Quantcast

Inconsistent Service: A bigger problem than the food?

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
7,821
Location
Ithaca, NY
The problem is a combination of bad top management and management churn. It's impossible to engage in any form of supervision of workers when top management repeatedly disappears and is replaced with new top management who abandons all the initiatives of the previous top management. There was an Amtrak initiative to "raise the floor" of service quality by careful evaluations and retraining (with occasional firing) and... in a management change, the initiative was abandoned mid-stream. So.

There are other ways this has damaged Amtrak. The Performance Improvement Plans required by Congress should have been implemented, and should STILL be implemented, but some management change brought in an idiot manager who just abandoned them. The current top management hasn't even heard of them.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,167
Location
Baltimore. MD
You wanna solve customer service problems everywhere? Dissolve the unions and make wages and bonuses service dependent.

Assuming thats not possible - and it isn't with a government corporation like Amtrak - start hiring for attitude. Just like Southwest Air used to. Hire people excited about working on the railroad. Hire rail fans. Hire people people. Hire for attitude, train for competency.
I hate to have to say this, but (1) Southwest Airlines is unionized, and (2) back in the "good old days" of high-class streamliner service, all of those service workers were unionized. Google "Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters," and "A. Phillip Randolph." The problem is with management, not the unions.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,167
Location
Baltimore. MD
I hate to have to say this, but (1) Southwest Airlines is unionized, and (2) back in the "good old days" of high-class streamliner service, all of those service workers were unionized. Google "Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters," and "A. Phillip Randolph." The problem is with management, not the unions.
Come to think of it, the worst service I've ever had in transportation was when flying Continental in the Frank Lorenzo era, when he totally busted the unions.
 
Joined
Oct 6, 2012
Messages
8
I hate to have to say this, but (1) Southwest Airlines is unionized, and (2) back in the "good old days" of high-class streamliner service, all of those service workers were unionized. Google "Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters," and "A. Phillip Randolph." The problem is with management, not the unions.
management is not in the train cars not providing the service. The employees know what the service standards are, and for the most part, are not providing it. And everyone is literally hiding behind COVID - why can't I get free coffee in the dining car? Hand out a cup - let me bring my cup - its not that hard to figure out a way to make that work.

If the SCA;s know what their service standards are- and they continue to be employed - then its their job. The cream of the crop of service is provided when NO ONE is looking - when your managers are not looking over your shoulder yet you provide SERVICE without being forced to do it. It's not that hard to hire for attitude. And yes - I know Southwest is union, which would make perfect sense from my SECOND entire sentence read as a whole.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,167
Location
Baltimore. MD
management is not in the train cars not providing the service. The employees know what the service standards are, and for the most part, are not providing it. And everyone is literally hiding behind COVID - why can't I get free coffee in the dining car? Hand out a cup - let me bring my cup - its not that hard to figure out a way to make that work.

If the SCA;s know what their service standards are- and they continue to be employed - then its their job. The cream of the crop of service is provided when NO ONE is looking - when your managers are not looking over your shoulder yet you provide SERVICE without being forced to do it. It's not that hard to hire for attitude. And yes - I know Southwest is union, which would make perfect sense from my SECOND entire sentence read as a whole.
Sorry, it's still management's job to write the service standards. And, by the way, it's not self-evident what appropriate service standard are. All I really want from a sleeping car attendant is that they put down my bed in the evening and make it up in the morning. I don't need to have them at my beck and call. After all, they are not my personal servants.
It's management that decides to understaff and cut back on amenities, not the workers. If an SCA has responsibility for twice as many rooms as they did before, it's going to take them longer to make up the rooms and the service standards are going to deteriorate. That's a management decision. If they cut amenities to "save money" whether using the excuse of COVID or not, that's a management decision. And I don't care how much a of "people person" a worker is, if he or she is being stressed out by job conditions, it's going to reflect on how they treat the customers. And anyone who claims that they can interview potential job applicants and really understand their personalities is a charlatan. That's why most good jobs are filled on the basis of personal recommendations by someone the person doing the hiring trusts.

