Amtrak dining service

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flitcraft

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Thinking about booking a trip on the Coast Starlight this summer. I was wondering about single passengers in the dining car. Do you share a table with other single passengers like in the past, or do you get your own table now? Thank you.
Will you be in coach? If so, you will be limited to the cafe car. The Coast Starlight does allow business class passengers to eat in the diner, but, as has been said, dining on trains has always been communal tables except during the height of the pandemic. If you are in a roomette or bedroom, you have the option of communal dining in the dining car or having your meal in your room if you prefer to eat solo.
 

trimetbusfan

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Will you be in coach? If so, you will be limited to the cafe car. The Coast Starlight does allow business class passengers to eat in the diner, but, as has been said, dining on trains has always been communal tables except during the height of the pandemic. If you are in a roomette or bedroom, you have the option of communal dining in the dining car or having your meal in your room if you prefer to eat solo.
They are trying to open it up to coach this year. Some crews have already been doing it unofficially…
 

zephyr17

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Will you be in coach? If so, you will be limited to the cafe car. The Coast Starlight does allow business class passengers to eat in the diner,
Business Class on the Starlight is currently "suspended" (it is supposed to return in March, but it's Amtrak, so who knows?).

The diner on the Starlight apparently opened to coach passengers in December. Space available like it was for BC.
 

arrow3

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Thanks everyone. I'm planning to go in a roomette. I took the CZ and CL years ago and remember the communal dining, but wasn't sure if things had changed since then.
 
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Business Class on the Starlight is currently "suspended" (it is supposed to return in March, but it's Amtrak, so who knows?).

The diner on the Starlight apparently opened to coach passengers in December. Space available like it was for BC.
There was BC on the Coast Starlight on the 12/26 departure from lax. They were allowed to eat in the diner after the sleepers were served
 

Sauve850

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I've had a delicious salmon dish, too. But on the other leg of the same trip, the salmon was dry, the sauce coagulated, and the
broccoli and half of the rice burnt. And the same goes for the curry noodle

I've had that happen many times on my west coast to Chicago trips as most have Im sure. One night the dinner food is moist and tender and the next night I have a hockey puck for a steak or dried out chicken. If the beer is cold and dessert is tasty its not a total loss. Its been hit or miss for my 30+years of travel. I do enjoy the dining experience and meeting other folks at meals.
 

TimePeace

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This is probably been addressed earlier in the thread but I don't see any recent updates:

Might we expect coach passengers to be allowed to eat in the dining car and pay for it anytime soon on any trains?

Thanks,
David
 

TimePeace

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On the coast starlight they are. Other trains there isn’t a date yet.
Well that's pretty good news because I'm going to take the Coast Starlight from Seattle down to Dunsmuir and back in coach to see my daughter!

The published menus don't seem to show any prices, I wonder how they'll do that. My trip is still 6 weeks out maybe there will be information. Thanks for the reply!
D.
 
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This is probably been addressed earlier in the thread but I don't see any recent updates:

Might we expect coach passengers to be allowed to eat in the dining car and pay for it anytime soon on any trains?

Thanks,
David
At the RPA November webinar, Amtrak VP Larry Chestler said that accommodating BC passengers in the dining car on the CS was a pilot program, and that it would be extended to include coach passengers (as it has) and eventually to other routes if successful, but that there wa non timetable for when that might happen.
The published menus don't seem to show any prices, I wonder how they'll do that. My trip is still 6 weeks out maybe there will be information. Thanks for the reply!
D.
On the CS, coach passengers are charged a fixed price by meal period, regardless of which entree is chosen.
 

trimetbusfan

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Well that's pretty good news because I'm going to take the Coast Starlight from Seattle down to Dunsmuir and back in coach to see my daughter!

The published menus don't seem to show any prices, I wonder how they'll do that. My trip is still 6 weeks out maybe there will be information. Thanks for the reply!
D.
Fixed price for all meals. Included in all meals are soft drinks and entree. (Some extras for lunch and dinner, see below below). Unlike before, the price is the same regardless of which entree you choose.

