Amtrak request for proposal-Nationwide Food & Beverage Service

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lordsigma

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cpotisch

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Hopefully somehow something good comes out of this. I don't know what that would be, but nowadays it's always good to keep your fingers crossed when it comes to Amtrak F&B.
 

bretton88

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I'm sure it won't be hard to upgrade from Aramark. This feels like it could be a step in the right direction for Amtrak. This is an interesting point:

The proposed models/practices should offer different levels of travel to include luxury options that are similar to the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada and Via Rails “Canadian” and European luxury trains such as: Golden Eagle (Moscow to Vladivostok), Golden Eagle Danube Express (Budapest, Prague & Sarajevo), Venice Simplon-Orient Express (Paris to Istanbul), Belmond Royal Scotsman (England, Scotland and Wales), Belmond Grand Hibernian (Ireland’s first luxury overnight train service)

The things I take from all this: Amtrak is committed to providing a decent dining product going forward and secondly that the Cap/LSL model may not have worked out (everyone seems to forget that it was a pilot program).
 

crescent-zephyr

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The Canadian is basically what amtrak had about 15 years ago before the "simplified dining service" that cut the staff down.
 
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bretton88

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With the possible exception of the Canadian, all these other model operations are very upscale and expensive. While improved food service is a good idea, I hope Amtrak doesn't price itself out of the reach of regular folks.
I would say Amtrak outside of coach/business class has largely reached that point anyways in high season. Low season you can still find some good sleeper pricing.
 

GBNorman

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Now wait a minute; are these 77yo eyes reading this right?

..all aspects of its Food and Beverage operations, including management of its warehouse operations ON BOARD ITS TRAINS and in support of its intercity train operations.....

Sounds like a rerun of the Subway debacle (Subway sandwich products handled on board the NY-ALB trains by non-Agreement employees of the chain); only this time Systemwide!

Well, Mr. Anderson succeeded in deunionizing several Northwest crafts on Delta such as Attendants, so I guess it's time to try it out on Amtrak.

This could be war!!

Time for a little hum along (theme: "The year of living dangerously")

https://youtu.be/kDCall_B-ig
 
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Ryan

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If ever at all.

Oddly enough, this was posted in August.

In September, an RFI on the same topic was published that stated that it was looking for information to inform a future RFP.

Somewhat backwards.
 

bretton88

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Now wait a minute; are these 77yo eyes reading this right?

..all aspects of its Food and Beverage operations, including management of its warehouse operations ON BOARD ITS TRAINS and in support of its intercity train operations.....

Sounds like a rerun of the Subway debacle (Subway sandwich products handled on board the NY-ALB trains by non-Agreement employees of the chain); only this time Systemwide!

Well, Mr. Anderson succeeded in deunionizing several Northwest crafts on Delta such as Attendants, so I guess it's time to try it out on Amtrak.

This could be war!!

Time for a little hum along (theme: "The year of living dangerously")

https://youtu.be/kDCall_B-ig
To be honest, I have a suspicion the LSL/Cap experiment was a test to see how bad the union pushback would be in a reduction of staff. However the use of the term "warehouse operations" implies to me not staffing change but how said companies would store and manage stock on the trains versus staffing.
 

cocojacoby

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Now wait a minute; are these 77yo eyes reading this right?

..all aspects of its Food and Beverage operations, including management of its warehouse operations ON BOARD ITS TRAINS and in support of its intercity train operations.....

Sounds like a rerun of the Subway debacle (Subway sandwich products handled on board the NY-ALB trains by non-Agreement employees of the chain); only this time Systemwide!

Well, Mr. Anderson succeeded in deunionizing several Northwest crafts on Delta such as Attendants, so I guess it's time to try it out on Amtrak.

This could be war!!

Time for a little hum along (theme: "The year of living dangerously")

https://youtu.be/kDCall_B-ig
Sorry, but I have to say that many of Amtrak's dining car personnel aren't all that pleasant and should be eliminated. I don't want to see anyone lose their jobs, but if your attitude is that you don't care about your job then why should I? It's a war that has to be fought I think.
 

bms

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Looks to me like a way to eliminate some union positions in favor of a lower-priced contractor. Personally I'm happy paying a little more so that the staff has benefits and decent pay.
 

ehbowen

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Looks to me like a way to eliminate some union positions in favor of a lower-priced contractor. Personally I'm happy paying a little more so that the staff has benefits and decent pay.
I would agree provided that the services rendered live up to the premium level of pay received. If not...drop-kick them and start over fresh.
 

lordsigma

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I read through the entire document. From reading it almost seems like they are a little bit desperate to get some suggestions from the food service industry. They know they are mandated to reduce F&B losses but they also know the history (including the recent CL/LSL change) that when they make big cuts in F&B to reduce losses they get backlash from customers and lower ridership. It seems like they probably honestly don't know what to do and are hoping someone will come up with a magic bullet. For those employees facing possible elimination if Amtrak goes "contemporary dining" on more routes, some may probably prefer a managed service if they can wind up still having a job at the end of the day even if it means union busting.