The only solution is for management to realize that there is a minimum staffing level that is necessary to provide adequate service standards. That includes some padding to account for unexpected events, like people getting sick, and so forth. On the other hand, many business have appeared to have done quite well by cutting costs and diminishing service standards. It seems that maybe most customers don't care any more. Well, the world changes, and we might as well get used to it.
 

jruff001

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
98
Sorry, it's still management's job to write the service standards. And, by the way, it's not self-evident what appropriate service standard are.
I'm pretty sure I have seen a link here to the OBS manual, which I believe contains the service standards. At least it seemed like a pretty thorough document. Maybe someone can re-post it.
 

Dakota 400

Conductor
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
2,091
All I really want from a sleeping car attendant is that they put down my bed in the evening and make it up in the morning. I don't need to have them at my beck and call. After all, they are not my personal servants.
I would add to that SCA expectation is assistance with luggage.

I usually feel somewhat uneasy if I need to make a request to my SCA. I try to be an independent traveler and not being seen by a crew member as one who has service requests that are really not necessary.

It's management that decides to understaff and cut back on amenities, not the workers. If an SCA has responsibility for twice as many rooms as they did before, it's going to take them longer to make up the rooms and the service standards are going to deteriorate. That's a management decision. If they cut amenities to "save money" whether using the excuse of COVID or not, that's a management decision. And I don't care how much a of "people person" a worker is, if he or she is being stressed out by job conditions, it's going to reflect on how they treat the customers. And anyone who claims that they can interview potential job applicants and really understand their personalities is a charlatan. That's why most good jobs are filled on the basis of personal recommendations by someone the person doing the hiring trusts.
An excellent post! I have been involved in interviewing and helping to decide who to hire for job vacancies. It's a very difficult job. Some who interview satisfactorily and have stellar recommendations from "someone the person doing the hiring trusts" don't turn out well. One person who had "did the best job I have ever seen by someone in her position" recommendation was hired in August and was gone in January.

One has to look at "stellar recommendations" by whomever with a questioning attitude. If this person is "so great", then why are they leaving? Why aren't you making an attempt to keep them? In hiring people, one has to have the ability to try to "read between the lines" of recommendations.
 
Joined
Oct 6, 2012
Messages
8
With 48 hours on a train, good service can't make up for really lousy food unfortunately.
You know, its 2020 - you'd think they could develop an app that delivers food to the trains at the longer stops. I'd skip the provided salt and carb fest to get a good meal meeting the train from a local place - imagine - Mexican food in Albuquerque. Steak or pub grub in Denver. Seafood in Emeryville or Oakland. A good salad in Salinas. Then give me my free drink/beer/wine and some dessert and off I go.

Grub hub and the usual meal delivery services could make something like that work - and Amtrak gives you a $5 credit or something for not taking the onboard meal. Wouldn't be that hard to coordinate =- just would take you ordering an hour in advance of arrival or meal time -
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,818
Location
NYC/Queens
It would be very difficult to verify that a widespread network of independent restaurants and delivery services would be in compliance with both the local regulations they are usually doing business under, and the more rigid FDA standards that Amtrak must comply with. It might be better from a passenger standpoint, but it would be a nightmare for risk management and compliance staff. And the idea that local restaurants are serving food not loaded with salt and carbs, while noble, is probably not valid. Local restaurant groups are usually the first to oppose regulations requiring increased nutrition information, especially sodium content. Look how long it took just to get mandated allergen. Getting reliable ingredient information, which is important to many people, is difficult with local operations. But none of that is an excuse for not doing a better job under the current system. It certainly can (and is in some places) able to be done.
 

jruff001

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
98
You know, its 2020 - you'd think they could develop an app that delivers food to the trains at the longer stops. I'd skip the provided salt and carb fest to get a good meal meeting the train from a local place - imagine - Mexican food in Albuquerque. Steak or pub grub in Denver. Seafood in Emeryville or Oakland. A good salad in Salinas. Then give me my free drink/beer/wine and some dessert and off I go.

