Amtrak's New "Fresh Choices" Dining on CL & LSL

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Lonestar648

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This change of food service eliminates the Chef and the Server. Still have someone in the Sleeper Lounge (LSA). On the passenger side, there is no longer any tipping discussion for meals, no tips are necessary. Cost savings for passengers. Eliminating two employees per train ends up saving Amtrak a lot of wages and benefit costs.

I think it appears that the traditional Dining Car will eventually be a thing of the past in the US. Anderson just has to figure out how to handle the 5 or 6 meal LD trains in the west. Adding the complementary drink is just an attempt to justify not lowering Sleeper rates.

It is time to make those last trips with remnants of the Dining Car service.
 

amtrakpass

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why such prejudice against coach passengers? No or limited access to decent food and no access to the lounge. And no reduction in fares for a lower quality coach product.
 

Lonestar648

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Coach hasn't changed they still have access to the Cafe?Lounge or SSL and pay for the Sleeper meals if available. They have never had access to the Sleeper lounge or the sleepers.
 

Blackwolf

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why such prejudice against coach passengers? No or limited access to decent food and no access to the lounge. And no reduction in fares for a lower quality coach product.
I would not call it prejudice; call it service class instead.

Do Coach passengers get to select from unused/uneaten First Class meals on an airliner? Nope. They get a choice instead (airline dependent) of a few prepackaged snack boxes, sandwiches or wraps. First Class passengers also get to select from that menu if they so choose, in addition to the normal First Class meals.

In that light, the Amtrak snack car is still better than an airliner. You have a larger selection, and hot items like hamburgers and pizza. I would wager that the snack car selection will get an overhaul in the near future to better match the change in overall food availability on LD trains.

Additionally, if one wants the meals, you just need to shell out more for the ticket and get Sleeper. And hey, you'll get to enjoy the new Viewliner DinersLounges if you do!
 
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Lonestar648

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I agree. Once Management sees that passengers accept what ever is put before them, they know they can degrade service, but do it in steps so it is a gradual and hopefully minimize the lose of passengers. Maybe in the next decade we will be reminiscing about the days when LD trains had food service, or even about LD trains that used to be.
 

chrsjrcj

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Why are we rationalizing that coach passengers shouldn't have access to complete meals? Myself and relatives who have taken Amtrak have used the dining car despite taking only a ~6 hour trip in coach. Coach passengers do pay for meals in the dining car. In fact, doesn't Amtrak transfer sleeping car revenue to the dining car based on what sleeping car passengers order?

If the issue really is labor costs, then Amtrak is missing out on additional revenue by not offering these "meals" to coach passengers.
 

seat38a

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For those of you who have traveled on the CONO. Would you prefer the current dining setup or this new system being rolled out? I have a feeling that the next place this would roll out would be the North - South trains. I'm thinking if Amtrak uses local vendors to supply the boxed meals, we may see more of the regional variety to the meals that so many of us have complained about missing ever since all of the dining car menu's were standardized.
 

Lonestar648

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I think Amtrak is rationalizing that each meal prepared in the Dining car lost money. They are also trying to minimize tossed food with a limited number of prepared meals.
 

jis

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Why are we rationalizing that coach passengers shouldn't have access to complete meals? Myself and relatives who have taken Amtrak have used the dining car despite taking only a ~6 hour trip in coach. Coach passengers do pay for meals in the dining car. In fact, doesn't Amtrak transfer sleeping car revenue to the dining car based on what sleeping car passengers order?
Coach passengers are currently accommodated in the Diner only after all Sleeper passengers are served. They will be sold meals that remain after all Sleeper passengers are served. The question is what number of meals will be loaded beyond what is needed to serve Sleeper passengers. Other than that, the situation will be exactly like what it is now.
 

seat38a

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Why are we rationalizing that coach passengers shouldn't have access to complete meals? Myself and relatives who have taken Amtrak have used the dining car despite taking only a ~6 hour trip in coach. Coach passengers do pay for meals in the dining car. In fact, doesn't Amtrak transfer sleeping car revenue to the dining car based on what sleeping car passengers order?

If the issue really is labor costs, then Amtrak is missing out on additional revenue by not offering these "meals" to coach passengers.
What guarantee is there that Coach Passengers other than you and your family will pay for the meals? If they boarded 100 meals for coach and only 20 buys it, 80 goes into the trash. It works for sleeper because food is included in the ticket. Unless Amtrak starts selling bundled meal coach tickets, I believe Amtrak will continue to give coach passengers the shaft when it comes to dining. Even with the dining car, this is already to case on busy trains. Coach passengers will be turned away. Seen it announced on the Coast Starlight and the SWC.
 

seat38a

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Why are we rationalizing that coach passengers shouldn't have access to complete meals? Myself and relatives who have taken Amtrak have used the dining car despite taking only a ~6 hour trip in coach. Coach passengers do pay for meals in the dining car. In fact, doesn't Amtrak transfer sleeping car revenue to the dining car based on what sleeping car passengers order?
Coach passengers are currently accommodated in the Diner only after all Sleeper passengers are served. They will be sold meals that remain after all Sleeper passengers are served. The question is what number of meals will be loaded beyond what is needed to serve Sleeper passengers. Other than that, the situation will be exactly like what it is now.
You beat me to it.
 

