Amtrak Dining

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Triley

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What I'm saying is that it appears they're using the excuse of being unable to do communal seating to mask a staffing and logistics issue more than anything else.
This is also not the case... A high ranking manager was riding a train, saw how cramped the diner was (especially using the old communal style method, forcing people to sit together to fill tables, while other tables in the car go completely unused), and issued an update effective immediately that the crews were to go back to one party = one table. They cited how cramped the tables were, and the surging Delta variant.
 

Triley

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You are correct -they appear to have reduced the service crew on the superliner diners to just the LSA and one SA by not having coach passengers and going cashless. Basically when they went back to traditional dining they just brought back the chef - the rest of the crew is the same as it was when they were serving flex. They probably could serve coach with the current crew if they do it as a first class meal upgrade and handle the transactions in Arrow. That way the LSA still wouldn't have to handle cash and the only transactions they would have are lunchtime alcoholic beverages or subsequent beverages at dinner (the first drink at all dinners is on Amtrak) which allows the LSA to do more direct serving.
Even before getting rid of communal seating recently, crews could barely keep up with the demand from the sleeper passengers. At the absolute best.....they could possibly handle to-go orders. But taking coach passengers in the to the diner is simply not an option with the current staffing available.

Also, the first alcoholic drink is only being advertised as being included for dinner because of all diner patrons being First Class passengers. If the diner was opened up to coach tomorrow, that same deal would not be apply to them.

The cafe car attendant could just sell vouchers with specific reservation times. That handles the cash handling aspect of it. Presumably, the POS system could be upgraded for it--that may be easier than trying to have the dining car folks handle cash.

However, the other problem is simply seating--it's always packed in there and they can't seat different sets of people together because of understandable COVID restrictions.
It's not about handling cash (or credit cards to be correct), as the diner does have a credit card machine for charging any alcoholic beverages that aren't comped. It rests solely on diner capacity, as you mentioned. If there was a second SA available for each diner crew it would be much more easily manageable. The company is constantly trying to get new hires now, so maybe one day again soon...

Could even pre-sell them -- if you want meals on board, you have to order them with your ticket. I know some people don't like to plan in advance, but it would be fine for a lot of people. I've done that sort of thing for festivals and events.

Again requires Amtrak IT to be a lot more together than they currently are, though.
Anything would be better than nothing. But as I mentioned, it's more of a car capacity thing right now. Plus, the kitchens are also running on thin crews as well, and this new menu is very time consuming due to the high level of food presentation. Many kitchens struggled to keep up with just the sleeper passengers when this menu was rolled out. At this point, most would likely be able to handle a little more.
 

lordsigma

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Also, the first alcoholic drink is only being advertised as being included for dinner because of all diner patrons being First Class passengers. If the diner was opened up to coach tomorrow, that same deal would not be apply to them.
I personally disagree that they will go back to the old way of putting prices on the menu for coach passengers - I could be wrong but they seem to want to avoid that. I think they will do it as an upgrade type of thing where you either pay a fixed rate to get access to the diner right when you buy your ticket based on the duration of your trip or thru some other website closer to departure sort of like how they did the flex dining pre-selection or alternatively as a per meal fixed charge type thing with a simple cost per meal rather than costing the menu items - and I think they’ll probably get the same deal at dinner - why not just build that first drink into the price of the dinner package however they do it? That way the crew doesn’t have to do anything different for the coach passengers in the diner and it’s just a matter of car capacity and how many passengers they can handle per crew member. With going back to one party per table though it probably won’t be anytime soon - at least for coach passengers that want to sit in the diner - maybe a takeout method as you suggested.
 
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Nick Farr

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It's not about handling cash (or credit cards to be correct), as the diner does have a credit card machine for charging any alcoholic beverages that aren't comped.
Assuming they.had sufficient staff, or kept the diner open longer, the voucher system also removes the need for the Dining Car staff to take reservations or worry about billing.

The idea is not so much lack of capability to charge as much as offloading work, since as you say, the cars are overworked.
 

lordsigma

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Could even pre-sell them -- if you want meals on board, you have to order them with your ticket. I know some people don't like to plan in advance, but it would be fine for a lot of people. I've done that sort of thing for festivals and events.

Again requires Amtrak IT to be a lot more together than they currently are, though.
I think this is how they’ll do it - I don’t think prices are going back on the menu.
 

Nick Farr

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I think this is how they’ll do it - I don’t think prices are going back on the menu.
It appears they're moving to a prix-fixe model which makes the most sense. They can offer higher quality options, shift more of the cooking time to prep work and cut down on inventory, spoilage, storage, etc.

The desserts, for example, appear to be slices off a larger common cake than the individual servings they were before.

