Amtrak Dining

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jis

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The starlight is starting a pilot in business class to allow access to diner - this is very likely what they would eventually roll out to coach. As hinted by Amtrak management previously they are not putting prices on the menu. They are selling meal packages - $20 breakfast $25 lunch and $45 dinner. For that package price you get everything that a sleeper car passenger would get for that meal including the lunch/dinner dessert and the dinner “first drink on us”. To secure your reservation you go to the diner before the meal service begins to pay the charge. Like with sleeper passengers the only transactions performed at seat are additional alcoholic beverages.
Eventually they should make it a service attachment to the PNR, like for example "pets" are at present, so that customers can book it when they buy the ticket or add it on using the web site at any time, including making the requisite payment.

IndiGo Airline (among others) in India does it this way. All the service attachments get printed out as coupons on the boarding card in their case, and as each service is delivered the one delivering the service takes the corresponding coupon. All this could easily be done electronically too. The OBS crew has a printout of the add on services associated with each checked in passenger and associated with their assigned seat. Works really well. All of on board food service is delivered this way with multiple possible menu packages to choose from. And it is BTW an LCC, and the largest airline in India.
 

lordsigma

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Seems like a good way to do it. At table reservations would of course still be first come first serve after sleeping car passengers have chosen - so if you've purchased a meal with your ticket but fail to get a reservation then your meal would be carry away to your seat. Doing the packages seems like it will streamline the meal service for the crew as there will be no need to tally up the cost of the meal for non-sleeping car patrons - basically every table and patron is served the same way. Again the only cash/card transactions for the LSA being alcoholic beverage sales.
 
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me_little_me

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Seems like a good way to do it. At table reservations would of course still be first come first serve after sleeping car passengers have chosen - so if you've purchased a meal with your ticket but fail to get a reservation then your meal would be carry away to your seat.
Since the value of the dining experience would be reduced (significantly IMHO) by not being seated in the diner and having to eat at one's seat, there needs to be an alternative. Possibly a portion of the cost refunded if there are no available diner seats is one possibility. I can't imagine walking into any restaurant charging those prices and having already paid for my meal and have the manager tell me that they are full so I'll have to take my meal home and eat it. Also, Amtrak needs to dramatically increase their food reliability. Again, if I've paid for a meal and x entree is unavailable or they have run out of desserts (like on our return trip last Sunday), Amtrak will only drive potential business away. Their inability to provide sufficient product for their diners and cafes is well known in this forum. To make it worse by charging one in advance and not being able to deliver is downright criminal. Remember, this is not a unique thing but something that seems to happen regularly on Amtrak.
 

Sidney

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You pay $45 for the dinner ordering the steak,which is the only meal worth that price and when it's meal time they are out of it. Not good.

I'm on the Cresent Northbound in a roomette. 9:15AM departure from New Orleans. Breakfast an hour later. Just had the Chicken Ala Rosa for lunch. Bland. I've had the short ribs earlier this week. Not bad. That will be my dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow. I m sure the salmon is subpar and the Enchiladas don't appeal to me. They dropped both shrimp dishes. I ll take those over the Chicken Ala Rosa. At least I brought some wine with me to make the flex crap more tolerable.

Had the french toast this morning. Half of it was too hard to eat. Good God! Restore traditional dining on every train! At the price we are paying we deserve real food!
 

CraigInNC

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There will be those that disagree with me, but deregulation of the airlines was the most disappointing thing that has happened in my lifetime regarding the quality and the pleasure of traveling. Deregulation has led airlines become the "Greyhound of the Skies" and is now helping to provide a more affordable means of transportation so that the "jerks of the world" can now fly, insult and assault flight crews and fellow passengers when "they don't get to do whatever it is they want to do".
I wasn't even born when deregulation began of the airlines so I have no way of referencing any past service. With that said, it does appear that the public, in general, will buy based on price and will trade amenities to be able to get from say Dallas to Tampa Florida in 2 hours for $125 one way. It did democratize the passenger base but as has been said it is not longer a "lifestyle" form of travel as it was 40+ years ago and as Amtrak is (for the most part) on non-commuter routes. While there is arguably a social benefit to making air travel more reasonable, it certainly hasn't done anything for most of the airlines. Financially, deregulation has largely been a disaster for most airlines with the exception of perhaps Southwest and a couple more niche carriers that cater to a specific market. Just about every airline has declared bankruptcy multiple times over the years, many of them have gone, some have come and gone, and the ones that are flying now are barely solvent. Between 9/11 and Covid the US taxpayers have pumped a lot of money into those companies on an unprecedented level. With that being said, anyone arguing that Amtrak is a waste of taxpayer money is making a bunk argument.
 

