Amtrak Dining

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Rambling Robert

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Has guidelines or decisions been made at the Fall 2021 RPA/Amtrak meeting in Virginia?

Over the summer Amtrak management was considering traditional dining to Coach if available because of sleeper lack of demand.

I have been telling potential Coach riders what great food Amtrak had for Coach western treins and the LSL. There has to be a more positive change in dining for me to continue talking about .it. I’m sure this goes true for hundreds of regular riders
 

jis

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Has guidelines or decisions been made at the Fall 2021 RPA/Amtrak meeting in Virginia?
The meeting was a Zoom meeting. The face to face meeting was canceled.

I am not aware of any guidelines or decisions mentioning any specific dates for any service enhancement about food service that were mentioned, and I sat through most of the Zoom sessions.
 

Winecliff Station

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Apr 10, 2019
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Anything would be better than flex. For Eastern LD, I bring my own food on board. Flex actually makes me kind of sick.

The standard for excellence on LD trains however should not be “better than flex.”
I couldn't take my rings off for three days after flex dining on the LSL to and from Chicago for a long weekend last week. Happens every time I eat those flex meals more than once....probably water retention from all the sodium.
 

lordsigma

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Well, you certainly sound like you'd fit right in with Amtrak's current management.
Not sure if this was meant to be belligerent or a joke but not really - I’m not much of a management type - I could never fire people or eliminate jobs - if I was actually in charge I’d probably be one opposing the job cuts at the time they went contemporary at the beginning - I also very much oppose the closing down of staffed stations. It’s more about being a realist and trying to look at it from a business perspective and what I think is going to happen given the climate in their front office and what I think could be a better middle ground solution putting myself in their shoes. If anything I’m a pragmatist and I just try to look at things from all perspectives.

I think I said before - you’re not going to hear me complain if they go traditional sit down dining on every train because of course that is the best experience and maybe absent mica and with the new bill maybe they will. I just said I’m not sure it’s necessary on every train and I don’t see them doing it, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to gripe if they do - I’m a supporter of long distance trains. We’ll just have to wait and see. For me it’s not all about the food on eastern trains and while I can tolerate the flex meals myself on a one night journey (I did find they got old on a two night journal on my cross country trip and greatly enjoyed the restored traditional dining for my last leg home) I know a lot of people don’t and there’s not good choices for those with dietary restrictions so we do need to see some kind of improvement at least and if they go all out great. I mean no disrespect to anyone that disagrees with my predictions/thoughts - I’m not the monster you may think 😅
 
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Winecliff Station

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Has guidelines or decisions been made at the Fall 2021 RPA/Amtrak meeting in Virginia?

Over the summer Amtrak management was considering traditional dining to Coach if available because of sleeper lack of demand.

I have been telling potential Coach riders what great food Amtrak had for Coach western treins and the LSL. There has to be a more positive change in dining for me to continue talking about .it. I’m sure this goes true for hundreds of regular riders
I thought there might be artificial demand for sleepers right now because of Covid and the mask mandate, but my LSL trip last week found the sleepers less than half full. My travel days were Thursday and Sunday nights though, which may have lower ridership. On alternate Fridays when I take the LSL only as far west as Syracuse, the sleepers are nearly full.
 

fdaley

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this is a very important take-away.
Amtrak, in an oddly genuine and convincing way, seems utterly against restoring any semblance of what they had before, almost as if there were a good reason not to: on the other hand, they seem convinced the only issue we have with flex dining is a lack of variety...
It seems sort of willfully dense, given how strong the reaction from some of us has been. What I'd like to hear someone from Amtrak management saying is: We really made a mistake with this flexible dining program on the eastern trains. We were trying to comply with a directive to save money, but we wound up alienating some of our most loyal customers and delivering a level of service that wasn't appealing to new customers either. So we're working a new model that's closer to what we had before, though the staffing and supply issues might take awhile to sort out.

But that's not really what we're hearing. Of course, with nearly all of the long-distance train consists fixed at the same size for the past 25 years, it's been a long time since there really was much focus on how to attract and retain customers through good service and amenities. Certainly the goal of management with the LD trains in the couple of years before the pandemic seemed to be: "Let's use our system of sleeper fare buckets to maximize revenue on each departure, and if we can slash spending on amenities and still get enough people to ride, so much the better."