$20 for breakfast, $25 for lunch, $45 for dinner.

Dinner includes an appetizer
Lunch and dinner includes a desert item,
Dinner also includes one alcoholic beverage.


I have noticed that access to the dinner in Coach seems to vary on the crew.
 

zephyr17

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I’m currently viewing Grounded Life Travel’s review of Via Rail’s Canadian train on YouTube. There was a welcome aboard reception waiting for them, with very nice snacks! For their meals, the food looked delicious, really nice. Are you paying attention, Amtrak?
I've been on VIA and Amtrak. Often back-to-back, heading out on VIA and returning on Amtrak.

There really is no comparison, a difference dramatically highlighted when both are experienced in the same journey.

A lot of it is the respective cultures that have evolved over decades in both organizations. As I've said, one place to start were Amtrak serious about improving customer service (which they clearly are not, fancy PR photos aside), is implementing actual onboard supervision, like VIA has with their Train Service Manager position.
 

pennyk

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MODERATOR NOTE: Many posts in this "Amtrak dining service" thread were off topic and discussed current consists. Those posts were moved to a new thread.


Please try to keep posts on topic. Thank you for your cooperation, understanding and participation.
 
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At those prices, if one can pick a low-bucket time to travel (or a BOGO sale on roomettes), it might be possible to snag a roomette for the price of coach fare + those meal prices!
Maybe if you eat every meal in the diner and are traveling end to end. I doubt there are many coach passengers traveling end to end that would eat every meal in the dining car - even when it was a la carte menu pricing that would have been an expensive proposition. While I am a supporter of coach access I would suspect the percentage of coach passengers that are eating in the diner was not greater than 30-40% and that was probably on the high end and I’m sure many just eat one or maybe two meals throughout their trip - I’m sure there were routes/trips where that percentage was lower. This seems to be a reasonable way to handle things without needing to over complicate the current formula to accommodate coach passengers.
 
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I've been on VIA and Amtrak. Often back-to-back, heading out on VIA and returning on Amtrak.

There really is no comparison, a difference dramatically highlighted when both are experienced in the same journey.

Another glaring difference - one of these firms at least attempts to provide usable transportation on long distance routes and the other is essentially a rail land cruise. As great as I’m sure the Canadian’s amenities are and I’d love to ride it eventually (but probably won’t be able to until I retire due to the amount of time it takes) it takes twice as long as the builder and runs twice weekly. As an advocate I think the priority at the end is providing usable transportation and utility - and Amtrak’s two night LD routes provide far more than the Canadian in that regard.

I think Amtrak’s on board F&B product out west is very acceptable especially once you add coach diner access back in and I think they have made some good faith efforts to improve the dining car as well as the cafe menu (though I think the latter could include a bit more improvements but the recent are a start) on those routes to a level I think 85%+ of dining car patrons are going to find adequate and probably many excellent. I think onboard supervision absolutely would be a great idea and there are 100% some things they ought to do to improve consistency of cleanliness, consistency of service, etc. But demanding the Canadian’s level of experience I do not think is realistic in 2023 on a two night daily Amtrak route. I suppose someday they could try out an experiential enhanced sleeper product akin to prestige class on maybe one or two routes but again - is Amtrak’s mission transportation or a cruise service for rail enthusiasts?

As great as I’m sure the Canadian is - it’s not the model Amtrak should be aiming for. TBH I think VIA rail Canada is actually what former CEO Anderson had in mind for Amtrak. Focus nearly all resources on running the shorter distance corridor services and run a couple token long hauls (likely with less than daily service during non peak seasons) with premium amenities to cater to rail enthusiasts.
 
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I've been on VIA and Amtrak. Often back-to-back, heading out on VIA and returning on Amtrak.

There really is no comparison, a difference dramatically highlighted when both are experienced in the same journey.