CraigInNC

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I was on the overnight NB Silver Star from Tampa to Cary, NC leaving Tampa at 5.27P and arriving in Cary about 30 minutes late around 10.30A the following morning. The SCA was outstanding. I had dinner at 6.30P in the dining car. I had the rib flex meal, blondie cake dessert square, and a Tito's with Diet Coke. It was decent. Not exceptional but I wasn't expecting it given the circumstances. We all want traditional dining to return. So does the crew. There were a couple of other folks at different tables in the dining car. The train was not full. Only about 4-5 of the sleepers in 2 sleeping cars were occupied. During my walk back to my roomette I saw several people eating in their rooms. I had the SCA make the bed up when I was eating since it gets dark early now and I was just going to lie down. I had the French Toast in the morning in the dining car again. It was decent, actually not that bad. Better than the ribs in comparison which wasn't that bad either. The dining car attendant asked me if I wanted anything else and I asked her if I could get one of the Greek yogurts off the continental choice and she obliged. Drank two cups of coffee with the meal. I would rate the Dinner of Ribs a 5 out of 10. The Breakfast a 7. That is based on the food and not taking into consideration the expected experience of table service and the presentation associated with traditional dining. I brought a snack with me the SCA was kind enough to give me an extra diet Coke for the room. I had a late lunch around 2PM before I boarded so I was not hungry when I went to bed. It was a good trip and it was nice to take it in the new Viewliner IIs. But yes having the traditional dining back would be icing on the cake.
 

lordsigma

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I think $45 is appropriate. The meal includes appetizer, dessert, and 1 alcoholic beverage - and the presentation is way better than pre pandemic.
 

Dakota 400

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It did democratize the passenger base
I think that is good. But, I think it might have been able to be done in a better way than what deregulation of the airlines allowed. I thought after I made my post that it might be read as being one as an "elitist" comment. Such could not be further my thinking.

On my first flight, an American Airlines flight from DAY to LGA in a 727 in Coach and being served a good dinner many years ago, such an opportunity ought to be available for those who fly in fly in Coach Class today. Just because the democratizing of the passenger base has taken place, why ought those who choose to fly Coach not enjoy the amenities that I did during my first flight?

It's comparable to Amtrak dining. I book Amtrak coach and am unable to have dinner in the dinning car? There is something seriously wrong with this scenario, I think.

I am getting weary of excuses that such are due to the pandemic that cause this. This pandemic is going to become an endemic. Just as so many of society's ills, it's not going away.
 

CraigInNC

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I think that is good. But, I think it might have been able to be done in a better way than what deregulation of the airlines allowed. I thought after I made my post that it might be read as being one as an "elitist" comment. Such could not be further my thinking.

On my first flight, an American Airlines flight from DAY to LGA in a 727 in Coach and being served a good dinner many years ago, such an opportunity ought to be available for those who fly in fly in Coach Class today. Just because the democratizing of the passenger base has taken place, why ought those who choose to fly Coach not enjoy the amenities that I did during my first flight?

It's comparable to Amtrak dining. I book Amtrak coach and am unable to have dinner in the dinning car? There is something seriously wrong with this scenario, I think.

