellers-Fare on the 4th March 1997. Compass sold SSP to two consortia led by EQT Partners and Macquarie Bank in 2006 for 1.8bn pounds.
Note: Notice the difference between front of house and behind the scenes revealed in these photographs!