What's weird is that with the dining program they've now put in place on the western trains, management seems to have acknowledged that good meal service really is important to attracting and sustaining ridership, at least in the sleepers. But they still seem to be trying to come up with some metric by which they can deem this important on some routes but less so on others. I don't understand the point of this. Is it just about saving face?
 
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lordsigma

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I think if you look at data on who is riding, why they are riding, etc. (if they actually take such data) you’d probably find different routes have subtle differences in the reasoning for selection of Amtrak or at least differences in the percentages. It’s not to say that food service isn’t important on other routes - but the routes selected are some of the Longest and most scenic routes in the system and probably attract the most riders going on an adventure and looking for that old fashioned rail experience of which the dining car is an important part of. I would certainly say that if they could only do five trains to start out they certainly picked the most important ones where the absence of traditional dining hurts the train the most.
 
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fdaley

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I think if you look at data on who is riding, why they are riding, etc. (if they actually take such data) you’d probably find different routes have subtle differences in the reasoning for selection of Amtrak or at least differences in the percentages. It’s not to say that food service isn’t important on other routes - but the routes selected are some of the Longest and most scenic routes in the system and probably attract the most riders going on an adventure and looking for that old fashioned rail experience of which the dining car is an important part of. I would certainly say that if they could only do five trains to start out they certainly picked the most important ones where the absence of traditional dining hurts the train the most.
Definitely I agree that the five trains they picked were the most important ones to fix. I just think it's pretty important to fix this on most of the other LD trains too. I can't imagine wanting to ride the Crescent from New York to New Orleans or the Eagle from Chicago to San Antonio with the current meal service.

And even on shorter trips, the flex meals are driving away business. Recently I had a friend who was contemplating taking the Crescent from New York to a family gathering in Georgia. He was telling me how much he had enjoyed the dining car on previous sleeper trips in the pre-flex era. I told him about the changes to the meal service. His wife wound up flying, and he stayed home.
 
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AmtrakMaineiac

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Another disincentive if you are in the Boston sleeper of the LSL is that you have to walk back what seems like a mile of coaches, all while at 79mph on typical CSX track, just to get your Hungry Man TV dinner. I realize to shuffle the cars at Albany to put the sleepers together is probably unrealistic. But sometimes I'm tempted to pass up the free meal and stop at the cafe conveniently next to the sleeper.
 

neroden

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I haven't eaten in the LSL dining car since the first meal after they trashed the LSL menu back in... geez, I think it must have been 2016 or 2015, I can't even remember now. It was the first one trashed after the Cardinal's "diner lite" operation, even before the Silver Starvation and before "flex meal" trashing came to the rest of the trains.

I am willing to give Flynn's administration the benefit of the doubt since the chefs were laid off by Anderson and it does take time to hire and train new chefs. Both Anderson and anyone he was listening to when he cancelled the Eastern dining car services (Stephen Gardner?) were fools, however.
 

Tlcooper93

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Another disincentive if you are in the Boston sleeper of the LSL is that you have to walk back what seems like a mile of coaches, all while at 79mph on typical CSX track, just to get your Hungry Man TV dinner. I realize to shuffle the cars at Albany to put the sleepers together is probably unrealistic. But sometimes I'm tempted to pass up the free meal and stop at the cafe conveniently next to the sleeper.
I can second that. Likely doing a cross country trip from California to Boston in October, and will have to deal with that again. Always wondered why the cars were oriented in that way (likely to do with the combining of trains I guess).

The diner lite they offered on the Northeast Direct (Night Owl basically) back in 2000 was really nice! Especially for a one night journey, I'm sure it would be a great compromise for the eastern LD trains.
 

fdaley

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I haven't eaten in the LSL dining car since the first meal after they trashed the LSL menu back in... geez, I think it must have been 2016 or 2015, I can't even remember now. It was the first one trashed after the Cardinal's "diner lite" operation, even before the Silver Starvation and before "flex meal" trashing came to the rest of the trains.

