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fdaley

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
110
The sleeper service is mainly a way to capture some extra revenue to cross-subsidize the operation of the train. If they can optimize this extra revenue by serving lousy food, why shouldn't they?
Is Amtrak optimizing revenue, or is it just driving away customers? In most businesses, the thing you really don't want to do is alienate your most loyal, high-revenue clients. Yet that's exactly what Amtrak's management has succeeded in doing with this change. Thanks to Covid we won't ever see meaningful year-to-year comparisons in most cases, but in the final months before the pandemic, there were at least anecdotal reports that both sleeper and coach traffic was down on the eastern trains that had switched to flex dining. For the Lake Shore and Capitol, which made the change sooner, ridership dropped 8 to 10 percent from the first full year before the change to the first full year afterward.

In my own case, we went across country and back 10 times from 2002 through 2019 -- two adults and a child/teenager, with at least one of the grandparents joining on some of these treks. We probably spent an average of $3K to $4K per trip, with the lower end of that range achieved only by cashing in AGR points for at least one portion of the itinerary. And throughout that period we also took numerous shorter overnight trips from the Northeast to the South, Midwest and Southwest. Now, even after the pandemic ends, if flex dining remains unchanged, the amount we expect to spend on Amtrak LD travel going forward is zero.

Judging from other comments here, including from 20th Century Rider and Railspike, who started this thread, it appears there are a fair number of other longtime train travelers who plan to stay away unless the flex-food situation improves rather dramatically. Perhaps there are lots of millennials and others who've never taken a train before who'll step in to replace us and who'll feel that a $700-a-night bedroom is still a great value with the current quality of food, but I rather doubt it.
 
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20th Century Rider

Conductor
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
1,085
Location
Oregon Coast
That's really irrelevant if one is comparing the value proposition of the two travel experiences. The point is that you could spend $1,000 and travel on Amtrak for 4 days between New York and the west coast riding in a sleeper and eating lousy food or spend $1,700 -$2,400 (plus paying extra for dinner in Kaloomps and Banff) and travel on the Rocky Mountaineer for two days between Vancouver and Banff and eat a decent breakfast and lunch. Obviously, which you would choose depends on a lot more than the quality of the food service on board.

Amtrak could meet it's "public transportation" service mission by running all-coach trains. In fact, most customers of the long-distance trains travel by coach, and they don't travel real long distances, either. The sleeper service is mainly a way to capture some extra revenue to cross-subsidize the operation of the train. If they can optimize this extra revenue by serving lousy food, why shouldn't they? As a taxpayer-funded government-owned entity, Amtrak certainly has no reason to use public funds to subsidize food service for people who are most likely not using it for essential transportation.
Is your statement regarding Amtrak's mission your opinion or is it fact? Sleeper service is intended to provide more comfort and to include reasonably qualitative meals for those who are willing to pay more. When you say "most customers of the long-distance trains travel by coach, and they don't travel real long distances, either." can you provide documentation and the statistics? You may be interested in reading the recent article written below by Tony Coscia, Chairman, Amtrak Board of Directors November 23, 2020:

 

20th Century Rider

Conductor
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
1,085
Location
Oregon Coast
Is Amtrak optimizing revenue, or is it just driving away customers? In most businesses, the thing you really don't want to do is alienate your most loyal, high-revenue clients. Yet that's exactly what Amtrak's management has succeeded in doing with this change. Thanks to Covid we won't ever see meaningful year-to-year comparisons in most cases, but in the final months before the pandemic, there were at least anecdotal reports that both sleeper and coach traffic was down on the eastern trains that had switched to flex dining. For the Lake Shore and Capitol, which made the change sooner, ridership dropped 8 to 10 percent from the first full year before the change to the first full year afterward.

In my own case, we went across country and back 10 times from 2002 through 2019 -- two adults and a child/teenager, with at least one of the grandparents joining on some of these treks. We probably spent an average of $3K to $4K per trip, with the lower end of that range achieved only by cashing in AGR points for at least one portion of the itinerary. And throughout that period we also took numerous shorter overnight trips from the Northeast to the South, Midwest and Southwest. Now, even after the pandemic ends, if flex dining remains unchanged, the amount we expect to spend on Amtrak LD travel going forward is zero.