Grub hub and the usual meal delivery services could make something like that work[.]
Can't you already do that? Just get on Grubhub yourself with your phone an hour before the station stop where you want food, see what is on offer in that town, and put in an order to deliver to the station for when the train arrives.
 

Barb Stout

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
485
It would be very difficult to verify that a widespread network of independent restaurants and delivery services would be in compliance with both the local regulations they are usually doing business under, and the more rigid FDA standards that Amtrak must comply with. It might be better from a passenger standpoint, but it would be a nightmare for risk management and compliance staff. And the idea that local restaurants are serving food not loaded with salt and carbs, while noble, is probably not valid. Local restaurant groups are usually the first to oppose regulations requiring increased nutrition information, especially sodium content. Look how long it took just to get mandated allergen. Getting reliable ingredient information, which is important to many people, is difficult with local operations. But none of that is an excuse for not doing a better job under the current system. It certainly can (and is in some places) able to be done.
Not to mention "an hour out" from certain stops, like ABQ, there may not be good enough cell phone service to provide Internet services for using such services like GrubHub.
 

Barb Stout

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
485
Can't you already do that? Just get on Grubhub yourself with your phone an hour before the station stop where you want food, see what is on offer in that town, and put in an order to deliver to the station for when the train arrives.
You can't count on adequate cell phone bars for Internet service in certain places.
 
Joined
Oct 6, 2012
Messages
8
It would be very difficult to verify that a widespread network of independent restaurants and delivery services would be in compliance with both the local regulations they are usually doing business under, and the more rigid FDA standards that Amtrak must comply with. It might be better from a passenger standpoint, but it would be a nightmare for risk management and compliance staff. And the idea that local restaurants are serving food not loaded with salt and carbs, while noble, is probably not valid. Local restaurant groups are usually the first to oppose regulations requiring increased nutrition information, especially sodium content. Look how long it took just to get mandated allergen. Getting reliable ingredient information, which is important to many people, is difficult with local operations. But none of that is an excuse for not doing a better job under the current system. It certainly can (and is in some places) able to be done.
Amtrak is not providing the food - so they don't have to comply with the 'stricter FDA' standards. So lets stick our heads in the sand and ignore other options because someone had an idea you didn't.

Amtrak runs trains through these places every single day - the attendants and staff know where cell service stops and starts.

This is a typical internet forum - find fault with any comment and render it impossible. And then nit pick through the entire comment to prevent useful discourse.

Look - You're the one who said the food was totally unpalatable - and I provided an option - so its not 'an hour' its 90 min - make your order or eat whats on the train.

This could EASILY happen. EASILY - with restaurants that are willing to be flexible on schedule given the vagaries of the rail system.

Oh but no we can't! Don't have cell bars, or can't tell when you may arrive, or a thousand different reasons why it CAN'T WORK!

If people want it to - it will. It's that simple.

We're gonna be on the CZ late in October. I'm gonna try it at the bigger stations and see what happens.
 

tricia

Conductor
Joined
Aug 23, 2011
Messages
1,111
Location
Spring Creek, NC
Amtrak is not providing the food - so they don't have to comply with the 'stricter FDA' standards. So lets stick our heads in the sand and ignore other options because someone had an idea you didn't.

Amtrak runs trains through these places every single day - the attendants and staff know where cell service stops and starts.

This is a typical internet forum - find fault with any comment and render it impossible. And then nit pick through the entire comment to prevent useful discourse.

Look - You're the one who said the food was totally unpalatable - and I provided an option - so its not 'an hour' its 90 min - make your order or eat whats on the train.

This could EASILY happen. EASILY - with restaurants that are willing to be flexible on schedule given the vagaries of the rail system.

Oh but no we can't! Don't have cell bars, or can't tell when you may arrive, or a thousand different reasons why it CAN'T WORK!

If people want it to - it will. It's that simple.

