How do feel about riding "Coach" ?

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Dakota 400

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Plus dining is fun! You never know who will be sat opposite you
That is what makes traveling on Amtrak enjoyable for me. Surprisingly, I met a member of this Forum after we were seated for Breakfast on the Silver Meteor soon after departing Fort Lauderdale. Departing Washington and sharing a table for dinner on the Silver Meteor with a single dad and his 2 young sons, their first train trip, on their way to Disney World, that was another pleasant memory. The boys were so excited since they had also just boarded the train at WAS.
 

Devil's Advocate

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I’ve paid more for worse quality breakfasts at hotels that’s for sure. The quality is inconsistent on Amtrak, but the majority of breakfasts have been very good. Including the croissant and potatoes.
What kind of top dollar hotel restaurants are you visiting that can't flip an egg to order, fry a potato, or make a fresh pot of drip coffee? Even a lowly Denny's restaurant can do that. If Amtrak meals were as good as people claim they would be able to articulate what they found so impressive instead of resorting to vague complements that say nothing about the food itself.

Even dinner isn’t anything outrageous. $25 for a steak and a baked potato. $18.50 for a grilled chicken. That’s on par with a basic hotel restaurant like Hilton garden inn.
Charging $25 for a cut people order by name isn't bad, but stringy flat-iron chuck served on plastic with a potato isn't worth that.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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What kind of top dollar hotel restaurants are you visiting that can't flip an egg to order, fry a potato, or make a fresh pot of drip coffee?
Doubletree, Hilton, etc. yes they can cook eggs to order but the potatoes are the same type of pre-made breakfast potatoes Amtrak serves. I doubt any Hilton croissant is any fresher.*

I’ve seen my eggs cooked to order on heritage diners as well, but I can’t say that always happens of course.

*edit to add I do remember a doubletree that had “house baked pastries” so I correct myself on that.
 
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ScouseAndy

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As a foreigner I actually prefer coach. For me big part of travelling is about meeting and learning from locals, this is a lot easier in coach. That said last time I didnt a 15 day trip I splurged for 2 nights roomette for the experience.
 

caravanman

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I enjoy coach for the same reason as Andy, but if I can afford a roomette I won't say no.
Maybe the cost of all meals in the diner is not as silly as I said, breakfast is the most reasonable at $8.50, plus a coffee and tip, taking it to $13 if one includes a $2 tip.
I was mostly responding to the post above mine, post 109, where the poster rides in coach for economy, but takes 3 meals a day in the dining car.
I travel in coach nowadays for reasons of economy too, and say my coach fare from Chicago to Sacramento is $136 for a "value ticket", I would find it painful to then pay over $100 to partake of the cheapest dining car meals over that trip. I have eaten dozens of meals in the dining cars, so I am quite familiar with the "quality" of them. ;)
 

MARC Rider

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$8.50 for a breakfast plate isn't that bad. I spend $6 on a breakfast burrito on a fairly regular basis. Even fast food quality food can cost up to $10 for a meal and some Amtrak food isn't that much better than a Jack in the Box breakfast bowl.
Yeah, $8.50 isn't bad if your'e having a waiter bring you the food and you can eat there at a table. It should be pointed out that in food service, most of what you're paying for is not the actual food, but rather the labor needed to cook it and serve it, the cost of real estate, etc. That's why the same meal in Manhattan costs a lot more than it does in a small town in the heartland.

I think my breakfast tabs at that nice deli in right next to Dallas Union Station were around $10, or maybe a bit more, especially if you included tax and tip.
 

MARC Rider

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Yeah, $8.50 isn't bad if your'e having a waiter bring you the food and you can eat there at a table. It should be pointed out that in food service, most of what you're paying for is not the actual food, but rather the labor needed to cook it and serve it, the cost of real estate, etc. That's why the same meal in Manhattan costs a lot more than it does in a small town in the heartland.

I think my breakfast tabs at that nice deli in right next to Dallas Union Station were around $10, or maybe a bit more, especially if you included tax and tip.
Actually, come to think of it, they were in excess of $15, because I ordered the fruit cup, which was an additional $5, but highly recommended for health reasons.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Doubletree, Hilton, etc. yes they can cook eggs to order but the potatoes are the same type of pre-made breakfast potatoes Amtrak serves. I doubt any Hilton croissant is any fresher.
I think this says as much about the deterioration of Hilton as it does about the value of Amchow. I can count my visits to Doubletrees on one hand but I'm rather familiar with Hilton Garden Inns and it's true the food is not so great. That being said their coffee is acceptable, the food arrives hot, and you can make special requests. That counts for a lot in my book.