bretton88

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That 3 million in reduced costs is not insignificant when you're under a federal mandate to reduce F&B costs. I feel like Amtrak is being creative here to try and meet both (close to mutually exclusive) goals: upgrading the sleeper product, while meeting that federal requirement. I do believe hot meals will come back (the diner cars are still on the train), they're just in the "trying to figure out how this works" phase. I will reserve full judgement until we see what this really looks like, but I'm cautiously optimistic about it. This is a much better plan than the Silver Starvation, which I feel like is the alternative we could have gotten.
 

chrsjrcj

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Okay, I don't disagree that the current system doesn't work. And I have no information as to what percentage of food Amtrak throws out as waste. Most of my dining experiences have been on the Silvers, and there was only one trip where I was offered a limited menu and that was because #97 was delayed enough that they offered a limited diner seating for sleeping car passengers. The times that I've taken coach, reservations were offered to coach passengers (after the attendant made his round through the sleeping cars) or, more recently, lunch was first come first served with no reservation and no prejudice toward coach passengers over sleeping car passengers. Most of my travels on the Meteor have been in coach from WPB to north Florida. Not once have I been denied a seating for lunch (never made it to the dinner).

As others have suggested, picking a meal when you make your reservation might be a possibility. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of picking what I want for diner 6 months in advance. Deciding day of is challenging enough.


Also, it is my understanding that the transfer doesn't occur until the sleeping car passenger has a meal? In that case, it really is no different than coach.
 
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jebr

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Do Coach passengers get to select from unused/uneaten First Class meals on an airliner? Nope. They get a choice instead (airline dependent) of a few prepackaged snack boxes, sandwiches or wraps. First Class passengers also get to select from that menu if they so choose, in addition to the normal First Class meals.
Some airlines will actually sell the unsold First Class meals on an airline (I know Air Canada has offered this at least in the past; they may still do so.) That being said, I don't think they load extra specifically for coach passengers but may load a bit more of each entree so as to help ensure full selection for all first class passengers knowing the extras can be sold to coach passengers.

That said, I'd like to see them offer the option to get items off the cafe car menu in lieu of a particular meal if that's what you'd rather have. I certainly hope that they expand it to have hot entrees as well, but I think there may always be a desire for specific passengers to want something a bit more familiar, and the cafe car tends to have that (even if it is more downmarket than the diner or the test sleeper car entrees.)

I'd also be curious to see if they will serve lunch starting at 11:30 for the eastbound Capitol Limited. If so, that would be a huge plus for passengers as they could be confident that they'd have something to eat for lunch coming into Washington, DC. Of course, with the minimal offerings (and the lack of need to get up particularly early to get a breakfast seating) I may wind up deciding to take the Pennsylvanian westbound from New York with the changes as well instead of the Capitol Limited.
 

crescent-zephyr

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For those of you who have traveled on the CONO. Would you prefer the current dining setup or this new system being rolled out?
The diner setup and food quality on the city of New Orleans was very bad (and when I rode I had an amazingly excellent server).

The box lunch and box breakfast on the empire builder were, in my personal experience, more enjoyable than the meals on the city of New Orleans.

I actually think having a sleeper lounge is an excellent amenity. Im assuming the LSA in the sleeper lounge will sell drinks as well (otherwise you wouldn't need an LSA). If all they have to do is make drinks lets get an espresso machine in there and have a proper coffee bar. That would be a huge win for Amtrak $$$, I'll pay anything for some espresso in the morning.
 

jebr

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Also, now that I'm thinking about it, it's possible this is a creative way to get F&B at "break-even" on paper. If the sleeper car lounge is only for sleeper passengers and the attendant is only serving sleeper car passengers, Amtrak may be able to justify the costs of that employee and the cost to run the sleeper lounge as a cost allocated to the sleeper cars/sleeping car service. That means that Amtrak only has to account for the cost of the food itself when doing the allocations from the sleeper car account to the F&B account. I'd guess that the meal will be priced in such a way that it'll be able to break-even or be slightly profitable when it's all said and done (ingredients + prep + cost to load it onto the train.) That, plus the revenue from the cafe car, would likely be enough to break even on paper with the F&B account.
 

caravanman

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As long as us coach passengers can sleep in the lounge overnight, I don't mind bringing my own healthier meals to eat. Enjoy your "first class" sleeper meals!


Ed.
 
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Lonestar648

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I think the SSL is still on the CL, they will just run the Diner as the Sleeper Lounge. On the LSL the VII Diner will be the Sleeper Lounge. The Cafe/Lounge will remain.
 

