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Flexible dining - Requesting a review from a recent rider

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lordsigma

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I will say a staggering amount of waste is generated which I'm sure is even worse due to COVID and literally everything being disposable right now. None of what I'm saying should suggest that I wouldn't whole heartedly support a return to traditional dining after we get past COVID now that it seems that the Mica mandate has been defanged - including bringing it back on the eastern trains. I guess what I'm saying is I can live with it if I have to and I suspect there's probably others that can too - but I respect that not everyone feels that way.
 

AmtrakBlue

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I will say a staggering amount of waste is generated which I'm sure is even worse due to COVID and literally everything being disposable right now. None of what I'm saying should suggest that I wouldn't whole heartedly support a return to traditional dining after we get past COVID now that it seems that the Mica mandate has been defanged - including bringing it back on the eastern trains. I guess what I'm saying is I can live with it if I have to and I suspect there's probably others that can too - but I respect that not everyone feels that way.
I'm fine with it, though I did skip a meal or two on my recent trip (got a hot dog in the cafe for lunch one day). But I would have done that with the big full diner meals. Too much food for me.
 

lordsigma

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Ironically this was an upgrade over my last Star trip - last time it was the still the starvation and now it even has the viewliner 2 diner.
 

gwolfdog

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For myself, I couldn't care less about the food,as long as it's not C Rations like Ham and Lima Beans. I just want to get from point A to B, preferably with feet on the Ground in the safest Covid avoidance manner. Eatable food would be nice on just an Overnight, but It is what it is. 😷
 

crescent-zephyr

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Ironically this was an upgrade over my last Star trip - last time it was the still the starvation and now it even has the viewliner 2 diner.
I preferred the Star with cafe only. The food quality was the same, and I could pick from a larger selection of items.

Having the viewliner to Lounge in isn’t a bad thing though.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I'll soon be taking the CL, SS, SM, and CL, so I will have my first experience with Flexible Dining.
That’s where flexible dining really goes downhill. When I took the silver meteor by itself, sure flex will get me by until I get to philly and feast on the Acela lounge snack basket.

But multiple trains in a row? Ughh. To think I used to WANT to book circle trips so I would get multiple meals, wine tastings, etc.
 

lordsigma

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I preferred the Star with cafe only. The food quality was the same, and I could pick from a larger selection of items.

Having the viewliner to Lounge in isn’t a bad thing though.
You probably wouldn’t right now - the cafe cars have been stripped to bare bones with Covid. The menus on the NEC trains are embarrassing they still show everything but like half of the menu is blocked out with the sold out tags. And it’s not because they are sold out they seem to be only stocking the most frequently purchased items.
 

lordsigma

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You probably wouldn’t right now - the cafe cars have been stripped to bare bones with Covid. The menus on the NEC trains are embarrassing they still show everything but like half of the menu is blocked out with the sold out tags. And it’s not because they are sold out they seem to be only stocking the most frequently purchased items.
And what they are currently serving on Acela first right now makes flex dining look like gourmet. The only thing that gives me hope that traditional dining could return out west is that all of F&B has taken a hit system wide they aren’t just singling out the long distance trains.
 
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lordsigma

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We got very tired of the meals. They seriously need a lunch menu with sandwiches and a child’s menu.
I agree - even if they just offered some of the same burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and salads from the cafe car either with a cafe car voucher type deal or by stocking some of these items in the diner along with the flex dining meals - they already do it with the breakfast sandwich - it’s the exact same one sold in the cafe cars across the system.

They need to provide some type of mores sizeable meal for breakfast too even if it’s just for the longer duration trains.
 

Ferroequinologist

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Just to be clear, most of the pre-flex "traditional dining" meals (except the steaks, and maybe a couple of breakfast items) were not "cooked to order." Even back 10 years ago, when the food was a lot better, most of the entrees were pre-made. The big change (aside from the quality of the entrees, which could easily be rectified) is in the presentation of the meals. "Traditional dining" provided an illusion that you were being served "fresh cooked food," whatever that is. However, it did require a full dining car staff to heat, plate, and serve the food. Under the flex system, the meal is heated and served in the same platter, and thus, the passengers can be served by dining car staff of 1. (Maybe have the coach attendant help out if there are very high passenger loads.) That's where the costs savings come from.

It is entirely possible the the marketing people at Amtrak know what they're talking about regarding millennials, who may not value food presentation as much as previous generations, just as we boomers drifted away from the bourgeois formality of white tablecloth, fancy china and silver of our parents. (This is course is a generation, and there may be millenials who prefer traditional dining, as well as boomers who yearn for some bourgeois formality, but that stuff costs money, and there is a clear trend of most consumers opting for affordable prices over fancy presentation.) The growing success of fast casual restaurant concepts at the expense of sit-down "white tablecloth" establishments might be evidence that this is the case.