Long story short: It's an amazing improvement all the way around.
 

me_little_me

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Could even pre-sell them -- if you want meals on board, you have to order them with your ticket. I know some people don't like to plan in advance, but it would be fine for a lot of people. I've done that sort of thing for festivals and events.

Again requires Amtrak IT to be a lot more together than they currently are, though.
That might lose some business. There is little reason why Amtrak can't implement the capability to offer pre-paid meals up to, say, hours or a few days before departure. Well, Amtrak might not be capable of handling it but companies interested in maximizing their sales would figure out a way. Leaving money on the table (no pun intended) is something Amtrak does very well but can least afford to do.
 

TEREB

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Silver Meteor (occasional Star) rider here.
If Amtrak would bring back any dishes, what would you like to see return?
I’ll start.
I would love to see grits for breakfast and the beautiful fresh fruit bowl we had on our Oct 2019 flex breakfast. For lunch I would go for the veggie burger with cheese and bacon and the salad with corn/shrimp soup they offered in 2012 or 2013. For dinner, the crab cakes. The salmon and the cod were pretty good too.
 

Sidney

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Silver Meteor (occasional Star) rider here.
If Amtrak would bring back any dishes, what would you like to see return?
I’ll start.
I would love to see grits for breakfast and the beautiful fresh fruit bowl we had on our Oct 2019 flex breakfast. For lunch I would go for the veggie burger with cheese and bacon and the salad with corn/shrimp soup they offered in 2012 or 2013. For dinner, the crab cakes. The salmon and the cod were pretty good too.
Anything that is not microwaved or reheated aka flex dining. The traditional dining menu,or even a portion of it would be most welcome on the Eastern trains and Texas Eagle
 

20th Century Rider

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Anything that is not microwaved or reheated aka flex dining. The traditional dining menu,or even a portion of it would be most welcome on the Eastern trains and Texas Eagle
Remembering what was the former service before flex... those quickly prepared meals were of poor quality... remembering breakfasts of eggs, shriveled has browns, and bacon swimming in grease.

But I'm thinking that the trend as presented on LD services in the West and Acela 1st class forecasts much nicer service... perhaps with a limited menu and smaller scale... still far better than either the flex or the prior service.
 

jis

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It should be noted that everything served in Acela is pre-plated and either kept warm until served or reheated. Also remember that airlines serve superb cuisine in intercontinental Business/First Class that involves absolutely no cooking on board (weell, maybe except baking Chocolate Chip Cookies which United does). So pre-cooking and reheating in and of itself does not imply bad cuisine. It all depends on what one is willing to do and pay for.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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Also remember that airlines serve superb cuisine in intercontinental* Business/First Class that involves absolutely no cooking on board (weell, maybe except baking Chocolate Chip Cookies which United does).
Some airlines also claim they cook rice or poach eggs on board. I'm not sure what sort of culinary magic is required to serve medium-rare Wagyu that looks and tastes freshly prepared but they clearly found a way. Even the anytime menu crab cakes were convincing enough that I would have presumed fresh cooking if not for knowing better.

*✅:)
 

Nick Farr

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Some airlines also claim they cook rice or poach eggs on board.
All rice or poached eggs require are the right water/vinegar mixture in the right ratio in a well-contained appliance. There's not much actual cooking skill required. Many restaurants poach eggs in a microwave.

A lot of airline food cooking is just applying well-known pre-cooking and slow-cooking catering techniques. When you're catering chicken, for example, you undercook it in the kitchen the morning before its served. Keeping it at a minimum safe temperature in a humid warm pan will make it amazingly tender and perfectly cooked/moist when served if timed correctly.

That being said, airline food is a totally different thing and at the higher end is kept to high standards because of intense competition.
 

Cal

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Veggie Burger with bacon? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Like eating a piece of cake with a diet Coke.
I believe I saw on this forum that it's called the cheaters burger!

Anyway, what I'd like to see come back is basically everything on the current traditional menu (everything I had was superb). I remember enjoying the Quesadillas, and pancakes back in 2017 and 2018. Although I did forget about the Quesadillas until I took a look at an old Starlight menu I have.
 

zephyr17

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Veggie Burger with bacon? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Like eating a piece of cake with a diet Coke.
Their old veggie burger was quite yummy. It didn't try to imitate a real burger and it was spicy and tasty. I ordered it several times myself, just to change things up on long trips.

It was great with bacon.
 

flitcraft

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Pork and beans go together like, well, pork and beans. Now, if you're eating the veggie burger because you don't eat meat or you don't eat pork, that's one thing. But I sometimes ordered the veggie burger simply because it was a tasty option. Wish I'd thought to add some bacon to it, though...
 
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