Judging from other comments here, including from 20th Century Rider and Railspike, who started this thread, it appears there are a fair number of other longtime train travelers who plan to stay away unless the flex-food situation improves rather dramatically. Perhaps there are lots of millennials and others who've never taken a train before who'll step in to replace us and who'll feel that a $700-a-night bedroom is still a great value with the current quality of food, but I rather doubt it.
Well said! 😇😇😇
 

IndyLions

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 6, 2016
Messages
472
Location
Brownsburg IN
Interesting discussion I missed while zoning out in front of 6 NFL games over the weekend.

Here’s my two cents:
  • Getting rid of Mica was the first hurdle. That’s done - and that is the good news.
  • However, without a complete change in the way Amtrak is funded, food service is always going to be on the chopping block, depending on the whims of Congress and who is in control. If you think the Democrats are going to be in control for 20 years, guess again. Even after Nixon, they only got four years. So unless something drastic happens – we’ve been waiting 50 years - the best we can hope for is temporary improvement. That has happened many times before over the decades, only to go downhill again with the next Congress.
  • For those of you who are wanting to divorce food from the sleeper cost, I don’t have a real problem with that. However, the reason it’s there in the first place is because of accounting designed to make the food service ledger look as good as possible. It’s a vicious circle that won’t be solved until the funding is solved. We are on year 50 with no solution in sight.
  • For those who are advocating for cheap sleeper fares, you are in dreamland. Even going back to the old days when sleepers were plentiful, they were never affordable for the masses (the only possible exception to that might be slumber coach). If you take food away from the sleeper fare, I predict that the sleeper fare will not go down one dollar. That has held through the pandemic. There are enough people with enough income who wish to travel by train, that allows the sleepers to be filled without any problem at the current cost. For those of us without unlimited income, it means planning in advance and getting the best fares we can find. But affordable sleepers for all will never happen.
  • For those who say that Amtrak needs to bring back line managers, I agree wholeheartedly. As long as it’s treated as one big faceless nameless system, it’s going to resemble more of a Third World service instead of a first world service. And frankly, most Third World countries have a better system than we do.
If we can somehow get competent people installed at Amtrak, a lot of things are going to improve - including food. We’re about to have the most pro-rail president and transportation secretary ever, as far as I can tell. Maybe that means real change is around the corner - or at least temporary improvement.

Let’s insist on competent food service, which we are not currently getting. However, we need to be careful not to fall on our sword because of food service. There’s a reason the Mica rule got implemented in the first place. It’s a controversial topic that will draw opposition from conservatives - and despite our fervent wishes they aren’t going away any time soon.
 

tgstubbs1

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
384
I saw this article on the web about airlines and their own food problems.

"
Japan Airlines is the latest aviation company to join the fight in reducing food wastage - which contributes to more than six million tons of cabin waste globally.

The airline is now asking travelers to make an "ethical choice" by skipping meals on board their flights in a bid to deal with the problem.

Since the airline prepares a meal for every person on board, a passenger who would rather sleep through meal service, or prefers to bring their own in-flight snacks, results in an enormous amount of wasted food."

"In some markets, strict health regulations prohibit food from being repurposed.

In Australia, New Zealand and the United States, airlines must bury or incinerate all cabin waste - regardless if it has been untouched.

An opened bag of peanuts or can of soda will be disposed of to minimize the risk of transmission of animal diseases."

 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
2,340
Location
Somewhere in Southern Ontario
Interesting discussion I missed while zoning out in front of 6 NFL games over the weekend.