Railroad Bill

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We will miss the traditional meals and the interesting conversations at the dinner table. But with all things lately, change is inevitable and we will learn to adjust. I suspect the change in prices, points, and service have affected more traditional Amtrak travelers and their choice to ride or not.
 

jis

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As others have suggested, picking a meal when you make your reservation might be a possibility. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of picking what I want for diner 6 months in advance. Deciding day of is challenging enough.
The only airline where I have actually reserved meal selection before boarding (other than the run of the mill Kosher/Vegan/Seafood/Low Cholesterol etc.) is Singapore Airlines. They just required that the meal selection be done at least 24 hours before departure. It is an option. If you did not reserve an item they will serve you something from whatever is available in their standard menu on board. The list of meal that can be selected is way larger than the standard menu, which had about 6 items. The selection menus had about 20 items, with even some rather exotic route specific cuisine.

For example on a flight from Singapore to Kolkata I was able to select a typical Bengali Meal of Bengali Fish ground Mustard Curry, Daal and Rice, with a typical Bengali Dessert, which of course would not ever be on the standard menu. I was suitably impressed and the food was excellent. On the return flight I went for the Rogan Josh and Naan.

I am sure Amtrak has no desire to meet the standards of Singapore Airlines Business/First Class meals, but at least if their meal reservation procedure is adopted, that would be nice in and of itself.
 

bretton88

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As others have suggested, picking a meal when you make your reservation might be a possibility. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of picking what I want for diner 6 months in advance. Deciding day of is challenging enough.
The only airline where I have actually reserved meal selection before boarding (other than the run of the mill Kosher/Vegan/Seafood/Low Cholesterol etc.) is Singapore Airlines. They just required that the meal selection be done at least 24 hours before departure. It is an option. If you did not reserve an item they will serve you something from whatever is available in their standard menu on board. The list of meal that can be selected is way larger than the standard menu, which had about 6 items. The selection menus had about 20 items, with even some rather exotic route specific cuisine.

For example on a flight from Singapore to Kolkata I was able to select a typical Bengali Meal of Bengali Fish ground Mustard Curry, Daal and Rice, with a typical Bengali Dessert, which of course would not ever be on the standard menu. I was suitably impressed and the food was excellent. On the return flight I went for the Rogan Josh and Naan.

I am sure Amtrak has no desire to meet the standards of Singapore Airlines Business/First Class meals, but at least if their meal reservation procedure is adopted, that would be nice in and of itself.
I am sure they will probably give you the option of reserving special meals (vegetarian, gluten free, etc) in advance. I also suspect that Amtrak will broaden the meal choices as they figure out the kinks in the program, as it's easier to start small then add on to it.
 

Thirdrail7

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Soooooo, are there any more questions about the chef being removed from the CL?


That being said, this boils down to a few things. I mentioned it in the past and that is adaptation. People have already adapted, saying it could be worse. Indeed because the Star is getting NOTHING! When Amtrak declares this experiment a success, I'm sure you'll see other trains rolling out the same type of operation, particularly trains that only travel one overnight period.

That being said, I do note one other thing which is extremely subjective. The Star got away with their experiment because they lowered the price of the accommodation. I haven't head anything about them lowering the costs of the sleepers on these trains and that impacts something the is controlled individually:

The perception of "value."

That is something I'm not sure this regime gets. There are plenty of options for Amtrak riders. Is this worth it? What is "the value" for your dollar? A cold meal? I made this statement before and it is worth clarifying:

I can understand them consolidating the 2 meals and even allowing Sleeper pax only one turn; you would have to be a real Chow Hound to take on Breakfast and then 2-3 hours later pile in Lunch, especially with all the great eating options in DC.
This is what annoys me about all of these "experiments." If I'm paying for a sleeper that includes meals, I want the meals. ALL of them. I'll eat until I explode. First I want eggs and then I want a steak for lunch!! I paid for it.

FEEEEEEED ME, SEYMOUR!!!

I'm sorry but If I've fallen from bacon/ french toast/scrambled eggs to a cold, continental breakfast and from a steak grilled somewhere near my liking to a cold tenderloin or turkey sandwich, that hardly seems worth the extra costs.

Now, you'll say it beats riding coach but hell, for this I may as well just get on the damn plane. After all, the fees are closing in and the prices may be lower. One thing is certain, the plane will likely be quicker.

If the journey isn't far, I may as well get in my car and roll for it myself.

I almost prefer the Star's set up. At least they're honest and the "value" (or my perception of such) is there.

However, this is a Congressional mandate. It has been one for years. Until it changes, you have someone that is making a go of it instead of waiting it out or ignoring it. If ridership and revenue drops, they can use this to say the food is a loss leader. If ridership and revenue stays the same (or close), the savings may help in the eyes of Congress and it is money that can be turned into other things.

He is actually opening more positions in the company but with more emphasis on other departments.

Time will tell what each person thinks of this. I have the feeling that the initial uproar will end and people will adapt.

Besides, if ridership drops, the equipment will just move to another service. This may be the only support you'll need for your new, mini long distance consist.


Amtrak 2.0 plods on!
 
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