A lot of it is the respective cultures that have evolved over decades in both organizations. As I've said, one place to start were Amtrak serious about improving customer service (which they clearly are not, fancy PR photos aside), is implementing actual onboard supervision, like VIA has with their Train Service Manager position.
Are you talking about VIAs corridor service as compared to, say, the NEC, or are you talking about comparing the Canadian with the California Zephyr or the Ocean compared to the Capitol Limited?
 

zephyr17

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Another glaring difference - one of these firms at least attempts to provide usable transportation on long distance routes and the other is essentially a rail land cruise. As great as I’m sure the Canadian’s amenities are and I’d love to ride it eventually (but probably won’t be able to until I retire due to the amount of time it takes) it takes twice as long as the builder and runs twice weekly. As an advocate I think the priority at the end is providing usable transportation and utility - and Amtrak’s two night LD routes provide far more than the Canadian in that regard.

I think Amtrak’s on board F&B product out west is very acceptable especially once you add coach diner access back in and I think they have made some good faith efforts to improve the dining car as well as the cafe menu (though I think the latter could include a bit more improvements but the recent are a start) on those routes to a level I think 85%+ of dining car patrons are going to find adequate and probably many excellent. I think onboard supervision absolutely would be a great idea and there are 100% some things they ought to do to improve consistency of cleanliness, consistency of service, etc. But demanding the Canadian’s level of experience I do not think is realistic in 2023 on a two night daily Amtrak route. I suppose someday they could try out an experiential enhanced sleeper product akin to prestige class on maybe one or two routes but again - is Amtrak’s mission transportation or a cruise service for rail enthusiasts?

As great as I’m sure the Canadian is - it’s not the model Amtrak should be aiming for. TBH I think VIA rail Canada is actually what former CEO Anderson had in mind for Amtrak. Focus nearly all resources on running the shorter distance corridor services and run a couple token long hauls (likely with less than daily service during non peak seasons) with premium amenities to cater to rail enthusiasts.
I see no reason at all that Amtrak would be unable to implement the Train Service Manager position to bring consistency and quality to OBS. They are on all VIA trains, including Corridor services, not just the Canadian.

While I agree that Amtrak provides basic transportation in a way the Canadian does not, in most other ways there are more similarities than differences. Staffing levels in the Sleeper Plus sleepers is about the same, one attendant serving 1 1/2 cars, roughly 33 passengers. The food is a bit better, but not dramatically so against Amtrak's traditional, the main difference being they rotate the menu so you are not faced with the same choices day after day.

Having actually ridden both Amtrak and VIA regularly and thus able to speak from direct experience, the primary difference in the onboard experience is consistency and quality of service, not greater "experiential train" amenities, of which there are few to none in the soft product. It isn't the Orient Express.

Again, I see no reason whatsoever that implementing VIA's consistency of OBS service would be unachievable by Amtrak. I do not think running daily and somewhat faster provides an excuse for Amtrak's wildly inconsistent OBS quality.
 
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Another glaring difference - one of these firms at least attempts to provide usable transportation on long distance routes and the other is essentially a rail land cruise. As great as I’m sure the Canadian’s amenities are and I’d love to ride it eventually (but probably won’t be able to until I retire due to the amount of time it takes) it takes twice as long as the builder and runs twice weekly. As an advocate I think the priority at the end is providing usable transportation and utility - and Amtrak’s two night LD routes provide far more than the Canadian in that regard.
This is a statement that shouldn't be overlooked. As a Canadian who has traveled both on The Canadian (and its predecessors), as well as extensively on Amtrak, it's a very important distinction that was not always so. The Canadian used to provide essential service to remote Canadian communities with few transportation options. The reasons for its erosion are well-documented, including reduced frequency and unreliable scheduling, in addition to the escalating cost.

What particularly caught my eye however, was the observation about how long the relative trips take. What brought about our "discovery" of Amtrak in the first place was the need to travel in finite time periods. If one has two weeks vacation a trip on The Canadian simply doesn't make sense unless the destination is unimportant to the trip. This was always true in Canada and has only gotten worse. Once you factored in the cost (for a family, for example) Amtrak looked a lot better.