Here’s my two cents:
  • Getting rid of Mica was the first hurdle. That’s done - and that is the good news.
  • However, without a complete change in the way Amtrak is funded, food service is always going to be on the chopping block, depending on the whims of Congress and who is in control. If you think the Democrats are going to be in control for 20 years, guess again. Even after Nixon, they only got four years. So unless something drastic happens – we’ve been waiting 50 years - the best we can hope for is temporary improvement. That has happened many times before over the decades, only to go downhill again with the next Congress.
  • For those of you who are wanting to divorce food from the sleeper cost, I don’t have a real problem with that. However, the reason it’s there in the first place is because of accounting designed to make the food service ledger look as good as possible. It’s a vicious circle that won’t be solved until the funding is solved. We are on year 50 with no solution in sight.
  • For those who are advocating for cheap sleeper fares, you are in dreamland. Even going back to the old days when sleepers were plentiful, they were never affordable for the masses (the only possible exception to that might be slumber coach). If you take food away from the sleeper fare, I predict that the sleeper fare will not go down one dollar. That has held through the pandemic. There are enough people with enough income who wish to travel by train, that allows the sleepers to be filled without any problem at the current cost. For those of us without unlimited income, it means planning in advance and getting the best fares we can find. But affordable sleepers for all will never happen.
  • For those who say that Amtrak needs to bring back line managers, I agree wholeheartedly. As long as it’s treated as one big faceless nameless system, it’s going to resemble more of a Third World service instead of a first world service. And frankly, most Third World countries have a better system than we do.
If we can somehow get competent people installed at Amtrak, a lot of things are going to improve - including food. We’re about to have the most pro-rail president and transportation secretary ever, as far as I can tell. Maybe that means real change is around the corner - or at least temporary improvement.

Let’s insist on competent food service, which we are not currently getting. However, we need to be careful not to fall on our sword because of food service. There’s a reason the Mica rule got implemented in the first place. It’s a controversial topic that will draw opposition from conservatives - and despite our fervent wishes they aren’t going away any time soon.
You've made several good points. I'd like to touch on one in particular:
  • For those of you who are wanting to divorce food from the sleeper cost, I don’t have a real problem with that. However, the reason it’s there in the first place is because of accounting designed to make the food service ledger look as good as possible. It’s a vicious circle that won’t be solved until the funding is solved. We are on year 50 with no solution in sight.
The other element of the "vicious circle" once food is "divorced" from fares, is how many $39 surf 'n' turf or $25 steak dinners will be sold a la carte to sleeper passengers. Too expensive leads to lower sales leads to less inventory leads to smaller selection, then repeat. To look at it another way, even if they start selling the current meals and they prove "unpopular", it leads to a similar spiral. This can all be summarized in your "no solution in sight" comment. It's not as simple as it sounds.
 
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20th Century Rider

Conductor
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
1,085
Location
Oregon Coast
You've made several good points. I'd like to touch on one in particular:


The other element of the "vicious circle" once food is "divorced" from fares, is how many $39 surf 'n' turf or $25 steak dinners will be sold a la carte to sleeper passengers. Too expensive leads to lower sales leads to less inventory leads to smaller selection, then repeat. To look at it another way, even if they start selling the current meals and they prove "unpopular", it leads to a similar spiral. This can all be summarized in your "no solution in sight" comment. It's not as simple as it sounds.
Definitely a spiral... but long distance travel has historically and traditionally linked with some kind of food service... for as long back as the history of railroading in America... uh er perhaps after the Fred Harvey's era.

But I am enticed with the custom in the Orient where there are bento box shops everywhere and travelers can pick and choose their meals before boarding. The same can be done in America at some stations that have restaurants with ready to go meals.

Enjoy from our recent Amtrak past... Eating well on Amtrak has been a long standing tradition which unfortunately has been 'sidetracked.' Lets hope - just temporarily!

 

Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,999
Location
Texas
I'm a little annoyed with the constant "Sleepers costs $1000s of dollars, we deserve gourmet food!"
I'm a little annoyed that wanting anything better than Stouffer's is now equated with demanding "gourmet" food.

If you think the ❄ are going to be in control for 20 years, guess again. Even after ❄ they only got four years. So unless something drastic happens – we’ve been waiting 50 years - the best we can hope for is temporary improvement.
The best we can hope for is that all voters push for strong support of passenger rail so progress made by any one group isn't immediately undone by another.

For those who are advocating for cheap sleeper fares, you are in dreamland.
I'm advocating for sleeper fares in line with reasonable alternatives like First Class domestic airfare or a road trip with luxury hotel stays.
 
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20th Century Rider

Conductor
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
1,085
Location
Oregon Coast
I'm a little annoyed that wanting anything better than Stouffer's is now equated with demanding "gourmet" food.


The best we can hope for is that all voters push their party to show strong support for passenger rail so progress made by one group isn't immediately undone by another.


