Eastern Sleeping Car Passengers Pre-Order Meals

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Seaboard92

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Dec 31, 2014
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I see where this system could be an improvement for Amtrak's shrinkage on the food service side. As someone who has cooked on a dining car I can speak to this subject.

On the last real New River Train we offered three options for our first class meal service. We were making 634 meals for passengers and additional meals for crew.

Here was our menu

Main Courses
-Prime Rib
or
-Roast Chicken
or
-Vegetarian Pasta

Sides
-Green Beans
-Mashed Potatos

Dessert
-Cheese Cake

We took peoples food order when they bought their ticket so some passengers chose their meal 8 or more months ahead of the train, and forgot what they ordered when on the train. The other problem we had was people changing their minds after seeing what other people were eating at the same table or in their car. When you preorder the meals it makes it great from the bottom line viewpoint because you are controlling your inventory and managing shrink.

However it can cause problems with people wanting to change their orders at the last minute, and the customer service issues that go along with that.

The other fact that the orders have to be in by three days before travel makes it difficult from a customer service standpoint for passengers who book less than three days ahead. For instance traveling for an illness in the family, death, or weather related issues with other transportation alternatives.

As far as the variety of options I don't think that will change with the new inventory management system they are attempting to use. Anything in life gets cheaper and more efficient with the economy of scale. So Amtrak wouldn't be saving money if it offers ten options for people and only makes one or two of less popular items at a time. Doing that causes the less popular items to have a higher price especially if they don't share common ingredients with a more popular item.

So take for instance on our train the sides stayed the same regardless of the main course. On our menu we had Prime Rib and one prime rib could serve 10 people, where as the vegetarian pasta were made for the individual. So the prime rib while it costs more on paper than a vegetarian pasta you can share the cost over 10 passengers, the pasta could only be shared one way.

While I would like more options from Amtrak it would be impossible to do while reducing cost, and shrink.

Now all of that being said I support bringing back the chefs, the food specialists, and real food not microwaved gobbly goop
 

neroden

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Feb 23, 2014
Messages
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Because I am allergic to garlic and because all the flex meal entrees contain garlic, I was able to special order "special" meals the last few times I traveled on the Silver Meteor and Captiol Limited. I worked directly with a very competent customer relations representative who provided me with a few alternatives. I would respond to her email (at least 3 days in advance) with my entree choice for each non breakfast meal I would eat on the Silver Meteor or Capitol Limited. I am guessing I special ordered at least 16 meals during the last few months of 2019 and each one was loaded and was exactly as ordered. I ate each meal in the sleeper lounge and never had an issue. I got the impression from the customer relations representative that pre-ordering would soon become common place. I have not been in communication with this representative for a while since my three 2020 trips for which I had reservations have been canceled. I hope she is around when I feel safe to travel again.
I'd like to know your CR representative, since I've been unable to get ingredients lists at all for years.
 

jiml

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Amtrak used to do a nice prime rib, but only in the single-level Heritage dining cars IIRC. Superliners were usually steak or short rib as the beef selection
 

Sauve850

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Jan 9, 2014
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I think three days to pre-order is reasonable. If you dont pre-order or book last minute i doubt you will go hungry.
 

lordsigma

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One of the things about flexible dining I believe it was a letter from the VP back last fall indicated that when pre-ordering for flex dining became available coach purchases would become available through a similar pre-ordering system. We shall see if it happens
 

crescent-zephyr

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Messages
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On the last real New River Train we offered three options for our first class meal service. We were making 634 meals for passengers and additional meals for crew.
How many diners were on the train?

Were you using a catering service?
 

PVD

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The biggest mistake they could make is making a system too complicated by trying to satisfy everybody on every little issue. If you improve food quality and presentation, have a decent variety of choices, and a way to satisfy most religious or health concerns, go for it. You just aren't going to solve the 1 in million what if scenario, and are probably wasting time and money if you try. There will always be someone you can't please.
 

crescent-zephyr

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The biggest mistake they could make is making a system too complicated by trying to satisfy everybody on every little issue. If you improve food quality and presentation, have a decent variety of choices, and a way to satisfy most religious or health concerns, go for it. You just aren't going to solve the 1 in million what if scenario, and are probably wasting time and money if you try. There will always be someone you can't please.
They don’t even have a gluten free dessert option available. Or a non-shellfish fish entree. They are so far from even trying to care.
 

PVD

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Those are mainstream issues, not uncommon problems. To develop a responsible pre order program, those are precisely the type of issues that should be eliminated, that should be the goal. Too early to tell.
 

Devil's Advocate

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The biggest mistake they could make is making a system too complicated by trying to satisfy everybody on every little issue. If you improve food quality and presentation, have a decent variety of choices, and a way to satisfy most religious or health concerns, go for it. You just aren't going to solve the 1 in million what if scenario, and are probably wasting time and money if you try. There will always be someone you can't please.
Catering for too many preferences is the biggest mistake Amtrak could make? I don’t normally disagree with you but I’m not even sure where this concern is coming from. I’ve never seen Amtrak go overboard with too many options for dining and don’t expect them to chance it unless Aramark assumes all the risk, which I also do not expect to happen. I’d reckon it’s a hundred times more likely Amtrak simply abandons dining service rather than offer too many options.
 

tricia

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With the flex food model, ALL items are pre-made in some factory somewhere, and made to be stored for weeks or months. With pre-ordering, Amtrak ought to be able to offer MUCH more variety at close to no added cost: Does buying 3000 frozen entrees divided among 10 varieties really cost a lot more than 5 varieties, given that the unused items can be stored for future use? Ditto for the packaged breakfast items, desserts....
 

