COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic: Amtrak Food Service Discussion

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RichieRich

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Dec 2, 2016
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Just curious, but did you call 2008 the "America Recession" since it started here based on American policies before infecting the whole world's economy?
Where did the Hong Kong flu start? Oh, The Spanish flu. Opps, Ebola, West Nile Virus. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,
Ross River Fever (Australia), Japanese Encephalitis??? I could go on with dozens more...all named for origin!
 
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AmtrakBlue

Conductor
Gathering Team Member
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Where did the Hong Kong flu start? Oh, The Spanish flu. Opps, Ebola, West Nile Virus. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,
Ross River Fever (Australia), Japanese Encephalitis??? I could go on with dozens more...all named for origin!
Well, guess what. They decided not to name this one after the place of origin. It’s called COVID-19 - Corona Virus Disease that began in 2019.
 

caravanman

Conductor
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Mar 22, 2004
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It would really help if dining car food servers were not unionized; why on earth should Amtrak pay the artificial wage rates for union labor; I don't think other restaurants have to contend with labor unions for their food servers.

In most of the restaurant world, servers learn very quickly that the more pleasant their people-pleasing skills are, the better their trips are.
Your typo second to last word points up the difference with Amtrak... Most "servers" go home to their families after work, home to their homes, their lives, to socialise and drive around, do what they please after work. Amtrak servers don't have this life, they are stuck on train "TRIPS" for many days at a stretch, even when off duty.
 

Green Maned Lion

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It would really help if dining car food servers were not unionized; why on earth should Amtrak pay the artificial wage rates for union labor; I don't think other restaurants have to contend with labor unions for their food servers.

In most of the restaurant world, servers learn very quickly that the more pleasant their people-pleasing skills are, the better their trips are.
It would really help the food servers off of the train wouldn’t have to live on artificial wages. Artificial in that they don’t really exist. They quickly learn that they can’t pay their bills, no matter how pleasent they are because old fogies tip only artificially.
 

Qapla

OBS Chief
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
924
Tips should not be part of the servers "wage" as it is now in the US restaurant business. Tips should be "extra money" given for service - that way, even if tips are not as high as some would like, they could still pay their bills with their actual earnings - like many of us have to do because we are not in a "tip subsidized" line of work.

At the same time, it does not take being in a union to be paid a proper wage - it only takes the employer paying their employees what should be paid.
 

Green Maned Lion

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At the same time, it does not take being in a union to be paid a proper wage - it only takes the employer paying their employees what should be paid.
Which, unless the job is specialized, and more in demand than in supply, (ashamed to say this, but as a white, English-as-first-language, specialized house cleaner is why my wife makes a decent living) tends to require one to be in a Union.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
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Oct 21, 2015
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2,478
Every time these conversations come up it amazes me how many people don’t understand how money works.

There are so many expenses related to operating a long distance dining car. Is Amtrak doing everything right? Of course not. But the expenses are not avoidable.

Amtrak’s biggest mistake is not fully using the food service cars for additional revenue. The at your seat coach meals were a great start for using the dining car to feed additional passengers.

Having a mid-day extra cost wine tasting in between lunch and dinner service would be a great way to add revenue as well.
 
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MikeM

OBS Chief
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Jun 2, 2009
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My personal thought, everytime I have ridden Amtrak in the past few years, they don't use the whole car to it's potential for seating, leaving at least four booths vacant for paperwork, conductors, etc. Plus the opportunity to do Carry-out meals, as Cresent-Zephyr says. The fixed cost is the cost of the diner, and that does not change with the volume of business. There has to be a way to better focus on meals for both classes of service, increase the throughput from the kitchen and better distribute the fixed cost of the car. Maybe you add one more server, or another person to the kitchen, but in the global scheme of the universe, that isn't the absolute end of things. When you go back to the 50's and 60's, railroads did lots of experiments like having counter - diners, where less expensive meals were served in an informal setting. This is one place where the Superliner does sort of suck, in that you have the kitchen crew trapped in the lower level and using dumbwaiters to get food to the serving area.

