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.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?
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.