PVD

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Catering for too many preferences is the biggest mistake Amtrak could make? I don’t normally disagree with you but I’m not even sure where this concern is coming from. I’ve never seen Amtrak go overboard with too many options for dining and don’t expect them to chance it unless Aramark assumes all the risk, which I also do not expect to happen. I’d reckon it’s a hundred times more likely Amtrak simply abandons dining service rather than offer too many options.
Maybe I can explain better..Looking at their past track record, I would rather see them focus on improving the offering and satisfying the greatest majority of concerns that people exxpress. If they get bogged down in an effort to try and hit every possible scenario, they will likely fail miswrably.
 

pennyk

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I'd like to know your CR representative, since I've been unable to get ingredients lists at all for years.
I, too, have been trying to get ingredient lists for years. I do not have the ingredients lists for the flex meals. When the contemporary meals were introduced, ingredients were listed on an enclosure in the box, but, to my knowledge, ingredient lists are not publicly available for flex meals. It took me a while for customer relations to contact me. I was patient and polite. I started by phoning customer relations and explained my allergy and my request to have an ingredient list. It may have taken a few tries, but one representative provided me with a "case number" and an email address. I was not successful at first and received "form" responses that suggested that I bring my own food, which I did for a while. I later learned that all entrees contained garlic and it was suggested that I could go to the cafe car and order something there instead of eating an entree. I had written authorization to do that and I usually had to sign the receipt and include my car and room number. Eventually, I was contacted by customer relations with the option to preorder garlic free options. My choices were limited but I was satisfied with my choices and I felt my choices were healthier than flex meals (although most passengers would have considered my meals tasteless and boring).

It should be noted that things are very different now than they were last year. Amtrak may have laid off some Customer Relations representatives and those remaining may be dealing with different pressing issues. My suggestion is to be patient and polite.
 

Seaboard92

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How many diners were on the train?

Were you using a catering service?
We had two diners, and a table car.

-Moultree (EX Atlantic Coastline Pullman Standard 36 Seat Diner)
-NYC 448 (EX New York Central Budd 48 Seat Diner
-Birken (EX Canadian National CC&F Table Car)

Each diner did three servings, and the overflow the food was brought to their seat.

The operators ordered the food from US Foods who parked a truck with the ingredients next to the diners in the mornings. We went and received the raw ingredients and cooked them fresh on board the train. We used a lot of culinary students from the local tech school.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Oh I’ve been in the Moultree! That’s a cool car. I always thought it was funny that people freaked out when Amtrak did the curved booths In the CCC Cars cause they faced away from the windows. I’m like... Seaboard did that long before Amtrak! Ha.

Definitely an ambitious operation.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
468
I see where this system could be an improvement for Amtrak's shrinkage on the food service side. As someone who has cooked on a dining car I can speak to this subject.

On the last real New River Train we offered three options for our first class meal service. We were making 634 meals for passengers and additional meals for crew.

Here was our menu

Main Courses
-Prime Rib
or
-Roast Chicken
or
-Vegetarian Pasta

Sides
-Green Beans
-Mashed Potatos

Dessert
-Cheese Cake

We took peoples food order when they bought their ticket so some passengers chose their meal 8 or more months ahead of the train, and forgot what they ordered when on the train. The other problem we had was people changing their minds after seeing what other people were eating at the same table or in their car. When you preorder the meals it makes it great from the bottom line viewpoint because you are controlling your inventory and managing shrink.

However it can cause problems with people wanting to change their orders at the last minute, and the customer service issues that go along with that.

The other fact that the orders have to be in by three days before travel makes it difficult from a customer service standpoint for passengers who book less than three days ahead. For instance traveling for an illness in the family, death, or weather related issues with other transportation alternatives.

As far as the variety of options I don't think that will change with the new inventory management system they are attempting to use. Anything in life gets cheaper and more efficient with the economy of scale. So Amtrak wouldn't be saving money if it offers ten options for people and only makes one or two of less popular items at a time. Doing that causes the less popular items to have a higher price especially if they don't share common ingredients with a more popular item.

So take for instance on our train the sides stayed the same regardless of the main course. On our menu we had Prime Rib and one prime rib could serve 10 people, where as the vegetarian pasta were made for the individual. So the prime rib while it costs more on paper than a vegetarian pasta you can share the cost over 10 passengers, the pasta could only be shared one way.

While I would like more options from Amtrak it would be impossible to do while reducing cost, and shrink.