I am getting weary of excuses that such are due to the pandemic that cause this. This pandemic is going to become an endemic. Just as so many of society's ills, it's not going away.
When I did my MBA, airline deregulation is a mainstay case study for business regulation. Being a transportation buff I wrote extensively on that subject when I was in school. There are a lot of moving parts but perhaps the most salient point with the airlines, and Amtrak for that matter, and transportation in general, is that fact that it is so capital intensive. The barriers of entry are very high in these industries. Airplanes are not cheap. Trains are not cheap. In order to have a meaningful and profitable service you have to offer enough of the service to attract a regular clientele. The problem the airlines have is that revenues are very elastic and costs are not. So that has created endless cycles of profitability and losses (more losses than profits) with the US government stepping in with financial resources at times (9/11, Covid, etc.) Amtrak being a quasi government statal like the Post Office is less subject to those gyrations because the revenue stream tends to be smoother for various reasons and the cost structure is heavily contained with funding streams both from passengers and government injection. Amtrak "loses" money but it is not a private investor owned entity and well we only have one passenger railroad.

As far as peoples' expectations, well as far as airlines go, some people (although it is a distinct minority) complain about not having amenities on an airplane but the fact of the matter is people will accept that inconvenience to get from point A to point B quickly and cheaply. Perhaps back in pre-deregulation days the type of demographic that flew was such that service at that level was expected. That is why we have Business and First Class seating today. Very good product exists out their in the airline world but you pay through the nose for it. Today there is a large gap between the Haves and Have Nots among ticketed airline passengers. I can fly to Europe direct from Charlotte, NC very cheaply for $426 non stop to London. That is nothing when you come to think of it in today's mid level wage bracket. In 1979 Piedmont Airlines inaugurated non stop service to London from Charlotte for $399 One Way. That was 42 years ago. The price went up $26 in 42 years. That is why airline service sucks.

I am not sure the airlines will ever be able to get out of that constant cycle of profit and losses so I do not expect that airline service will change much in the intermediate future. I fly only strictly if and when I have to and no practical alternatives exist. As for Amtrak, well since they are probably as well funded going into the next 10 years as they have ever been they are going to shift from a position of "barely hanging on" to "what do we do next." Not exactly a bad place to be.
 

Sidney

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I was on the overnight NB Silver Star from Tampa to Cary, NC leaving Tampa at 5.27P and arriving in Cary about 30 minutes late around 10.30A the following morning. The SCA was outstanding. I had dinner at 6.30P in the dining car. I had the rib flex meal, blondie cake dessert square, and a Tito's with Diet Coke. It was decent. Not exceptional but I wasn't expecting it given the circumstances. We all want traditional dining to return. So does the crew. There were a couple of other folks at different tables in the dining car. The train was not full. Only about 4-5 of the sleepers in 2 sleeping cars were occupied. During my walk back to my roomette I saw several people eating in their rooms. I had the SCA make the bed up when I was eating since it gets dark early now and I was just going to lie down. I had the French Toast in the morning in the dining car again. It was decent, actually not that bad. Better than the ribs in comparison which wasn't that bad either. The dining car attendant asked me if I wanted anything else and I asked her if I could get one of the Greek yogurts off the continental choice and she obliged. Drank two cups of coffee with the meal. I would rate the Dinner of Ribs a 5 out of 10. The Breakfast a 7. That is based on the food and not taking into consideration the expected experience of table service and the presentation associated with traditional dining. I brought a snack with me the SCA was kind enough to give me an extra diet Coke for the room. I had a late lunch around 2PM before I boarded so I was not hungry when I went to bed. It was a good trip and it was nice to take it in the new Viewliner IIs. But yes having the traditional dining back would be icing on the cake.
On the Crescent heading to Philly. Thought I would try the French Toast again. Worse than yesterday. Broke two forks trying to cut it. I threw most of it out. The omelette looked awful and the Jimmy Dean sandwich makes the Egg McMuffin and Crossanwich seem like gourmet meals. Only thing that is decent are the short ribs. Yep,traditional dining on the Eastern trains can't come back soon enough.
 

joelkfla

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On the Crescent heading to Philly. Thought I would try the French Toast again. Worse than yesterday. Broke two forks trying to cut it.
I attribute that to the forks as much as the food. I don't think those plastic forks were designed to cut anything. They might break just trying to cut a stack of perfectly fine fluffy pancakes.
 

Triley

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Not true about "with masks mandatory communal dining is out". On our return trip on the Zephyr, the SLA asked us if we would mind sharing our table with a single passenger who didn't want to sit alone. We agreed and it was quite enjoyable with both we and the other gentleman wearing masks when not actively eating or drinking. We did it again with another man at brakfast when the LSA again asked us if it was okay. The third time, we agreed but the gentleman apparently decided to eat a little later and he was seated alone as we were almost finished.
It’s great that you agreed to do so, as it really helps out your diner crew, but….they are going against Amtrak policy, and this should not be expected.
 

