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Flexible dining - Requesting a review from a recent rider

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MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,150
Location
Baltimore. MD
* No fresh fruit (due to Covid-19)
* Prepackaged oatmeal with hot water stirred in
1. I wonder if it's really Covid 19 that's keeping the fresh fruit away. Not just on Amtrak, but in a lot of foodservice, I'm seeing Covid-19 as an excuse to downgrade things. For example, at some convenience stores, they make you order the fountain drinks and coffee, whereas at others you can still freely use the self serve. Then some only hand out packets of sugar and cream, whereas others let you take your own, and even pour cream from a pitcher. These are all in different places in the same state, same county, so it's the same health department and sanitation rules. I suspect that a lot of these cutbacks are more to save money rather than protect your health. Given that Amtrak's business has taken such a hit, I wouldn't be surprised if that's the reason.

2. All oatmeal is made with "hot water stirred in." As far as I know, there's no nutritional difference between instant oatmeal and the kind you have to cook for a few minutes. I used to always use the instant when I went backpacking. The problem with flex dining instant oatmeal is (a) they don't provide plain oatmeal, and the flavored varieties are sugar bombs. I like sugar in my oatmeal, but one teaspoon in plenty. (b) They are not the regular portion sizes, they are small mini-cups. Same with the yogurt. You really need two of them, which is what one kind LSA on the Cardinal did for me. They really ought to have bagels and cream cheese, like they have in the NEC cafe cars, but I'm not sure that bagels are available on the National cafe car menu.
 

flitcraft

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 10, 2018
Messages
556
...happy to have made the trip before the 3x-a-week service. After 8 days on the rails - I will not eat a TV dinner type meal for at least 6mos - maybe longer........
John, thanks so much for taking the time to report on the practices on 3 of the LD trains. It's very helpful as folks decide when and whether to travel on Amtrak. And I don't blame you one bit for wanting real food for at least the next 6 months! We all deserve it, but you who took one for the team most of all!
 

flitcraft

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 10, 2018
Messages
556
I wonder if it's really Covid 19 that's keeping the fresh fruit away.
I call shenanigans on that excuse, too. Fresh fruit like bananas and oranges would be perfectly safe--just give the outsides a quick wash and peel away. Frankly, I wouldn't even bother with that, given that it appears that COVID isn't transmitted by food. I'd peel, then clean my hands with hand sanitizer just in case the exterior peel was contaminated, then chow down on the nice clean interior of the fruit with my clean, sanitized hands. Given the preponderance of starch and fat in the flex fare, and the resized micro-salads, passengers deserve some fresh fruits with fibre on an LD trip.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
706
Location
Oregon Coast
I call shenanigans on that excuse, too. Fresh fruit like bananas and oranges would be perfectly safe--just give the outsides a quick wash and peel away. Frankly, I wouldn't even bother with that, given that it appears that COVID isn't transmitted by food. I'd peel, then clean my hands with hand sanitizer just in case the exterior peel was contaminated, then chow down on the nice clean interior of the fruit with my clean, sanitized hands. Given the preponderance of starch and fat in the flex fare, and the resized micro-salads, passengers deserve some fresh fruits with fibre on an LD trip.
Amen to that! You are right on point when you call all of this negligence inexcusable... so many posts are concerned about the ill heath effects of the over processed tasteless food and the lack of simple fruits and vegetables... especially on cross country trips where many complain about indigestion and lack of regularity. No excuses on being 'medically specific.' They just don't want to spend the money!
 
Joined
Sep 5, 2020
Messages
7
>>It's funny how the pasta and meatballs started as the kids' meal, but is the one that most complain about the least. I noted on the latest menu that it's now included with the others (not specifically called kids'). << If you ask for two heated rolls with that, you can make two small passable meatball sandwiches.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,150
Location
Baltimore. MD
Amen to that! You are right on point when you call all of this negligence inexcusable... so many posts are concerned about the ill heath effects of the over processed tasteless food and the lack of simple fruits and vegetables... especially on cross country trips where many complain about indigestion and lack of regularity. No excuses on being 'medically specific.' They just don't want to spend the money!
They could at least make available single-serving packets of Metamucil, which can be easily mixed with water by the passenger.
 