I’ve seen my eggs cooked to order on heritage diners as well, but I can’t say that always happens of course. *edit to add I do remember a doubletree that had “house baked pastries” so I correct myself on that.
It's not possible for me to see what's happening on the Superliner Diners I ride but the taste and quality reminds me of generic cafeteria food more than even a basic sit down restaurant. Maybe it seems like I'm too picky or my standards are too high but I still find McDonald's breakfasts to be twice as good at half the price. Did you ever try ordering a fried egg in a heritage diner?
 

Bob Dylan

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I think this says as much about the deterioration of Hilton as it does about the value of Amchow. I can count my visits to Doubletrees on one hand but I'm rather familiar with Hilton Garden Inns and it's true the food is not so great. That being said their coffee is acceptable, the food arrives hot, and you can make special requests. That counts for a lot in my book.


It's not possible for me to see what's happening on the Superliner Diners I ride but the taste and quality reminds me of generic cafeteria food more than even a basic sit down restaurant. Maybe it seems like I'm too picky or my standards are too high but I still find McDonald's breakfasts to be twice as good at half the price. Did you ever try ordering a fried egg in a heritage diner?
I ate many Breakfasts in the Heritage Diners.

I especially remember ordering my Eggs to taste( Sunny Side Up!), along with Virginia Ham,Grits and a Biscuit on the Southern Crescent as it rolled through Virginia watching the Sun come up on the way from Atlanta to Washington.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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Did you ever try ordering a fried egg in a heritage diner?
Actually yes. But it was a unique situation where I knew the server from previous trips. It was also a superliner diner not a heritage.

The problem with Amtrak is the consistency. I’ve had terrible food on Amtrak so I can’t argue with your personal experiences because the food you were served could have easily been as bad as you describe.
 

hlcteacher

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At a local small restaurant, a breakfast of 2 eggs, potatoes, and biscuit or toast (croissants would not be available at such an establishment) and coffee, would be about $8.50. That's quite reasonable, I think. Do I mind paying more having "Breakfast in the Diner"? If the food quality and service meet my expectations, I am willing to pay more just because of the experience of doing so.

Dining in the Diner is not something that is routine for me. I am willing to pay more for such a "special experience".
Nope, more like $4.99 here
 

crescent-zephyr

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That's a really good price if the food quality is good and the service acceptable to friendly.
It’s a small town local diner price. That price does exist, but nobody should expect prices like that when traveling. I would argue that Amtrak dining car prices are too low actually.... but then you get into the quality of service, quality of some entrees and inconsistency.

Ideally, the dining car kitchen should be making at-seat meals for Coach passengers. That increases dining car sales, improves service to Coach passengers and uses existing staff.
 

Dakota 400

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It’s a small town local diner price. That price does exist, but nobody should expect prices like that when traveling. I would argue that Amtrak dining car prices are too low actually.... but then you get into the quality of service, quality of some entrees and inconsistency.
The $4.99 price previously reported by a Member is quite a bargain for those patrons, but surely not any where close to what I expect to pay for a breakfast when I travel.

For a number of reasons last July, while visiting Denali Park and staying at a motel across from HAL's McKinley Lodge which was across the street from where I was, I chose to have a breakfast at that hotel. I expected a big bill; OK, but, not exceptional service; food quality being good. Our breakfast was delicious, well prepared and properly served, and very appropriately priced.
 

caravanman

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At the end of the day, it simply comes down to personal circumstances, outlook, and location. What seems expensive to me may well seem like a cheap bargain to someone else. No problem, same the world over.
Gosh, I would even pay $20 for an Amtrak hotdog everyday if the corona virus would only vanish and let me ride the trains again!
 

Eric in East County

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How much would Amtrak have to charge for a typical meal assuming that the goal was to operate the dining car on a break even basis or perhaps at a slight profit?

Eric & Pat
 

caravanman

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How much would Amtrak have to charge for a typical meal assuming that the goal was to operate the dining car on a break even basis or perhaps at a slight profit?
Eric & Pat
The problem with "breaking even" is that you have to decide what that means to you...
Should the price of a meal cover the costs of the ingredients, the cost of the heat to cook, and the cost of the staff wages, or should it also cover the cost of the wear and tear on the kitchen, the damages caused by breakages, and even the wear and tear on the seats, laundry of the table cloths and wear and tear on the dining car chassis and the rails? Sadly, the idea of cutting costs or breaking even is not that straightforward.
 

crescent-zephyr

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How much would Amtrak have to charge for a typical meal assuming that the goal was to operate the dining car on a break even basis or perhaps at a slight profit?