One final thought... the "cross country cafe" really is the worst, in that it basically turns half of the serving area into vacant space. For fun, why not create some simple pre-fab meals that could be served out of the counter area that are made in advance of the meal rush, and coach passengers could either eat in the CCC lounge area or take them back to their seats? This might require some extra effort on Amtrak's side to keep the "lounge" side aimed towards the coach section, but it would gain more volume in the diner with negligable additional cost.
 

crescent-zephyr

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One final thought... the "cross country cafe" really is the worst, in that it basically turns half of the serving area into vacant space. For fun, why not create some simple pre-fab meals that could be served out of the counter area that are made in advance of the meal rush, and coach passengers could either eat in the CCC lounge area or take them back to their seats? This might require some extra effort on Amtrak's side to keep the "lounge" side aimed towards the coach section, but it would gain more volume in the diner with negligable additional cost.
That was the exact point of the design. There was an “all day” menu available and then each meal would have additional menu items for that specific meal period. It was designed to provide take out and sit dine service using 1 LSA and 1 kitchen. It was a great idea that lasted all of a month or 2.
 

Bob Dylan

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Having a mid-day extra cost wine tasting in between lunch and dinner service would be a great way to add revenue as well.
Remember when the Empire Builder,Coast Starlight and the Lake Shore Ltd out of Chicago had daily Wine and Cheese Tastings?

And the Pacific Parlor Car has a Bar that served Drinks,Wine and Sold Merchandise that raised Revenue.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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Remember when the Empire Builder,Coast Starlight and the Lake Shore Ltd out of Chicago had daily Wine and Cheese Tastings?

And the Pacific Parlor Car has a Bar that served Drinks,Wine and Sold Merchandise that raised Revenue.
I remember them all so well. I even “won” a bottle of wine on the empire builder!

I also remember when the parlor car timed the wine tasting so that you would be sampling a wine that came from a vineyard you passed in Oregon!

Those were the days!
 

AmtrakBlue

Conductor
Gathering Team Member
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Where did the Hong Kong flu start? Oh, The Spanish flu. Opps, Ebola, West Nile Virus. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,
Ross River Fever (Australia), Japanese Encephalitis??? I could go on with dozens more...all named for origin!
The “Spanish” flu most likely did not start in Spain.

 

Amtrakfflyer

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 2, 2005
Messages
458
The one side of the CCC really is a waste. At least put 4 booths back on that side, position it next to the sleeper and let sleeper car passengers use it for a drink or to mingle. Since a lot of sleeping car passengers are seniors if nothing else it would be a shorter walk for them versus the SL lounge.

It wouldn’t be much but it wouldn’t cost much to retrofit. You could do a intimate wine tasting at extra cost as someone else alluded to as well in it.
 
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MARC Rider

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Where did the Hong Kong flu start? Oh, The Spanish flu. Opps, Ebola, West Nile Virus. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,
Ross River Fever (Australia), Japanese Encephalitis??? I could go on with dozens more...all named for origin!
Actually, the "Spanish flu" started in Kansas. In an Army camp in 1918. Which means it quickly spread to Europe, where there was a World War going on. Soon, soldiers and citizens of all the belligerents were getting it, but this was not being reported widely in the news media of the time, as the governments involved didn't want panic and worry about getting killed by the flu to get in the way of their soldiers killing lots of people in the war. The first place where news of the flu epidemic was widely reported was in Spain, because Spain was neutral during the war and the government didn't care if the new media reported on the subject. Thus, people got the mistaken idea that the epidemic started in Spain, hence the term "Spanish flu." It really should be called the "Kansas flu."
 

MARC Rider

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Apr 5, 2011
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1,926
At the same time, it does not take being in a union to be paid a proper wage - it only takes the employer paying their employees what should be paid.
Unfortunately, with many employers, it takes a union, or the threat of being unionized to ensure that that employees are paid a proper wage. Back in the day when I was starting out, before unions were emasculated, you could work for McDonalds (and not as a manager) and make enough to live decently. I don't think McDonald's was unionized, even back then, but they knew if they were going to be able to attract decent employees, they'd need to pay at or close to the union scale.