We're gonna be on the CZ late in October. I'm gonna try it at the bigger stations and see what happens.
Um, this is your 6th post to this forum. It might ought to occur to you that when you make suggestions, other folks here might have already been there, done that, found it unworkable--and perhaps already discussed it.

This forum is pretty consistently polite to newbies posting things that have already been extensively discussed here. You might consider returning that courtesy.

Good luck on the CZ in late October. I for one would like to see you post here about your experience. Since the Amtrak "experience" can be wildly inconsistent, it's helpful to read reports from many riders.
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,818
Location
NYC/Queens
You mentioned Amtrak giving credit for the unused meals, that implies their participation in the plan. If meals were eliminated, and you were on your own without any participation by Amtrak, real or perceived, that would be a different story. I never said it wouldn't work, I pointed out that it would be unwieldly if Amtrak itself were in any way involved. Plenty of people order food for delivery to the train. But they are on their own if the train gains or loses time enroute, it is unlikely a delivery service will want to wait a half an hour for the slow freight to clear so your train can make the station track. Time is money to them. There isn't anything standing in the way of someone doing this using an app, if cell service and restaurants are available where you are (or will be) But there isn't any reason why this should be necessary, onboard meal service can be much better. Restaurant participation in app based services can be tough on the business, the app services take increasingly large bites of the revenue, to the point that some jurisdictions have started to impose caps on the percentages allowed. The restaurants are often caught in a squeeze because the services provide an increasing share of their business, but profitabilty is squeezed. As a customer, if the restaurant adds a delivery charge or raises prices, the reasonable meal can all of a sudden seem overpriced like the onboard pricing was.
 
Last edited:

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,167
Location
Baltimore. MD
I'd skip the provided salt and carb fest to get a good meal meeting the train from a local place - imagine - Mexican food in Albuquerque. Steak or pub grub in Denver. Seafood in Emeryville or Oakland. A good salad in Salinas.
You do realize that almost every place you go to eat out, you get a "salt and carb fest?" This is true even when the food is of better quality than the flex meals. Yes, there are some exceptions, but you have to look carefully for them.
 

JoeBas

Conductor
Joined
Dec 30, 2011
Messages
1,098
Grub hub and the usual meal delivery services could make something like that work - and Amtrak gives you a $5 credit or something for not taking the onboard meal. Wouldn't be that hard to coordinate =- just would take you ordering an hour in advance of arrival or meal time -
My experience with GrubHub/UberEats/Waitr/DoorDash (yes, all 4, so it's not one and done) is:

a) About a 50% success rate in actually getting what I ordered, which can't be fixed during a station stop
b) About a 25% success rate in actually getting delivery within a 3-minute-either-way window of their "Expected delivery", which is the length of a typical station stop.

I guess if the delivery fails, you just eat the cost of the wrong/late/missing food, get a little hungrier, and try to order again at the next station.... but hey, at least you're helping giggers.
 
Joined
Oct 6, 2012
Messages
8
My experience with GrubHub/UberEats/Waitr/DoorDash (yes, all 4, so it's not one and done) is:

a) About a 50% success rate in actually getting what I ordered, which can't be fixed during a station stop
b) About a 25% success rate in actually getting delivery within a 3-minute-either-way window of their "Expected delivery", which is the length of a typical station stop.

I guess if the delivery fails, you just eat the cost of the wrong/late/missing food, get a little hungrier, and try to order again at the next station.... but hey, at least you're helping giggers.
You still have your train meal!
 

Qapla

Conductor
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
1,220
Location
Gator Country Florida
Not specially about the food - more about ....

I was looking out the window about 15 stories up. I was told the view was spectacular. Well, it was - sort of. Part of my view was blocked by some building. Seems a few streets over there was a 45 story building right in my line of sight. To the left of it was a 60 story building. On the other side was a 30 story building.

Since I was only 15 storied up, my view was totally blocked! It didn't really matter that the building on the right was only 30 stories - it blocked my view just as much as both the other buildings.