Rambling Robert

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@Triley - thanks for clarifying. I’m fairly patient regarding the dining car vs. Coach. My last trip was DownEaster to SurfLiner and I “virtually” lived on energy bars. But my 2017 trip i had great food on both the TE and LSL.

Hopefully Amtrak offers in 2022 or I’ll just do a road trip:
 

Triley

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@Triley - thanks for clarifying. I’m fairly patient regarding the dining car vs. Coach. My last trip was DownEaster to SurfLiner and I “virtually” lived on energy bars. But my 2017 trip i had great food on both the TE and LSL.

Hopefully Amtrak offers in 2022 or I’ll just do a road trip:
There has been a national menu change that went in to effect in the cafés at the beginning of November. Though it’s not enough to take care of you for a trip that long, the options are at least better than they were during Covid.
 

Rambling Robert

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The 7/21 SWC Traditional Dining menu looks good. The 10/21 flex - well - consensus seems to be the short ribs - haha.

The Cafe menu on the LSL is what I had 6/21. Pizza and noodles was okay. The Cafe for SWC - idk - I only had energy bars - not that great.... I didn’t use the LSL Cafe at all.
 
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Triley

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The 7/21 SWC Traditional Dining menu looks good. The 10/21 flex - well - consensus seems to be the short ribs - haha.

The Cafe menu on the LSL is what I had 6/21. Pizza and noodles was okay. The Cafe for SWC - idk - I only had energy bars - not that great.... I didn’t use the LSL Cafe at all.

The menu for the DownEaster looks great. I’m looking forward to a snowy trip sometime this winter to visit the Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College. I hope this is the menu. Notice NexDine is the contractor - the servers wear green aprons but 6/21 it was an Amtrak employee.
View attachment 25497
This menu here is the one you had?

 

me_little_me

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... the options are at least better than they were during Covid.
Is Covid over? No more masks? Nobody dying? Nobody being hospitalized? :)

As far as Covid is concerned, flex meals have no relationship to them. They were implemented before Covid so to be accurate, the current ones are better than the ones in December 2019 (my first experience) and for some period before then. They kept the garbage well into the second year of Covid and it still exists in many cases. The only thing about them and Covid is that Amtrak instituted bringing more garbage to your room than what they took away.
 

CraigInNC

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It’s great that you agreed to do so, as it really helps out your diner crew, but….they are going against Amtrak policy, and this should not be expected.
I think the loophole is that an introduction was made, the passenger(s) were don't asked to sit there without a choice. It may be a while before we get back to Amtrak seating people together as a matter of form if ever. I think we may end up with a hybrid of people will be given the option or can eat in their rooms. Sitting alone on a first come first serve basis. I was asked for a dining appointment when I was on the Star Tuesday even though there were only 3 booths taken including myself. I am ready to mingle but I understand others are in different positions.
 

njdon

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Many years ago, I did a RT overnight bus trip from Columbus, Ohio to New York City on Trailways Golden Eagle service. Food service, an attendant, pillows distributed, reclining seats with a foot rest (maybe a leg rest as well), and a decent restroom aboard. It was an interesting experience. But, I prefer Amtrak (or as rail travel was at that time).
I rode the Trailways Five Star Golden Eagle Service from LA to Philly back in’62. Those amenities really made for a comfortable trip. Not as good as the train but less expensive I think.
 

Triley

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Is Covid over? No more masks? Nobody dying? Nobody being hospitalized? :)

As far as Covid is concerned, flex meals have no relationship to them. They were implemented before Covid so to be accurate, the current ones are better than the ones in December 2019 (my first experience) and for some period before then. They kept the garbage well into the second year of Covid and it still exists in many cases. The only thing about them and Covid is that Amtrak instituted bringing more garbage to your room than what they took away.
Thank you once again for reminding me why I take many months away from AU at a time, and enjoy it. :D

PM me if you'd like to continue this chat, because I'm done with this forum.
 
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