And unions do more than ensure decent wages, they also ensure decent working conditions.

There are too many employers out there who are greedy cheapskates, and they need either a union or the government to keep them in line. And if they're not kept in line, it makes it harder for the decent employers to continue to treat their workers properly.
 

Ziv

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 25, 2011
Messages
616
I will have to try Google. I usually use Kayak with a plus or minus of 3 days and then move the flight dates forward 3 days to compare, repeat ad nauseum. I have found "upgrades" to Economy Prime at United cost about 30% more than Basic Economy and all you get with Prime is a carry on bag and the choice of a window or aisle seat. First class is usually a premium of 60% to 100% of the economy fare for domestic flights, more when I fly to Narita and on to Bangkok. I also fly Delta domestically and it has similar pricing on first class, they didn't have the basic vs. prime economy seats when I last flew with them.

I use google matrix for all my flight searches. You have to be flexible with times and days, but it’s worked for me. First class domestic is well worth the price for my poor back to be happy. Same with a roomette on Amtrak.
 

me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,092
"spanish flu" started in oklahoma
Aha! Sounds like some foreign country to me! Perhaps we should invade it or at least blockade it.

It's just a country of Okies, Okras and homes.

The first was made into a movie when they tried to invade California in the '30s.

The second looks and tastes weird just like those other foreign veggies that only vegetablarians and those Vegas Vegans eat.

The last is something we don't need - homes in the middle of nowhere. Next they'll want rail transit.
 

me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,092
It would really help if dining car food servers were not unionized; why on earth should Amtrak pay the artificial wage rates for union labor; I don't think other restaurants have to contend with labor unions for their food servers.

In most of the restaurant world, servers learn very quickly that the more pleasant their people-pleasing skills are, the better their trips are.
Management creates unions. When management doesn't treat their employees well, people decide to join together to protect their rights.
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
19,722
Traditional Dining Service, (save for the Auto Train) is now suspended through August 31, 2020.

Honestly I look for this to continue into 2021, and sadly, probably become permanent on the LD Trains!
 

lordsigma

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Sep 15, 2017
Messages
886
Honestly I look for this to continue into 2021, and sadly, probably become permanent on the LD Trains!
Permanent is a long time, but probably at least as long as Covid is suppressing ridership. We shall see if it goes beyond that. Alternatively I could also see them playing games and only restoring traditional dining on a couple “preferred trains” and not the others. They have talked about an “experiential service plan” On select trains in the last couple five year plans - obviously Covid is changing everything but that’s one way they could Eventually move in that Direction when Covid passes by just bringing it back to a couple select trains deemed “experiential.” If they do continue flex dining for the long run some tweaks need to be made for the western trains if they are going to stick with this type of format. There aren’t enough options or variety for trips of that long duration. One possible improvement is to offer some of the cafe options (either with a cafe car voucher or to just give the flex dining LSA some of the cafe items to serve.) One thing giving me a small glimmer of hope that the suspension may not be permanent is that Acela first class has also gotten a major downgrade (from the descriptions I’ve seen - even worse than flex dining) and I have to imagine Acela dining would go back to normal eventually once demand returns. The only train you can get a proper meal right now seems to be the auto train..

On a possible unrelated positive note interestingly I did just receive emails reference my upcoming October trip on the silver service that included this blurb - could this mean a return of the Viewliner II diners to the silver service starting on July 6th? :
  • Both trains will offer expanded capacity for each departure:
    • Five fully-refreshed Amfleet II Coach cars—offering new seating cushions, carpets, curtains, LED reading lights and ample space for physical distancing
    • Three Viewliner Sleeping Cars—offering customers the option to book a private Bedroom or Roomette for their trip
    • One Amfleet Café Car—offering meals, snacks and beverages for sale
    • One Viewliner II Sleeper Lounge—an exclusive space for customers in private rooms, offering complimentary flexible dining services
 
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