Flexible dining - Requesting a review from a recent rider

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dogbert617

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According to the staff, the full eight item menu is on all western trains as of July 1.
Didn't realize the flex dining menu was revised a little bit, as of July 1st. Btw I really do greatly appreciate your reviews, on the flex dining food items you've tried. Since it gives me an idea of what to expect for food, if I were to pull the trigger and do an Amtrak sleeper trip to somewhere between now and October 1st. Sadly with the quality of flex menu food being worser vs. the old dining car menu, it makes me more likely I'd brave coach for trips that aren't too far away. Which in my case, would be trips under 24 hours away. And that in the past, it'd be a slam dunk to upgrade to a sleeper, for those past decent dining car meals. I wish that'd come back. And while I cross my fingers it(old dining car menu, till early 2020) eventually comes back, I worry it won't.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Dester is a brand of the same company that owns Gate Gourmet
It kinda makes sense honestly. Other than being double-portioned these entrees look very similar to something you'd find on a long haul coach flight. Perhaps the severe reduction in intercontinental passenger travel got Amtrak a good deal on repurposed airline meals.
 
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Exvalley

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Does Dester provide the food, or just the containers, trays, and supplies?

From their website: deSter is a leading provider of innovative food packaging and service ware concepts for the aviation, hospitality and food service industry.

This website shows that Amtrak was the purchaser of deSter packaging products:

My hunch is that deSter provides the plastic trays, among other things. The Amtrak tray looks vaguely similar to the plastic tray sample shown on their website: gategroup
 

Nick Farr

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Dec 25, 2019
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That’s exactly how the contemporary dining is supposed to work. On paper that is.
On the 5 out west, the LSA was taking orders and delivering meals. They had their dining car tables clearly marked and set the expectation that in-room dining was the way to go. They also limited their announcements.

On the 6 back, it seems like LSA wanted it like old times, making almost as many announcements as the lounge car attendant.

I always used to eat in the dining car, but I'd rather limit exposure right now.
 

Nick Farr

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Dec 25, 2019
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Sadly with the quality of flex menu food being worser vs. the old dining car menu, it makes me more likely I'd brave coach for trips that aren't too far away.
I'd actually caution against that. Whereas mask compliance is basically 100% in the sleeper area and everyone is friendly, the few times I've gone to the lounge car for coffee have been unpleasant. People openly cussing in the observation car, being surly with the conductors, it was a totally different experience of what I'm used to. Just FYI, Amtrak is picking up Greyhound passengers between certain areas where Greyhound has suspended service.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Thanks for answering which Amtrak train, you were referring to there. I also was trying to ask between which 2 cities Delta flies to, were you talking about in your earlier post?
Delta flies to many cities from New York. Is there a reason you are wanting to know my specific travel history?
 

crescent-zephyr

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I always used to eat in the dining car, but I'd rather limit exposure right now.
Oh same here. I may have been unclear - I meant the SCA’s are supposed to deliver the food to your room, not the dining car staff. That’s how the contemporary dining was supposed to work when it was introduced.

It sounds like your previous lsa was going above and beyond to make things easy on the sca’s and the best and safest for the passengers.

One of the best things about the old viewliners falling apart is how the PA system doesn’t work... I can’t stand the constant announcements from LSA’s
 

Nick Farr

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One of the best things about the old viewliners falling apart is how the PA system doesn’t work... I can’t stand the constant announcements from LSA’s
On some Superliners, there's a dial and a volume control. I think if you switch it off to anything but channel 1, you'll skip the announcements.

On the new touch controls, that's disabled.
 

pennyk

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Presumably the bring it from home crowd will chime in at some point but consider how silly this is becoming. Where I live you can't purchase single-use dressing packets in personal use quantities. You can buy a single bottle with fifty uses but who wants to carry something that can leak and ruin everything in your suitcase? Not to mention you probably want to keep it chilled after opening to avoid problems.
Because of food allergies, I cannot consume prepackaged salad dressing. I order individual packets of organic olive oil and organic balsamic vinegar from Amazon (or other on-line vendors) and have been carrying them with me for years. I put the packets in a plastic bag (just in case of leakage) and carry them in my purse or backpack.
 

PVD

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Very readily available by mail order in bulk packs 60 or 100 depending on brand/size, but I've never seen them in a store for individual sale in a less commercial quantity. When things were different, I used to pick up large salads at an Italian deli/provisions store, they had the Ken's packs in a basket, you picked any 2. If you split the salad with someone else, you used 1 and had an extra. If you didn't finish the salad, it would be hard to save the opened pack unless you were home.
 