If they went managed with outsourced employees I'd hope the affected in house Amtrak staff would be given a chance to apply for jobs in the replacement service. Amtrak does have some good F&B staff and yes some not so good. On my recent trip on the Crescent the southbound diner crew was outstanding - the SA was an absolute pleasure to deal with - extremely welcoming and pleasant and clearly enjoyed her job - probably the nicest OBS employee I have ever dealt with on Amtrak - and the Chef on that crew did a great job on both dinner and breakfast - got the "Land and Sea" dish just right and the person I sat with in the diner also noted that the chicken meal was also good that night. Northbound crew was just average but only had breakfast going home as I boarded in Atlanta and the train was two hours late and I made my connection to SPG in WAS instead of NYP on the way home - also got the wrong meal although they did correct it without giving me any grief which is why I'd still say average and not bad.
 
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PVD

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Paying proper wages and benefits and creating a culture of good service are entirely separate. Weak and ineffective management is what creates bad service. If the only way a service can be run in to pay substandard wages and benefits, the service probably shouldn't exist. If someone is not willing or capable of performing a task in an acceptable manner, replacing them is reasonable. But lowering pay and benefits, making working conditions worse, and lessening protection from less than competent managers, solves nothing in the long term.
 

lordsigma

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The document indicates that they are looking for options that both retain in house Amtrak employees and fully outsourced options so I don't think any decisions have been made. At least they are doing research as opposed to jumping into a rash decision. I have not liked a lot of things done by the present regime so I'm not necessarily confident that the right thing will come out of this, but if changes are coming I would rather see something different than the LSL/CL approach on all routes which also eliminates tons of jobs so I'm at least happy to see that other options are being considered. I would agree about lowering pay and benefits and would also agree that shaking up management is ultimately the best place to start when making changes - I am not one that believes Amtrak should be required to make a profit. Passenger rail is something that all civilized countries provide as a service to their citizens and its not profitable anywhere. Amtrak should be looking at the European model and try to provide as superior service as possible to make people want to ride it - it takes an investment but ridership and revenue would increase - there are plenty of complaints people have about air travel and there are people that would take a break from it once and a while if they had a good alternative. The best place to start is to put in place a management that provides a good working environment for F&B employees, treats them well, and improves morale. Having employees constantly in fear of whether they are going to be eliminated by contemporary dining (or yes outsourcing) is not going to encourage good service in the dining car. You improve the working environment and yes if there are still bad apples out there that still don't want to do their job in a better climate then you try to push them out the door. In the end it isn't rocket science. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
 

amtrakpass

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As a Union member myself in a different craft, I am not opposed to trying different things to have better service, provide more options or be more efficient even if it results in the loss of some positions.

One thing I am diametrically opposed to and always will be is the idea that somehow lowering wages and paying people the absolute minimum with no off days is the golden key to business success. If people are working they should be paid enough so they can take care of themselves.

In this context it is not like the Amtrak onboard staff are getting rich. That is a misnomer from people who have not fully grasped the increases in cost of living the last 20 years,especially in major metropolitan areas.
 

amtrakpass

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One additional thought. Close to where I work in Chicago is a meat packer who also has a wholesale store which sells pork, chicken, beef etc at good discounts. For instance, this Tuesday, t-bone steaks were $3.99 a piece. How do they make money? By volume! That place is super busy all the time pretty much every weekend. You should see it on the holidays. For me Amtrak has a captive market, if you staffed the dining car with enough people to run it quickly with good service and then actually tried to get the coach passengers through with good prices, discounts and plenty of promotions it would be a better business model than trying to charge High prices to cover costs. Would it still lose money? Yes it would, I think but for the amount of money spent I would rather serve the most people some good food at a loss than what goes on now where coach passengers are treated like they don't need to eat too
 

PVD

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This country is filled with people who talk out of both sides of their mouths (and often a few other places) Supply and demand is great for pricing products and services, but when you can't fill jobs the last thing they want to hear is "pay more and make conditions better" Too many people who think everyone else is there for their convenience.
 

PVD

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The Downeaster has outsourced food service including the onboard workers. It loses money. Most people who comment about it seem relatively pleased with the products and service. The agency that sponsors the service is willing to accept the losses because they believe that it enables them to attract more riders, and at a higher fare basis, than if the trains had no service. They believe that the F&B losses are more than offset by the ridership and pricing power gained by that loss. I'm going to Philly in a few weeks, an NER and a Keystone leave close to each other, I'll take the NER, I can have a cup of coffee. Should we eliminate toilets on short runs because they are an expense that can't be recouped?
 
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cpotisch

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The Downeaster has outsourced food service including the onboard workers. It loses money. Most people who comment about it seem relatively pleased with the products and service. The agency that sponsors the service is willing to accept the losses because they believe that it enables them to attract more riders, and at a higher fare basis, than if the trains had no service. They believe that the F&B losses are more than offset by the ridership and pricing power gained by that loss. I'm going to Philly in a few weeks, an NER and a Keystone leave close to each other, I'll take the NER, I can have a cup of coffee. Should we eliminate toilets on short runs because they are an expense that can't be recouped?
Agreed! The food on the Downeaster is way better than any other short distance Amtrak train I've been on. It might not make money, but it certainly made the trip more appealing to me, and I imagine that's the case for many others.
 

cpotisch

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Should we eliminate toilets on short runs because they are an expense that can't be recouped?
No, just put a $5 bill acceptor in to unlock the door....

(I'm old enough to remember pay toilets in public places! I'm NOT serious!)
In Europe, free public restrooms are very rare. Pay toilets are not at all an old concept in many parts of the world.
 
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