I'm advocating for sleeper fares in line with reasonable alternatives like First Class domestic airfare or a road trip with luxury hotel stays.
Well said... you speak for me too! ;)
 

IndyLions

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 6, 2016
Messages
472
Location
Brownsburg IN
I'm advocating for sleeper fares in line with reasonable alternatives like First Class domestic airfare or a road trip with luxury hotel stays.
That is where prices will be unless supply constrains demand so much so - that they end up charging more. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
 
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IndyLions

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 6, 2016
Messages
472
Location
Brownsburg IN
The best we can hope for is that all voters push for strong support of passenger rail so progress made by any one group isn't immediately undone by another.
I agree this is highly desired. But to achieve this will require compromise. What are you willing to compromise to ensure better infrastructure including a secure future for passenger rail? Remember, many are lukewarm or even downright hostile towards rail expansion. If it ain’t a road - they don’t want it. Not in their backyard!

And whatever is compromised, it has to be something not valued by the typical conservative. I’m not picking on conservatives - they are just the most typical anti-rail group of any size.

For example - as a rule of thumb - conservatives don’t value social programs. Is there a social program you are willing to sacrifice in the name of better infrastructure / rail services in this country?
 

CTANut

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 29, 2019
Messages
32
Location
Ohio
This petition is telling Amtrak that we want dining cars back!
 

20th Century Rider

Conductor
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
1,085
Location
Oregon Coast
This petition is telling Amtrak that we want dining cars back!
Enough is enough with this artificial Amtrak 'flex meals' food product concept!

Flex meals are so poorly assembled, prepared, and presented as to be inedible and dangerous for health when consumed in the amount necessitated for LD long distance trips across the country. The contents are mostly of chemical composition and dangerous for consumption in amounts taken meal after meal and day after day on LD trains. This is an assault on passengers who place Amtrak in a position of trust. It is truly a wrong and abusive of the government that controls Amtrak.

Flex meals are wrong, abusive, and harmful to health when consumed days on end on long term trips that Amtrak charges sleeping car passenger so much for. So, Amtrak admin... let's see how you defend this!

If there's any Amtrak traveler that likes these artificial flex meals that don't even compete with TV Dinners purchased for $.39 cents years ago... let us know what you think.

And oh please! Don't get this wrong... additional cuts are being made in quantity and quality as you read this. When does Amtrak actually reach the 'bare bones' of food service... we are already at the point of choking on the 'wine braised beef with polenta and garden fresh vegetables with the beef being nothing more than pieces of fat floating in watery sauce with the small scoop of polenta dissolving into it.

Wait... how much did you say you paid for your sleeper ticket? Oh well... but it includes meals! Lol!


amtrak-flexible-menu-breakfast_orig.jpg
tumblr_9cb321d231aff285589d512298a27624_4c87da23_1280-1.jpg
 

fdaley

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
110
Enough is enough with this artificial Amtrak 'flex meals' food product concept!

Flex meals are so poorly assembled, prepared, and presented as to be inedible and dangerous for health when consumed in the amount necessitated for LD long distance trips across the country. The contents are mostly of chemical composition and dangerous for consumption in amounts taken meal after meal and day after day on LD trains. This is an assault on passengers who place Amtrak in a position of trust. It is truly a wrong and abusive of the government that controls Amtrak.

Flex meals are wrong, abusive, and harmful to health when consumed days on end on long term trips that Amtrak charges sleeping car passenger so much for. So, Amtrak admin... let's see how you defend this!

If there's any Amtrak traveler that likes these artificial flex meals that don't even compete with TV Dinners purchased for $.39 cents years ago... let us know what you think.

And oh please! Don't get this wrong... additional cuts are being made in quantity and quality as you read this. When does Amtrak actually reach the 'bare bones' of food service... we are already at the point of choking on the 'wine braised beef with polenta and garden fresh vegetables with the beef being nothing more than pieces of fat floating in watery sauce with the small scoop of polenta dissolving into it.

Wait... how much did you say you paid for your sleeper ticket? Oh well... but it includes meals! Lol!


View attachment 20252
View attachment 20253
That picture of the beef and polenta really does say more than words can express. And the breakfast -- really, I could do better at the local Citgo station.
 