I am willing to give Flynn's administration the benefit of the doubt since the chefs were laid off by Anderson and it does take time to hire and train new chefs. Both Anderson and anyone he was listening to when he cancelled the Eastern dining car services (Stephen Gardner?) were fools, however.
I rode the Lake Shore several times in 2017-18 when it had the "diner lite" operation (traditional dining in an Amfleet lounge, after the last heritage diners were retired). It wasn't ideal but was much better than what followed. By coincidence I was on the last westbound with diner lite service, leaving Albany on 5/31/18. On our way back from New Mexico a few days later, I was surprised to see the long-awaited Viewliner diner in the consist, but Amtrak had already switched to "contemporary" food, which means they effectively killed dining service the moment these cars arrived on the LSL. We haven't booked another family trip on the overnight portion of the Lake Shore since then. I took it once on a solo trip after the advent of "flexible" dining, which of course was billed as an improvement. Horrible.
 

Winecliff Station

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Another disincentive if you are in the Boston sleeper of the LSL is that you have to walk back what seems like a mile of coaches, all while at 79mph on typical CSX track, just to get your Hungry Man TV dinner. I realize to shuffle the cars at Albany to put the sleepers together is probably unrealistic. But sometimes I'm tempted to pass up the free meal and stop at the cafe conveniently next to the sleeper.
And in reverse, if you’re in the NY side and would like a snack or night cap, same problem. Last week on the westbound LSL, hubby and I shared a couple of those large Chardonnay bottles and he started up a chat with the cafe attendant about restaurant recommendations in Chicago. The flex meal obviously left me unsatisfied because I got the munchies and ordered the mac and cheese, which was much better than expected. Then we had the long walk back to our bedroom around midnight 🤪 which seemed a lot longer than the trip there.
 

cassie225

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I have to say unless it is an emergency I will probably not take Amtrak to get to my destination, I always took the Crescent from NO to Newark to see my daughter, but no more, service and the food on my recent trip to Atlanta has made me rethink taking train, I will keep updated through the post here to find out when traditional dining is restored. I also took the train from Hammond to Memphis long ago and it was awesome, we did coach and were able to go to dining car.
 

lordsigma

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Decided to take my after New York meal early - I am stuffed now! Lobster crab cake. Quality good for both meals.


I have to say unless it is an emergency I will probably not take Amtrak to get to my destination, I always took the Crescent from NO to Newark to see my daughter, but no more, service and the food on my recent trip to Atlanta has made me rethink taking train, I will keep updated through the post here to find out when traditional dining is restored. I also took the train from Hammond to Memphis long ago and it was awesome, we did coach and were able to go to dining car.
Stay tuned -it sounds like changes are coming to the east. No details yet except that they are working with the new vendor used for the Acela first meals on changes to Eastern LD trains. That should result in an improvement - I found the Acela first meals today of high quality.
 

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bratkinson

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Lordsigma's Acela FC experience is like mine in the past 6 weeks. Much improved over what it was 2 years ago to the point of being quite tasty. But I found them not sufficiently 'filling'.

2153 is my usual morning Acela and 2170 return. I suspect the switch between the 2 Acela FC menus occurs monthly, as in September, the eggs were 'Benedict' style, rather than cheese/bacon omelette I had in August, which I preferred.
 

priller

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My experience from a trip last week. I took the Cardinal from MSS-CHI. The best SCA (David) I ever had, really helpful and on top of things. He delivered lunch and dinner to my roomette. I had no problem with the Flexible Dining options. Both lunch and dinner were quite good. The breakfast omelet I could do without. Overall, for a poor little neglected train like the Cardinal, the meals were better than expected.

Then I was on the Empire Builder 27(25). I got dinner and breakfast before the train was terminated in Minot, due to the derailment. I was traveling solo. In the diner I got seated at a table my myself. White linen, real glasses, real silverware, plastic plates and fresh flowers ... all as expected. The food quality was high and service was fast. I got the flatiron steak. Cooked perfectly and great taste. I overheard other tables raving over how good the salmon was.IMG_3611.jpegIMG_3641.jpegIMG_3642.jpegIMG_3643.jpegIMG_3638.jpeg
 

Tlcooper93

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Probably taking a cross country trip in October with my family. Any word on whether or not coffee has been restored to sleepers?
 
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