Eric & Pat
There’s not a simple answer. Which is the problem. There is the physical cost, and maintenance on the dining care itself, there is the staffing and taking car of said staff (hotels and transport at the terminal, roomette space on the train,) the cost of delivery, cost of food & supplies and food waste.

Now after all that it’s how you operate the car. Do you create an upscale restaurant that costs $50 for dinner? If you do you can take the staffing way down but you’re only going to be feeding a small amount of the guests.

Do you operate it like a counter service Panera bread. Order the food, someone brings it to you and that’s it? Again you can take the service levels down and save some money there.

And there are lots of other variables too.

Personally I would push the “at your seat” meals to the coach passengers, and offer all sleeping car passengers to use room service. This lowers the demand in the dining room and allows more meals to be served without hiring more staff. (The coach and sleeper attendants would be serving those meals).
 
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Qapla

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A place to start for setting a price is to use the typical basic restaurant premise - you take the "food cost" and triple it for the "sale cost"

So, if the ingredients to make the meal cost $5 - the least you should sell that meal for is $15 (selling it for more than $20 it a good way to lose sales). If you are not turning a profit at three times the actual food cost, you need to reexamine your business model and find out why.

This calculation works for brick & mortar stores as well as food trucks .... so, it should work for Amtrak.

Letting those in coach book meals in the dining car would help lower the overall operating cost per meal ... as with any restaurant, the more people you serve with the same staff, the less per meal it is costing you.
 

Eric in East County

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It is our understanding that, even back during the so called “golden age” of rail travel, the railroads made little or no profit from their dining cars.

Eric & Pat
 

caravanman

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It is our understanding that, even back during the so called “golden age” of rail travel, the railroads made little or no profit from their dining cars.
Eric & Pat
Once again, it is hard to say how to judge these things. If you are going to, say, have a train that is 100% occupied, every seat taken, when a dining car is on the consist, but it drops to 75% seat occupancy if there is no dining car, then although there is an "expense" of running the dinning car, that may make the overall train revenue more profitable.

A bit like the rest rooms, they cost money to have, they "don't make a profit" but the train would be pretty empty without them...
 

MARC Rider

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Personally I would push the “at your seat” meals to the coach passengers, and offer all sleeping car passengers to use room service. This lowers the demand in the dining room and allows more meals to be served without hiring more staff. (The coach and sleeper attendants would be serving those meals).
Given the cutbacks over the past years in the number of coach and sleeping car attendants, there might not be enough to do the job properly, at least on full trains. Also, can one roll and airline-style food cart between train cars?
 

MARC Rider

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A place to start for setting a price is to use the typical basic restaurant premise - you take the "food cost" and triple it for the "sale cost"

So, if the ingredients to make the meal cost $5 - the least you should sell that meal for is $15 (selling it for more than $20 it a good way to lose sales). If you are not turning a profit at three times the actual food cost, you need to reexamine your business model and find out why.

This calculation works for brick & mortar stores as well as food trucks .... so, it should work for Amtrak.

Letting those in coach book meals in the dining car would help lower the overall operating cost per meal ... as with any restaurant, the more people you serve with the same staff, the less per meal it is costing you.
I'm not sure how that sort of simplistic model can be universally applicable. That $5 worth of ingredients is going to have to be sold at vastly different prices, depending on the location, local prevailing pay for workers, cost of financing, etc. all of which are highly variable. For example, a deli in Manhattan is just going to be more expensive than the same deli food in, say, Charlotte, NC. That might explain why I paid $12 for a bagel with lox in Manhattan, but only $7.00 for the same type of bagel and lox in Charlotte (or Portland Maine.) If I made the sandwich myself, I would probably pay about $4-$5 for the food, but, of course, a restaurant can get the food wholesale.

And I think that a common argument here is that it's quite possible that the dining car service isn't losing the kind of money that is being claimed. If that's the case, then the real problem with Amtrak dining car service isn't the prices of the food, but rather the variety, the fact that shortages occur too frequently, and the fact that their throughput isn't large enough, so that people who might want to eat in the dining car can't. I suspect that with proper accounting, they could justify (through increased revenue) increasing staff to serve more people more efficiently, having the dining cars open (and thus able to make money) longer hours, separating meal charges from room fares, and all the other stuff that's been discussed here ad nauseum.
 
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