Maybe 30 years ago they were still cooking everything in the dining cars, but they haven't been doing that for a long time. I don't know the history, but they've been cutting back on staffing in the dining cars for quite a while. The "flex dining" is just the culmination of this process (*) -- now they don't even need waiters. Personally, I really don't care, except that I'd like the food quality to be better and the service to be fast, efficient and friendly -- no long waits for food and being able to sit in the diner-lounge and eat undisturbed by OBS staff who are frustrated boot-camp drill instructors. I don't even care if different trains have different procedures for serving food. These may be justified based on the circumstances of the trip. I'd just want OBS staff to make it clear what the procedures are.

(*) Well, maybe not. Perhaps the culmination of this process is vending machines. :( Or maybe even just a lounge car with a passenger-operated microwave oven for passenger-provided food, if they can get the applicable regulations changed. Or maybe platform-side vendors. )

Bourgeois formality? Is that in the Communist Manifesto?
 

crescent-zephyr

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I agree - even if they just offered some of the same burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and salads from the cafe car either with a cafe car voucher type deal or by stocking some of these items in the diner along with the flex dining meals - they already do it with the breakfast sandwich - it’s the exact same one sold in the cafe cars across the system.

They need to provide some type of mores sizeable meal for breakfast too even if it’s just for the longer duration trains.
Since you have to pre-order the meals, it seems you should be able to just pre-order anything from the cafe car if you would like. The lsa would just go and pull those items and prepare them for you instead of the flex meals.

Far from perfect, but it would be an improvement for me I know that.
 

Sidney

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Agree. I've been on a few three day trips over the past several months and I would have welcomed a choice. Why doesn't Amtrak give sleeper passengers a choice of stuff from the cafe car? A burger,pizza,a cup of noodles and a bagel would at least broaden the selections.
 

lordsigma

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Since you have to pre-order the meals, it seems you should be able to just pre-order anything from the cafe car if you would like. The lsa would just go and pull those items and prepare them for you instead of the flex meals.

Far from perfect, but it would be an improvement for me I know that.
Especially for lunch. I’m not sure on a long trip I could do 6 of those meals too much food.
 

Palmetto

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In another thread, it was reported that practically all items in the lounge car were sold out by Albuquerque, westbound. Scratch that idea, unless Amtrak is willing to stock the lounge car with larger quantities of items.
 

railiner

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In another thread, it was reported that practically all items in the lounge car were sold out by Albuquerque, westbound. Scratch that idea, unless Amtrak is willing to stock the lounge car with larger quantities of items.
If they are running out of items on a regular basis, that is really poor management. If there is insufficient storage space on the car, then they should open a 'mini-commissary' at a convenient location on the route...perhaps Albuquerque or La Junta...
 

lordsigma

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In another thread, it was reported that practically all items in the lounge car were sold out by Albuquerque, westbound. Scratch that idea, unless Amtrak is willing to stock the lounge car with larger quantities of items.
One solution to that would be to store a selection of the Cafe items in the diner along with the flex dining meals. They are already doing so with the breakfast sandwiches and some of the other breakfast items which are the same as the ones in the cafe. And that would leave plenty in the cafe car for the coach passengers available for purchase.
 

railiner

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I would think, at least Kansas City might have a mini commissary to replenish the Missouri River Runner trains...
When I worked at Denver, we set up a mini-commissary to replenish the Zephyr, Pioneer, and Desert Wind...
 

tgstubbs1

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I would think, at least Kansas City might have a mini commissary to replenish the Missouri River Runner trains...
When I worked at Denver, we set up a mini-commissary to replenish the Zephyr, Pioneer, and Desert Wind...
Sure, at least the train that starts the day in KCY would be stocked there.
 

lordsigma

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On my trip home on 92 I tried one additional flex dining option for lunch on the second day (the chicken Marsala) which I thought was also pretty decent. I’d say the shrimp is my favorite followed by the chicken and the pasta just a hair behind that - also acceptable. For dinner when I boarded in KIS I had the shrimp again. I have not yet tried the beef entree and as I said the enchiladas didn’t look appetizing, I felt the three Entrees I had were acceptable. The presentation could be better but that is what it is right now with Covid - disposable everything is the norm right now. My biggest complaint was the consistency of the sides that come with the entree. The only consistent item was that I got the brownie/blondie all meal times. Going south I got rolls for both lunch and dinner but no salad for lunch (I’m getting the impression that there is an unofficial thing that the salads only come with the dinner as they are loaded at Washington coming south. No rolls coming north - whether they ran out or just don’t have them in MIA I don’t know but things should be consistent (of course this is Amtrak.) Also the salads out of the Miami commissary are pathetic - barely anything to it. The ones out of Washington were still small but at least can get away with being acceptable. Same coming home - salad only for dinner.

On a side note my SCA coming north was one of the best I’ve ever had - absolutely outstanding.

As an aside once again - I like salt - for folks who can’t have a moderate to high salt content I Do understand their problem with the flex meals.
 
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