To return to the topic, it's also important to point out that Amtrak long distance food used to be really good and The Canadian of the same era had big gaps where the food was pretty average, despite having been prepared on-board. Only the dining car between Winnipeg and Vancouver on the CP route could be considered truly gourmet; the connector from Toronto to Winnipeg with rattly old CN diners was greasy spoon quality at best and the northern "Super Continental" route from Winnipeg to Vancouver (the route of today's Canadian) was certainly no better than Amtrak western LD dining - then or now.
 

Bob Dylan

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This is a statement that shouldn't be overlooked. As a Canadian who has traveled both on The Canadian (and its predecessors), as well as extensively on Amtrak, it's a very important distinction that was not always so. The Canadian used to provide essential service to remote Canadian communities with few transportation options. The reasons for its erosion are well-documented, including reduced frequency and unreliable scheduling, in addition to the escalating cost.

What particularly caught my eye however, was the observation about how long the relative trips take. What brought about our "discovery" of Amtrak in the first place was the need to travel in finite time periods. If one has two weeks vacation a trip on The Canadian simply doesn't make sense unless the destination is unimportant to the trip. This was always true in Canada and has only gotten worse. Once you factored in the cost (for a family, for example) Amtrak looked a lot better.

To return to the topic, it's also important to point out that Amtrak long distance food used to be really good and The Canadian of the same era had big gaps where the food was pretty average, despite having been prepared on-board. Only the dining car between Winnipeg and Vancouver on the CP route could be considered truly gourmet; the connector from Toronto to Winnipeg with rattly old CN diners was greasy spoon quality at best and the northern "Super Continental" route from Winnipeg to Vancouver was certainly no better than Amtrak western LD dining - then or now.

This is a statement that shouldn't be overlooked. As a Canadian who has traveled both on The Canadian (and its predecessors), as well as extensively on Amtrak, it's a very important distinction that was not always so. The Canadian used to provide essential service to remote Canadian communities with few transportation options. The reasons for its erosion are well-documented, including reduced frequency and unreliable scheduling, in addition to the escalating cost.

What particularly caught my eye however, was the observation about how long the relative trips take. What brought about our "discovery" of Amtrak in the first place was the need to travel in finite time periods. If one has two weeks vacation a trip on The Canadian simply doesn't make sense unless the destination is unimportant to the trip. This was always true in Canada and has only gotten worse. Once you factored in the cost (for a family, for example) Amtrak looked a lot better.

To return to the topic, it's also important to point out that Amtrak long distance food used to be really good and The Canadian of the same era had big gaps where the food was pretty average, despite having been prepared on-board. Only the dining car between Winnipeg and Vancouver on the CP route could be considered truly gourmet; the connector from Toronto to Winnipeg with rattly old CN diners was greasy spoon quality at best and the northern "Super Continental" route from Winnipeg to Vancouver (the route of today's Canadian) was certainly no better than Amtrak western LD dining - then or now.
As an American who has also been riding Pre and Post Amtrak and CP, CN and VIA Trains for many years, I totally agree with the above comments from my Friend from the Great White North!
 

zephyr17

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To return to the topic, it's also important to point out that Amtrak long distance food used to be really good and The Canadian of the same era had big gaps where the food was pretty average, despite having been prepared on-board. Only the dining car between Winnipeg and Vancouver on the CP route could be considered truly gourmet; the connector from Toronto to Winnipeg with rattly old CN diners was greasy spoon quality at best and the northern "Super Continental" route from Winnipeg to Vancouver was certainly no better than Amtrak western LD dining - then or now.
None of which have applied since the huge VIA cutbacks in 1990 or the introduction of the HEP'd Budd fleet about 1993 and total retirement of the ex-CN Blue Fleet.

However, I rode VIA in the 1980s and agree with you about the rough equivalence of Amtrak and VIA dining then. However, VIA's dining was quite superior to the last Amtrak iteration of traditional dining prior to COVID and Flex. It had degraded pretty badly. Flex was was not comparable to VIA in any way, shape, or form. The new, current iteration of Amtrak's traditional dining is close to on par with VIA's, the biggest real difference is VIA's menu rotation.
 
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