... OK - what does this have to do with this thread? Well, it actually has to do with the entire thread since the title of the thread is "Inconsistent Service: A bigger problem than the food?" Food, on-time performance, inconsistent service, pricing, 3x week service are all problems and, like those buildings, they are ALL problems ... does it matter which one(s) we think are "bigger"?
 
Joined
Oct 6, 2012
Messages
8
You mentioned Amtrak giving credit for the unused meals, that implies their participation in the plan. If meals were eliminated, and you were on your own without any participation by Amtrak, real or perceived, that would be a different story. I never said it wouldn't work, I pointed out that it would be unwieldly if Amtrak itself were in any way involved. Plenty of people order food for delivery to the train. But they are on their own if the train gains or loses time enroute, it is unlikely a delivery service will want to wait a half an hour for the slow freight to clear so your train can make the station track. Time is money to them. There isn't anything standing in the way of someone doing this using an app, if cell service and restaurants are available where you are (or will be) But there isn't any reason why this should be necessary, onboard meal service can be much better. Restaurant participation in app based services can be tough on the business, the app services take increasingly large bites of the revenue, to the point that some jurisdictions have started to impose caps on the percentages allowed. The restaurants are often caught in a squeeze because the services provide an increasing share of their business, but profitabilty is squeezed. As a customer, if the restaurant adds a delivery charge or raises prices, the reasonable meal can all of a sudden seem overpriced like the onboard pricing was.
A 'meal credit' is just that - you don't get an Amtrak meal. Amtrak is NOT PROVIDING the meal - thus they are NOT responsible for it.

They do ask you cabin number when you arrive in the dining car - they just look it up and say: you opted for the meal credit.

You know, Fred Smith was told by everyone that overnight delivery would never work and people invented a million strawman scenarios when things would never work - yet he managed to make it work. I'm sure every railroad and airline founder was told it would never work. If people only listened to naysayers we'd still be living in caves and no one would have invented beer which spurred the agricultural revolution and created civilization.

And this is not my first internet forum. So being a newbie for me isn't a rik. It doesn't sound like anyone else has had this idea - just that many people have found reasons why it would never work. Thats completely different from someone saying - hey, we tried this in Minot or Cleveland and it did not work for the following reasons -

COVID has really changed the app order food system - its much more accepted and much bigger than it used to be - and less of a niche market for local restaurants. But - whatever - it won't work - the forum regulars have decreed. I'll stop -
 

PVD

Conductor
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,818
Location
NYC/Queens
I don't think anyone said it can't work. I do think people (including myself) tried to point out that there may be a devil in the details. The idea of severing meals from accommodation charges has certainly been explored and discussed before. I order delivery all the time, but have the advantage of living in an area with plenty of restaurants. But I avoid the apps, because they add nothing that benefits me, and take a piece of the pie that would otherwise go to the restaurant. In my area (certainly not true everywhere) they add costs and add little benefit to the consumer.
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
7,821
Location
Ithaca, NY
You know, its 2020 - you'd think they could develop an app that delivers food to the trains at the longer stops. I'd skip the provided salt and carb fest to get a good meal meeting the train from a local place - imagine - Mexican food in Albuquerque. Steak or pub grub in Denver. Seafood in Emeryville or Oakland. A good salad in Salinas. Then give me my free drink/beer/wine and some dessert and off I go.
It would work fine if the trains ran on time. Back to the sabotaging by criminal freight railroad hosts.
 

me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,267
I'm pretty sure I have seen a link here to the OBS manual, which I believe contains the service standards. At least it seemed like a pretty thorough document. Maybe someone can re-post it.
I don't think it's a matter of writing the standards (and as you pointed out, that has been done) but ENFORCING them. The only way to enforce them is to know if they are being followed or not. That means management on the trains either full time or randomly. But management doesn't ride the LD trains. Standards manuals in Amtrak are a joke. Employees can follow them or not with no oversight and no consequences. Without the first, nobody knows what is happening and the second is meaningless.
 
Top