Nick Farr

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It sounds like your previous lsa was going above and beyond to make things easy on the sca’s and the best and safest for the passengers.
The previous LSA seemed like they were actually following a new policy. The LSA on this train seems to be making it up as she goes along. The trip started with her coming to take orders (like they used to give reservations) and now she's calling people to the dining car by room numbers.
 

Nick Farr

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IMG_20200708_123249.jpg

Here's the Pasta & Meatballs, "Penne Pasta with Tomato Sauce, meatballs, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses."

This one was the most true to form of all of them, a close second for me to the Creole Shrimp (which is to be avoided if you don't like spicy).

The pasta was maybe a little mushier than I would have liked, but the meatballs were shockingly good. The tomato sauce had a very nice flavor to it. Definitely one of the highlights, even though I'm not a pasta and meatballs fan.

The only dish I was not able to review was the Chicken Fettuccini.
 

crescent-zephyr

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The previous LSA seemed like they were actually following a new policy. The LSA on this train seems to be making it up as she goes along. The trip started with her coming to take orders (like they used to give reservations) and now she's calling people to the dining car by room numbers.
And your sca? Missing in action? Doesn’t want to be bothered?
 

Nick Farr

Train Attendant
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Dec 25, 2019
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And your sca? Missing in action? Doesn’t want to be bothered?
No, the SCAs in both directions were good and visible. I just have a thing against using a call button and a thing against consistency.

When the LSA stopped coming by, I started placing orders through the SCA.
 

crescent-zephyr

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No, the SCAs in both directions were good and visible. I just have a thing against using a call button and a thing against consistency.

When the LSA stopped coming by, I started placing orders through the SCA.
Oh good. I’m glad the sca is taking care of you. Have you seen Dennis Burns on either trip? One of my favorite SCA’s from the Zephyr.
 

Exvalley

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View attachment 17970

Also, just to provide more info/detail, here's the underside of the dish.
Your photo adds to my theory that deSter is providing packaging and not food. First of all, deSter is a packaging company and not a food company.

Second, there is this quote from a September, 2019 article:
Amtrak owns its regional commissaries located in or near train depots. Presently these are outsourced and operated by Aramark (of Philadelphia). However, Amtrak is currently tendering for the future. Other entities operate out of local kitchens and Acela First are currently sub-contracted to an airline kitchen.
Source: Blog - Onboard Hospitality

Third, you have this entry from a March, 2020 Amtrak service standards manual:
Aramark: Name of the current catering vendor who provides food, beverages and supplies to Amtrak’s trains.
Source: https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/corporate/foia/amtrak-service-standards-manual-030920-redacted.pdf
 

TheCrescent

Train Attendant
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Jun 24, 2020
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South Carolina to NYC is $389 each way on the Crescent and so it’s pretty steep considering the ratty room and cruddy on-board experience. But it’s virus-free so I do it.
 

Nick Farr

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Dec 25, 2019
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Oh good. I’m glad the sca is taking care of you. Have you seen Dennis Burns on either trip? One of my favorite SCA’s from the Zephyr.
How would I recognize them? I've only seen my own SCA both ways, whereas before they would tend to congregate in the dining car.
 

PVD

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They often introduce themselves (first name) and leave a business card with their name for you to send comments.
 

Nick Farr

Train Attendant
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Dec 25, 2019
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They often introduce themselves (first name) and leave a business card with their name for you to send comments.
I have *never* seen the business card, though they do come by to introduce themselves and then disappear. I had one SCA who went to great lengths to decorate her car, that was when the consist had four sleepers in it IIRC.

Haven't met a Dennis yet though.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Because of food allergies, I cannot consume prepackaged salad dressing. I order individual packets of organic olive oil and organic balsamic vinegar from Amazon (or other on-line vendors) and have been carrying them with me for years. I put the packets in a plastic bag (just in case of leakage) and carry them in my purse or backpack.
I don't intend to dissuade people who want to bring their own items for health, convenience, or preference. Everyone has their own needs and your decision to bring something should be your own. My only disagreement is with how bringing items from home is sometimes used as a catch-all solution for nearly any loss or lapse in Amtrak service standards. I don't have any (known) food allergies so if I ordered a box of single use dressing packets they would likely degrade and deteriorate before I could use most of them for the intended purpose. The vast majority of my trips involve at least one flight and when I've put condiment packets in my luggage they sometimes end up in a bad state. When a small ketchup or hot sauce packet opens inside a Ziploc bag it can generally be contained with a folded paper towel but I wouldn't trust this setup to hold a couple salad's worth of vinegar and olive oil.
 
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