Now all of that being said I support bringing back the chefs, the food specialists, and real food not microwaved gobbly goop
As traveling members come across any food improvements please pass it on! :)
 

Seaboard92

Conductor
Joined
Dec 31, 2014
Messages
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Oh I’ve been in the Moultree! That’s a cool car. I always thought it was funny that people freaked out when Amtrak did the curved booths In the CCC Cars cause they faced away from the windows. I’m like... Seaboard did that long before Amtrak! Ha.

Definitely an ambitious operation.
It's a fantastic car to work in, I absolutely loved my time in it.

Actually more than one railroad did the curved booths like the Atlantic Coastline.

The full diners on the 20th Century Limited also were like that. And a few other railroads I believe as well. I'll have to consult one of my many books on dining car service.

The curved booths really are a 1940s modern style.
 

crescent-zephyr

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It's a fantastic car to work in, I absolutely loved my time in it.

Actually more than one railroad did the curved booths like the Atlantic Coastline.

The full diners on the 20th Century Limited also were like that. And a few other railroads I believe as well. I'll have to consult one of my many books on dining car service.

The curved booths really are a 1940s modern style.
I think Santa Fe as well... or maybe I’m just thinking of the Turquoise room. But yes - lots of creative designs.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
468
With the flex food model, ALL items are pre-made in some factory somewhere, and made to be stored for weeks or months. With pre-ordering, Amtrak ought to be able to offer MUCH more variety at close to no added cost: Does buying 3000 frozen entrees divided among 10 varieties really cost a lot more than 5 varieties, given that the unused items can be stored for future use? Ditto for the packaged breakfast items, desserts....
We're all hoping for a greatly improved dining experience... but there are several parts to this discussion:

1] UNDERSTAND AND BE TOLERANT DURING PANDEMIC DIFFICULTIES: Effecting all modes of travel; even airline 1st class meals are being scaled back. We shouldn't be too optimistic about changes until the vaccine brings more normalcy back.

2] FOOD VARIETY, QUALITY, AND QUANTITY: Worth discussing and bringing up with congressional representatives. As so many have pointed out, food service companies can provided the level of quality which is requested and paid for.

3] SERVICE MODE AND FACILITATION: We need to get rid of the plastics! They are carcinogenic when heated, and bad for the environment when trashed in landfills. Big argument here... if the airlines can use ceramic ware, Amtrak aught to be able to develop a similar method of doing the same... including cutlery and cloth napkins. Perhaps stacking the used ware in compartments similar to how airlines do it. An example of LD service points on the Empire Builder may be Whitefish, Fargo, and Minneapolis. Eastern trains could do similar without a re provisioning point.

4] FUNDING POLICIES NEED TO BE PRIORITIZED / CHANGED. That must undoubtedly come from upper levels of government.

So I've tried to break this discussion down into separate issues.
 

Seaboard92

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I think Santa Fe as well... or maybe I’m just thinking of the Turquoise room. But yes - lots of creative designs.
Southern Pacific's Cascade Club (Triple Unit, diner/ kitchen/ lounge had some similar tables as well.

There is a really good book I have that has the floor plans of various streamliner era cars. The Union Pacific dome diners are also unique. They were the only railcars with round tables instead of rectangular.

Really all the way into the 1970s there were all sorts of curved booths. Look at the Pan American World Airways, United, or American B747 lounges. Curved booths really are still very trendy. I'm working on an interior design for a PV owner right now and I'm proposing a few curved designs for interior fixtures. Its funny I'm taking more inspiration from Pan American than railroad designs.

I don't see why people complained about the CCC tables. In my opinion they are more social than standard tables.
 

railiner

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Curved booths, sofas, etc., I think are okay in a nice lounge car, but in a diner, straight tables utilize space more efficiently.
For pure luxury, Santa Fe's top diner's had only 36 seats. four and two, rather than the usual 48 seats.
My favorite diner's, were the Broadway's twin-unit diners...all tables in the dining room, and the galley and dorm in the adjacent car. They used to have a basket of apple's to select from after dinner, in the mid car pantry area...:cool:
 

Bob Dylan

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May 31, 2009
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Curved booths, sofas, etc., I think are okay in a nice lounge car, but in a diner, straight tables utilize space more efficiently.
For pure luxury, Santa Fe's top diner's had only 36 seats. four and two, rather than the usual 48 seats.
My favorite diner's, were the Broadway's twin-unit diners...all tables in the dining room, and the galley and dorm in the adjacent car. They used to have a basket of apple's to select from after dinner, in the mid car pantry area...:cool:
Makes me think back to my One and only trip on the Super Chief and the thrill of getting to eat in the Diner!!!🥰
 

20th Century Rider

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Jan 26, 2020
Messages
468
Curved booths, sofas, etc., I think are okay in a nice lounge car, but in a diner, straight tables utilize space more efficiently.
For pure luxury, Santa Fe's top diner's had only 36 seats. four and two, rather than the usual 48 seats.
My favorite diner's, were the Broadway's twin-unit diners...all tables in the dining room, and the galley and dorm in the adjacent car. They used to have a basket of apple's to select from after dinner, in the mid car pantry area...:cool:
Do you have a time machine that can take us back to the good old days???
 
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