me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,265
I call shenanigans on that excuse, too. Fresh fruit like bananas and oranges would be perfectly safe--just give the outsides a quick wash and peel away. Frankly, I wouldn't even bother with that, given that it appears that COVID isn't transmitted by food. I'd peel, then clean my hands with hand sanitizer just in case the exterior peel was contaminated, then chow down on the nice clean interior of the fruit with my clean, sanitized hands. Given the preponderance of starch and fat in the flex fare, and the resized micro-salads, passengers deserve some fresh fruits with fibre on an LD trip.
Fruits can be individually packaged as can fresh fruit cocktail. Everything today is blamed on Covid.
 

tgstubbs1

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
130
Fruits can be individually packaged as can fresh fruit cocktail. Everything today is blamed on Covid.
I went to the store this morning. There are still things they are out of. The virus did have some effect on the food supply.
 

flitcraft

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 10, 2018
Messages
556
I went to the store this morning. There are still things they are out of. The virus did have some effect on the food supply.
True, though a lot of the things that vanished early on--rice, beans, flour, yeast, pasta, chicken, and the like--are back now, at least in the stores I shop from. Powdered milk still seems to be hard to get, though if you use it in baking, the King Arthur website has it in stock (it's a little pricey for making up by the gallon for drinking!) Mostly, though, people can get almost all of what they want in grocery stores - again, speaking only of my experience in Seattle. Things may be tougher in places like Alaska, Hawaii, etc. where the cancellation of so many flights has probably affected the food chain substantially.

I think the basic point stands, though. Fresh fruit never disappeared from stores, even during the height of panic-hoarding. For Amtrak to claim that they've stopped serving it on LD trains because of COVID 19 doesn't even pass the laugh test.
 

Anderson

Conductor
Joined
Nov 16, 2010
Messages
9,576
Location
Virginia
I've noticed airlines doing some similar stuff. Unusually for me, I've got nothing but vitriol for Delta's OBS situation. There is a lot of cost-cutting going on under the banner of "But...pandemic!"

At this stage I'm just gonna plan to drive anywhere I'm going in the next year or so. Amtrak can call me when they get the situation un-frakked.
 

tricia

Conductor
Joined
Aug 23, 2011
Messages
1,110
Location
Spring Creek, NC
The problem with driving everywhere in the current pandemic is that you have to trust that everyone who provides you with food and shelter and gas along the way is observing reasonably safe infectious-disease protocols. Depending on how far you're going, and through which states, an Amtrak sleeping car can look like a much safer alternative.

Even though the current food on board is pretty awful. I agree that much of that awfulness is "cost-cutting going on under the banner of 'but ... pandemic!' "
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
1,563
Location
Toronto area
I've noticed airlines doing some similar stuff. Unusually for me, I've got nothing but vitriol for Delta's OBS situation. There is a lot of cost-cutting going on under the banner of "But...pandemic!"
Unfortunately that's become the rallying cry for cost-cutting (and by proxy staff reduction) and bad customer service everywhere - not just in the travel industries.
 

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,544
Location
Texas
Covid had a serious impact on meat production and factory workers who were forced to choose between their safety and a paycheck. My local stores suffered weeks of empty meat shelves despite living in a state known for widespread raising and ranching. Meanwhile domestic and regional fruits were spared serious interruptions as they presumably required little or no processing in an enclosed environment. So far as I'm aware there is little if any evidence that Covid is spread by typical surface contact with fruit. Even if it was most fruit features a surface strong enough to be cleaned, peeled, or cut away before eating. If Amtrak is blaming lack of fruit on Covid safety I'd like to see what information they're basing that claim upon.
 
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Anderson

Conductor
Joined
Nov 16, 2010
Messages
9,576
Location
Virginia
Unfortunately that's become the rallying cry for cost-cutting (and by proxy staff reduction) and bad customer service everywhere - not just in the travel industries.
True, and it's really reached a "cry wolf" point. For Delta, for example: I'll easily buy that consolidating to a single-tray meal service is a pandemic adjustment. I will not buy that discontinuing meal service on long domestic flights (mainly Transcons) and only offering non-perishable snack packs or, somewhat more egregiously, cutting soft drinks (but not beer/wine) counts.

(Similarly egregious is Marriott not forcing hotels to at least post what amenities they will/won't be offering on the website rather than just doing a mic drop on "suspending brand standards". Having to guess which hotel offers daily housekeeping and which one only offers it once a week is neither a fun exercise nor appropriate.)

