Amtrak Dining

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Railspike

Train Attendant
Joined
Nov 29, 2020
Messages
37
Location
Houston
I am a relatively new member so if this topic has been discussed, please disregard it. Sidney recently asked the question, "Does Amtrak know how their customers feel about Flex dining?". Good question. I know I have let them know how terrible it is. Others have described it as "mystery meat", "vomit", "had to throw in the trash", etc.


In this Pandemic age, tasty ready-to-eat microwavable entrees are readily available from various sources (meals by mail, grocery stores, and restaurants, etc.). There is no excuse for serving terrible tasting food on Amtrak. Unless of course, that's the goal. They have to know the food they are serving is terrible based on reviews. Is it because of the cost to Amtrak? Wouldn't this be an opportune time to try different recipes or contract an outside supplier?

I’ve been riding Amtrak since 1979. I don't ride Amtrak for the food. But dining is part of the experience and cost. I have not, nor will I take another trip until either the Flex dining food improves or the full-service diner returns. If Amtrak is going to charge a hefty price for sleeper space and include meals, then the food ought to be edible.


With this in mind, I would think a smart food truck operator could do well meeting the train at longer stops near a mealtime. The only question, how fast could the truck get the food out to customers who have a time constraint?
 

me_little_me

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
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Jul 16, 2010
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4,234
With this in mind, I would think a smart food truck operator could do well meeting the train at longer stops near a mealtime. The only question, how fast could the truck get the food out to customers who have a time constraint?
This whole topic is the subject of many threads but as far as meeting the train, the biggest issue is the unreliability of arrival. I've been on Amtrak trains that have gone from an estimated arrival at a station of a few minutes to getting there an hour later.
 

Railspike

Train Attendant
Joined
Nov 29, 2020
Messages
37
Location
Houston
This whole topic is the subject of many threads but as far as meeting the train, the biggest issue is the unreliability of arrival. I've been on Amtrak trains that have gone from an estimated arrival at a station of a few minutes to getting there an hour later.
Agree. The truck would have to follow 'Track Your Train'. There would certainly be times that the truck would miss the train (or the train would miss the truck) but that would be part of the risk. Hopefully, the truck would make more meets than misses. As in any business, if there were more misses than makes, they would cease meeting the train altogether.
 

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,784
Again...if flexible dining is here to stay,and I'm afraid it is,why can't there be an improvement in what is being offered?
There can and there likely will be eventually.

About 15 years ago we went through this exact same thing with simplified dining and then after that we got some of the best dining in Amtrak history with the chef inspired meals.
 

Maglev

Conductor
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Sep 4, 2016
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1,084
Location
Orcas Island, Washington
No matter how carefully you monitor a train's progress, it could arrive in a station at any time. I was on a northbound Coast Starlight that was on time arriving Oakland, so we vacated our hotel room at the Hyatt across the tracks from the station in Emeryville. But the train was delayed an hour with switching of deadhead cars after leaving Oakland. Another time, I was delayed half an hour a hundred yards from the station in Eugene by a faulty switch.
 

tgstubbs1

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
385
Food trucks might be advised to keep in touch with incoming Amtrak by cell if possible.

It seems to me if a person wants a great dining experience on a train they are better off finding a regional tourist package.
 

Qapla

Conductor
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Jul 15, 2019
Messages
1,964
Location
Gator Country Florida
It nay be that food trucks may not find "allowable" spaces to park neat/at train stations. A station like the one in JAX would require them to park on Amtrak property and that may not be allowed.

Perhaps, if now, before Jan 20, "Amtrak Joe" were to receive several hundred (thousand) letters about the dismal flex-dining it would get some attention a little sooner.
 

tgstubbs1

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
385
It nay be that food trucks may not find "allowable" spaces to park neat/at train stations. A station like the one in JAX would require them to park on Amtrak property and that may not be allowed.

Perhaps, if now, before Jan 20, "Amtrak Joe" were to receive several hundred (thousand) letters about the dismal flex-dining it would get some attention a little sooner.
If Amtrak would proactively help food trucks they might be much more successful.
 

IndyLions

OBS Chief
Joined
Nov 6, 2016
Messages
750
Location
Brownsburg IN
I appreciate the creativity, but this is a bad idea. It’s just going to cause delays and it is inconvenient for customers in multiple ways.

It’s as simple as eliminating the Mica rule and putting someone competent in charge of food service at Amtrak - period.

Call it an oversimplification, but I don’t agree.
 

Devil's Advocate

It's just a scratch.
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Siding of Excellence
Unless I'm mistaken the Mica rule was recently nullified through language included by the House, at least in the sense that there are no repercussions for defying it, and is no longer an active threat to anyone willing to improve Amtrak's dining service. Unfortunately the affects of the pandemic and limited service schedule are still working against us.
 

MARC Rider

Engineer
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Apr 5, 2011
Messages
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Location
Baltimore. MD
I am a relatively new member so if this topic has been discussed, please disregard it. Sidney recently asked the question, "Does Amtrak know how their customers feel about Flex dining?". Good question. I know I have let them know how terrible it is. Others have described it as "mystery meat", "vomit", "had to throw in the trash", etc.
While I agree that the quality of the flex meal food could be a lot better, having sampled it extensively last year on my trip to and from the Gathering, I believe that descriptions like "mystery meat," "vomit," and "throw it in the trash" are a bit over the top. The food's health profile is not the best, being overloaded with sugar and salt, but that sort of thing is true with almost all commercially prepared food today, even from high end gourmet restaurants (although their main problems are large portion sizes and food heavy on butter and other fats.) I had the opportunity to sample every item on the menu (a Capitol Limited dinner/breakfast westbound and a Cardinal dinner/breakfast/lunch/dinner eastbound), and everything was perfectly edible, although the Cajun shrimp with rice had, perhaps, a bit too much chili pepper seasoning (and I am a fan of spicy foods.)