Sidney

Service Attendant
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
150
Flexible dining has been in effect since June 2018 on the Lake Shore and Capitol Limited and October 2019 on all the other Eastern trains and March of last year on all the Western trains and there has been no improvement. I think one or two items have been added,but it's the same kind of stuff. I have asked this before,but isn't Amtrak aware of the almost universal negative reaction to their offerings?

Again,soup,sandwiches or food picked up at long stops for sleeper passengers...and how about something besides a brownie for dessert! Isn't there any refrigeration for cheesecake?

My circle trip begins Friday. After over 30 years of doing these I still get excited. I always looked forward to the meals and amenities like wine tasting,trivia and on the Starlight,the Pacific Parlour Car. I still love being in a sleeper and getting immersed in the scenery. Unfortunately, I can't look forward to the food. You have to eat,but now it's a necessity and not an integral part of the rail experience.

.
 

Cho Cho Charlie

Conductor
Joined
Apr 9, 2009
Messages
2,263
Location
Near an Amtrak station
Is Amtrak optimizing revenue, or is it just driving away customers? In most businesses, the thing you really don't want to do is alienate your most loyal, high-revenue clients. Yet that's exactly what Amtrak's management has succeeded in doing with this change.
Even before COVID-19, the cruise industry started to degrade its food too. I use to enjoy the high-end, fancy, meals served every evening in their main dining rooms. Then they replaced that cuisine with "comfort food" like fried chicken. Not that I hate fried chicken, but one of the reasons I went on a cruise, was the dining experience.

And yea, I stopped cruising (again this predated COVID-19).
 

railiner

Conductor
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
8,676
Location
Palm Beach County
Even before COVID-19, the cruise industry started to degrade its food too. I use to enjoy the high-end, fancy, meals served every evening in their main dining rooms. Then they replaced that cuisine with "comfort food" like fried chicken. Not that I hate fried chicken, but one of the reasons I went on a cruise, was the dining experience.

And yea, I stopped cruising (again this predated COVID-19).
The mainstream cruise lines did downgrade their complimentary main dining room and buffet food somewhat, to lower fares to be competitive in a fiercely competitive industry...but they still offer upscale foods in their 'specialty restaurants', for an additional cost. But even the cheapest cruise ship buffet offer's better food than Amtrak could ever....
 

Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,999
Location
Texas
For example - as a rule of thumb - conservatives don’t value social programs. Is there a social program you are willing to sacrifice in the name of better infrastructure / rail services in this country?
Barring more disasters Amtrak does not necessarily need more money to maintain and renew current services but it does need predictable budgets that are solidified for years at time and can be borrowed against as needed. Some HSR projects can also be built without direct public funding but will need important regulatory approvals, protection against nuisance lawsuits, and a bit of coercive repurposing here and there. The primary taxpayer liability would come in the form of loan guarantees that would come into effect if prior approvals were later reversed or rescinded.
 

OlympianHiawatha

Conductor
Joined
Feb 7, 2008
Messages
4,298
Location
Norman, OK
The mainstream cruise lines did downgrade their complimentary main dining room and buffet food somewhat, to lower fares to be competitive in a fiercely competitive industry...but they still offer upscale foods in their 'specialty restaurants', for an additional cost. But even the cheapest cruise ship buffet offer's better food than Amtrak could ever....
But as repulsive as the AmChow may be, you're probably less likely to get sick off of it vs. cruise chow.
 

tgstubbs1

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
384
But as repulsive as the AmChow may be, you're probably less likely to get sick off of it vs. cruise chow.
Hmmm. Not a pleasant thought. I guess other than some opportunities visiting port restaurants cruisers are completely stuck eating ship food.

Amtrak LD trains give people a chance to get off the train to forage several times a day. Hopefully they can add some variety to the flex meals. The flex meals will probably be around for a while.
 

railiner

Conductor
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
8,676
Location
Palm Beach County
But as repulsive as the AmChow may be, you're probably less likely to get sick off of it vs. cruise chow.
If you are referring to catching the dreaded norovirus, you are correct...but that is not because of food quality, but rather, passenger sanitation habits, brought on by passenger's. They have made great strides in controlling that issue, with hand-washing and/or sanitizer stations near every dining facility, various 'code' condition's which eliminate or limit passenger self service food station's in the buffet's, and other improvements...
 
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