Are Acela first meals better than Flexible dining for those who are familiar with both? I keep thinking that’s a workable solution to the non traditional dining trains in all aspects quality, labor, etc. But here it is 4-5 years later and it doesn’t seem like it was ever thought of as a solution. It’s been talked about on here but honestly what are the advantages and disadvantages of such a move?
It's been awhile since I rode Acela First at the dinner hour, but in general I've enjoyed the Acela First meals much more than my few experiences with flex meals. Much of the difference is presentation; some is preparation. Food quality of the original flex meals was really inferior too, though they have improved somewhat.
On Acela First, I recall food served on plates, with metal cutlery and cloth napkins. On the flex trains, I recall food served in the same container (originally black plastic, more recently foil) that was used for storing and reheating it, with plastic cutlery and paper napkins. For awhile they had these thin, small, brown paper napkins that you had to pull out of a dispenser when you went to collect your tub of food. At least on the Acela, there is an effort to make the meals seem like a first-class amenity, rather than some obligation that's being discharged in the cheapest way possible. But to me, neither is an adequate substitute for the full dining service that has traditionally been part of long-distance train travel.
Also, the portions on Acela First are small. The meals are fine for a trip of three or four hours, but if I had to live on Acela First food for 30 hours from New York to New Orleans, or from Chicago to San Antonio, I think I would be quite hungry by the end of the ride.