Cafe Car Food

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Palmland

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There has been a lot of discussion about food on Amtrak but I’m trying to understand more about the food on cafe cars, especially in view of the general dislike for flex dining with its limited offerings especially for a lighter lunch selection.

I am returning home on train 89 after a weekend with old friends and watching a college basketball game. I just had lunch from the cafe car and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The photo shows my selection and it was greatly helped by the knowledgeable attendant. I was dubious about heating the sandwich with lettuce on it but also knew that sandwiches right out of the cooler can be hard and tasteless. He said the best way to do it was to lightly warm it in the microwave. He was right, it tasted freshly made. The quality of the meat and bread helped too.

My questions are: Is this part of the Northeast regional cafe car menu or is it unique to the national network cafe menus (the Palmetto really serves both purposes). If it is available on other LD trains, Amtrak should include this as a lunch option in lieu of flex dining. Even if they don’t, I think that’s what I’ll do on our next LD trip, even if it costs $16.50 (beer included). Maybe that’s what Amtrak wants to happen?

By the way, train 89 on Friday was OT, this train arrived Richmond 10min early (as did 92 at about the same time), and is currently OT north of Rocky Mount after meeting 2 freights and Train 80.

EE05515F-0F33-467F-A011-3C795E6C584D.jpeg
 

Bob Dylan

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I haven't ridden #89 lately, so not sure, but do know that State Supported Trains such as the Down-easter, the Cascades, and the Surfliners have lots better quality food and Drink in their Cafes than the National LD Trains.

So if can be done if the Suits in DC want it to happen.

Boots on the ground reports such as yours are a Big help to those of us on AU! Thanks!:cool:
 
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pennyk

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There has been a lot of discussion about food on Amtrak but I’m trying to understand more about the food on cafe cars, especially in view of the general dislike for flex dining with its limited offerings especially for a lighter lunch selection.

I am returning home on train 89 after a weekend with old friends and watching a college basketball game. I just had lunch from the cafe car and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The photo shows my selection and it was greatly helped by the knowledgeable attendant. I was dubious about heating the sandwich with lettuce on it but also knew that sandwiches right out of the cooler can be hard and tasteless. He said the best way to do it was to lightly warm it in the microwave. He was right, it tasted freshly made. The quality of the meat and bread helped too.

My questions are: Is this part of the Northeast regional cafe car menu or is it unique to the national network cafe menus (the Palmetto really serves both purposes). If it is available on other LD trains, Amtrak should include this as a lunch option in lieu of flex dining. Even if they don’t, I think that’s what I’ll do on our next LD trip, even if it costs $16.50 (beer included). Maybe that’s what Amtrak wants to happen?

By the way, train 89 on Friday was OT, this train arrived Richmond 10min early (as did 92 at about the same time), and is currently OT north of Rocky Mount after meeting 2 freights and Train 80.

View attachment 16658
Thanks for the post and photo. The last time I traveled on the Empire Service and Vermonter, Boars Head sandwiches were available (and were good). However, Boars Head sandwiches were not available on the Silver Meteor or Texas Eagle the last times I traveled on each (within the last couple of months).
 

Palmland

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Thanks, milet303, for that link. While there are differences, the menu on this train is very similar to what is shown as the National cafe car menu. Of course that makes sense since this is considered an LD train. The northeast corridor menu has far more varied and appealing selections. I can only assume that is because Amtrak thought those riding on an LD train had a good meal selection in the diner if they wanted something more substantial than what’s offered on the National menu. With flex dining trains, that’s no longer the case.

Perhaps Amtrak will standardize (except where the states are involved on some corridor routes) on one menu that’s more similar to the northeast one and make it included for all sleeper passengers. In any event, I’m glad there is some improvement with the present offering on 89/90.
 

MARC Rider

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Here's the sandwich I was offered in the cafe car on the Texas Eagle as compensation for the train being really late:

20191104_160608.jpg

It was edible, but that's because I was starting to get hungry. And by this point in the trip, the selection was pretty low.
 