In my opinion, the main problem with it is that there is insufficient variety, especially if you take anything more than a short overnight trip. (If you know enough to pre-order a kosher meal -- 72 hours in advance -- you do get a little more, but not much, variety.) The breakfasts are also inadequate unless you have a friendly LSA who gives you seconds (as I did on the Cardinal.)

I don't think that the fare offered by food trucks, even good, high quality food trucks, would be a good substitute for either traditional dining or the flex dining.
 

fdaley

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
288
I’ve been riding Amtrak since 1979. I don't ride Amtrak for the food. But dining is part of the experience and cost. I have not, nor will I take another trip until either the Flex dining food improves or the full-service diner returns. If Amtrak is going to charge a hefty price for sleeper space and include meals, then the food ought to be edible.
This is the bottom line for me too. Right now I'm not taking any trips because of the pandemic. But perhaps later this year, if the vaccines are widely distributed and new case numbers go way down, I will begin to think about traveling again. If Amtrak hasn't restored dining service or made significant improvements to the current food offerings, then Amtrak's long distance trains won't be under consideration as a way for me to go places. And like you, I have been using those trains since the '70s.
 
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fdaley

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
288
And yes, RPA reported a few months back that the Mica rule was deleted, so there is no longer any statutory requirement that Amtrak's food service cover its own costs. Which means dining service should go back to what it has always been: an amenity that helps to attract and retain riders.
 

tgstubbs1

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
385
I don't think that the fare offered by food trucks, even good, high quality food trucks, would be a good substitute for either traditional dining or the flex dining.
There are many restaurants going out of business that are trying food trucks to cope with the covid virus.

They are better for social distancing.

If I were traveling on a LD train in this pandemic I would be looking out the window to spot any food opportunities.

Unless I liked the flex menu.
 

MARC Rider

Engineer
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
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3,357
Location
Baltimore. MD
There are many restaurants going out of business that are trying food trucks to cope with the covid virus.

They are better for social distancing.

If I were traveling on a LD train in this pandemic I would be looking out the window to spot any food opportunities.

Unless I liked the flex menu.
As a long-time customer of food trucks, I can assure you that they are not good for social distancing, as you need to stand in line for a long time while your food is prepared.

For long distance trains during this pandemic, the best type of food service is probably a tray meal served in your room or at your seat. In other words, flex dining.
 

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,784
For long distance trains during this pandemic, the best type of food service is probably a tray meal served in your room or at your seat. In other words, flex dining.
“Flex dining” in the style of service? Yes I agree.

“Flex dining” in the quality of meals offered? I disagree. Much better quality should be available. The pre-made meals on the Empire Builder out of Portland are a good example.
 

me_little_me

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
4,234
Food trucks might be advised to keep in touch with incoming Amtrak by cell if possible.

It seems to me if a person wants a great dining experience on a train they are better off finding a regional tourist package.
First, food trucks would be inadequate to handle the potentially large crowds (including coach passengers) who suddenly want their hot food, drinks, etc and who all have to pay. Nowhere enough time even at most "smoking" stops. Would cause too much delay. The only externally supplied food would be something already prepared, heated, paid for, named for specific passenger, and directly turned over to Amtrak crew so it could be distributed even as the train leaves the station or after. Then what happens if someone wanting or NEEDING a specific thing (no mayo, not too spicy, gluten free, etc) doesn't get the correct thing or meals are mixed up and one person is already eating the wrong thing. The burrito lady in El Paso can do it because it is a small cash business with only a few different items kept warm in insulated container instead of a truck but they are all unique to that one stop so there is no need or capability for "specials" and the stop is long and in the middle of the day. Moreover, there are no guarantees that she will be there so there is no dependency on her presence.

As to "great dining experience", few here are expecting the "great" on this forum. Most want a variety of good edible food and at least some "experience" considering the cost of the sleeper.
 

Sidney

OBS Chief
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
511
"Me Little Me"nailed it. The fact the food is so bland and there is not enough variety and the fact the sleeper prices have remained high. I understand flex dining on the Western trains because of the pedemic,but can't the quality improve and a bigger variety offered?

I'll be on a ten day circle trip starting a week from Friday. I am going to ask if I could mix the cafe food with the flex stuff. The cafe food isn't much better but at least I could grab a burger or a frozen pizza.
 

Devil's Advocate

It's just a scratch.
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
12,504
Location
Siding of Excellence
The cafe food has a lower target quality but seems to get closer to actually reaching it. Or at least it did before the pandemic. Doesn't sound like they carry many of the previous options anymore. The thing that blows my mind is that nearly everything I need or want from my hometown markets and restaurants has remained available through 90% of the pandemic. This implies to me that suppliers are keeping up with demand and contractual obligations just fine. So what is Amtrak's excuse for why their food service is so severely impacted? The airlines have also cut way back but airports still have food, which most Amtrak stations cannot claim, and I don't need to be fed on a domestic flight.
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 22, 2009
Messages
4,763
Location
Washington State
“It’s as simple as eliminating the Mica rule and putting someone competent in charge of XXXX XXXXXX XX Amtrak - period.”

Honestly today’s election results in GA should help a lot. Going to be an interesting track forward.
Mica rule is already gone. They stuck the repeal into the first COVID relief package, IIRC
 
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