But to the broader issue, the "blame the pandemic" excuse really has me thoroughly out of patience (especially when dealing with things like being advised of a "longer than normal wait time, please use this other option" only to be connected through immediately) and leaves me less inclined to cut slack for "legitimate" issues.
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
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Messages
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Toronto area
(Similarly egregious is Marriott not forcing hotels to at least post what amenities they will/won't be offering on the website rather than just doing a mic drop on "suspending brand standards". Having to guess which hotel offers daily housekeeping and which one only offers it once a week is neither a fun exercise nor appropriate.)
I won't be going further off-topic other than to agree that you are preaching to the proverbial choir. You're probably also a member of that "other" website that posts about such things, with long-term Marriott status. I'm with you on both. Very frustrating.
 

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,544
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Texas
You gotta love how nearly every service and amenity reduction seems to include some vague reference to the pandemic even if it has no obvious connection and makes no rational sense.

Mainstreet: The pandemic is responsible for everything you don't like about our new service standards.
Wallstreet: Pandemic? Never heard of her. Now stop asking while we watch computers play casino.
Job Market: We're going to look back on the great recession fondly by the time this is finally over.
Government: Those who vote twice get the next miracle cure for half price along with a free amulet.
Medical Experts: If you want a thriving economy everyone has to play their role in real containment.
 
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tgstubbs1

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
130
Maybe check these out for a carry on.


"Jetblue
Fans of Jetblue cheese snack trays can enjoy a selection of Emmi Roth’s best-selling cheeses with crackers, almonds and dried cherries for half the price they are usually offered on airlines. They are available from Imperfect Foods, which aims to eliminate food waste and support farmers and food purveyors when it comes to excess product."
 

caravanman

Conductor
Joined
Mar 22, 2004
Messages
3,758
Location
Nottingham, England.
I came across a recent youtube video, made in July under the Covid-19 situation, of an Empire Builder trip from Chicago to Glacier Park.
The guy mentions a few small things that are not quite right, such as sleepers having coffee available 24/7 before the virus appeared, but the main thing is he does show the current social distancing, and meals service for breakfast, lunch and dinner...
Empire Builder July 2020 trip...
 

mlanoue

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 30, 2003
Messages
78
Location
Joliet, Illinois
I received a post card in the mail from this company the other day and took a look.

Freshly - Plans & Menu

Haven't tried them yet, but it seems like if their meals are any good, then there could be hope for decent meals without a chef on trains. These are pre-cooked and, upon first glance, seem a bit healthier than Flexible dining. (I haven't had flexible dining yet, but it seems like even those who think it's okay agree there is room for improvement).
 

Nick Farr

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Dec 25, 2019
Messages
264
Location
Michigan
Fruits can be individually packaged as can fresh fruit cocktail. Everything today is blamed on Covid.
Worst case, these have a less than 24 hour shelf life, which means they couldn't be used on Western Trains.

It is possible to create options to extend that, but the cost is high and their supplier is geared to provide crates of frozen meals with an indefinite shelf life and side salads that have maybe a week-long shelf life and are frost resistant.
 

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,544
Location
Texas
If Amtrak is blaming lack of fruit on Covid safety I'd like to see what information they're basing that claim upon.
Mostly supply issues combined with a lack of proper facilities to sanitize/serve it on board as part of meal presentation.
What supply issues? I was still able to purchase fresh fruit back when the meat aisles were empty, when the pantry goods were ransacked, and our humble TP was MIA. Many fruits can be peeled rather than washed (bananas, oranges, grapefruit, tangelos, kiwis, etc.) while others can be cleaned and bagged for easy packing and serving (apples, peaches, plums, cherries, grapes, etc). Presentation can be as simple as placing fruit into a bowl next to tongs and gloves.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,720
Worst case, these have a less than 24 hour shelf life, which means they couldn't be used on Western Trains.

It is possible to create options to extend that, but the cost is high and their supplier is geared to provide crates of frozen meals with an indefinite shelf life and side salads that have maybe a week-long shelf life and are frost resistant.
Long distance trains have had fresh fruit available for decades. I’m not sure why you think spinach and apples and other fresh produce magically has a 1 day shelf life when you place it on a train.
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
1,563
Location
Toronto area
I came across a recent youtube video, made in July under the Covid-19 situation, of an Empire Builder trip from Chicago to Glacier Park.
The guy mentions a few small things that are not quite right, such as sleepers having coffee available 24/7 before the virus appeared, but the main thing is he does show the current social distancing, and meals service for breakfast, lunch and dinner...
Empire Builder July 2020 trip...
That's Jeb Brooks - who many frequent fliers are quite familiar with. I found his report to be fairly objective and almost flattering to Amtrak in the current situation.
 
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