MARC Rider

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I can make a very good breakfast from the cafe car: yougurt, a bagel with cream cheese (and they toast it!), a fruit cup, and a cup of coffee. It's a little hard to fit everything on the tray table, though:

20190815_055442.jpg

Frankly, I don't know why they don't offer the bagel in the flex dining. They are supposed to stock them in the cafe car, anyway. Just stock some more for the flex dining passengers.
 

MARC Rider

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Here's lunch on the Carolinian last May:

20190530_115848.jpg
A Boar's head protein pack and hummus. (Of course I get a little annoyed that they sell the hummus for $4.50 when you can buy it at your friendly neighborhood supermarket for $2.)
 

como

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The cafe car choices on the Missouri River Runners are average. The burgers including the veggie burger are good. The cheese tray is fine. Most of the other items are vending machine or 7-11 quality. They do include some local beers, not counting Bud and Bud Light.
 

MARC Rider

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My brother, who travels on the Northeast Regional a lot, isn't really impressed with the offerings in the cafe car. He usually gets something from Pret or Starbucks before boarding the train. Of course that's easy to do when you get on in Washington and get off in New York. I used to do that too when I rode the Northeast Regional home from work. He wondered aloud to me why Amtrak doesn't just let Starbucks or Pret run the service. I think it might be more complicated than Union jobs. Couldn't the private vendor set up the food and have the existing union LSAs serve it?
 

crescent-zephyr

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They have a contract with a food vendor that is perfectly capable of supplying just about any type and quality of food that one wishes to require (and pay for).....
Exactly... and all they have to do is look at Starbucks or Pret and say “oh that seems to work” and copy that. And yet... here we are.
 

PVD

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How food service fits into a corporate strategy is the key. People look at the Downeaster (outside food service) and compliment it. They also usually fail to note that despite use of lower paid help, and good quality food, it loses money. But the agency that runs those trains believes that the food and beverage losses are more than offset by attracting/retaining more customers, and at a higher price point than they would be able to achieve with lesser food service. Amtrak does not appear to have that strategy as an option under the current mandates from Congress.
 
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They have a contract with a food vendor that is perfectly capable of supplying just about any type and quality of food that one wishes to require (and pay for).....
We take the Auto Train 53 and 52. Keep in mind both trains depart at 4:00 PM. If you get food from the food truck it will be hot. Unless you eat before you board, you end up eating cold food with no way to reheat. Not a happy camper.
 

PVD

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I was disappointed to see the AT lose the coach diner, but it doesn't change the point I'm making. You can buy mediocre hot food on board.
 

Devil's Advocate

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While there are differences, the menu on this train is very similar to what is shown as the National cafe car menu.
I've tried several selections on the National Menu and NONE of them looked or could be described like the NEC cafe menu. Boar's Head? Turkey-Brie? Daily restocking? Never seen anything like that on my local trains. Everything on the national cafe menu looks and tastes like it could survive multiple cross country runs and nobody would be the wiser. I'm not saying that Amtrak actually does that, just that the food is so stale and generic that they could if they wanted to and you'd never know the difference.
 

neroden

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The cafe car choices on the Missouri River Runners are average. The burgers including the veggie burger are good. The cheese tray is fine. Most of the other items are vending machine or 7-11 quality. They do include some local beers, not counting Bud and Bud Light.
Cheese & Cracker Tray, which was very good, just got replaced with a much junkier cheese, cracker, salami tray. Quality dropping.
 

neroden

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How food service fits into a corporate strategy is the key. People look at the Downeaster (outside food service) and compliment it. They also usually fail to note that despite use of lower paid help, and good quality food, it loses money. But the agency that runs those trains believes that the food and beverage losses are more than offset by attracting/retaining more customers, and at a higher price point than they would be able to achieve with lesser food service. Amtrak does not appear to have that strategy as an option under the current mandates from Congress.
Amtrak does, legally, have that strategy -- I just checked a recent CRS report and they're totally allowed to allocate a percentage of ticket sales to the food service for purposes of having it make a "profit". They also don't count on board labor costs as part of the food service cost for this purpose, apparently. I mean, it's sort of guesswork how many people are attracted by the food, but we know good food raises ticket revenues.

I think they probably ought to switch to mostly pre-ordered food which would take all the wastage and guesswork out of the stocking process, and allow for stocking a larger variety at more price points...
 

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