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Inconsistent Service: A bigger problem than the food?

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crescent-zephyr

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How did I suggest that?

I don't really have an opinion one way or the other.
Sorry... I guess I misunderstood. Have you ridden an amtrak sleeping car since the flex dining?

They can do it on Surfliners, Cascades and Downeaster. No reason it can't be done everywhere.
Agreed. The San Joaquin route is similar to the Surfliner but a slightly different menu I think. I had an excellent veggie burrito when riding from Sacramento once, better than several entrees I've had in traditional dining cars. Cascades is probably the best, but part of that was the classy lounge car of the Talgos... gone but not forgotten. :(
 

jiml

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I had an excellent soup and sandwich in Business Class on my last Cascades trip. They gave a voucher that covered part of the cost, but I recall the remainder was reasonable. It was the newest Talgo, so never saw the lounge.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I had an excellent soup and sandwich in Business Class on my last Cascades trip. They gave a voucher that covered part of the cost, but I recall the remainder was reasonable. It was the newest Talgo, so never saw the lounge.
I loved the old Talgo Lounges, the "Bistro" cars. Those cars and the heritage diners that had been rebuilt with a similar look (the ones with the starlight ceilings) were my favorite food service cars.
 

PVD

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Sure there is, the agencies that finance those trains are willing to accept losses in food service as part of increasing overall satisfaction, and improving financials by attracting more customers at a higher yield. Amtrak is not allowed to do that, food and beverage service has to stand on its own.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Sure there is, the agencies that finance those trains are willing to accept losses in food service as part of increasing overall satisfaction, and improving financials by attracting more customers at a higher yield. Amtrak is not allowed to do that, food and beverage service has to stand on its own.
Do you have a source that shows that the state supported trains lose more or less money on f&b vs. the National trains?

I can’t see how the numbers would be drastically different.
 

PVD

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No, but some agencies, such as the agency that runs the DownEaster discuss food service in their annual reports. They have very high customer satisfaction, but clearly lose money, despite the fact that it (the food service) is a contracted out and privately staffed not Amtrak run service. There is a difference in types of state supported routes, in that some are State owned, and Amtrak is a contractor, and those that Amtrak has an agreement where the State provides money to cover losses and has major input into what is offered. Amtrak isn't allowed to continue to lose money on F&B, a State can make the choice on its trains, or subsidize it on a train they support. The LD trains don't have the ability to use F&B as part of a marketing plan.
 

crescent-zephyr

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No, but some agencies, such as the agency that runs the DownEaster discuss food service in their annual reports. They have very high customer satisfaction, but clearly lose money, despite the fact that it (the food service) is a contracted out and privately staffed not Amtrak run service. There is a difference in types of state supported routes, in that some are State owned, and Amtrak is a contractor, and those that Amtrak has an agreement where the State provides money to cover losses and has major input into what is offered. Amtrak isn't allowed to continue to lose money on F&B, a State can make the choice on its trains, or subsidize it on a train they support. The LD trains don't have the ability to use F&B as part of a marketing plan.
Which is why I asked if there is any evidence that having a better cafe menu increases operating costs or reduces f&b revenue? I would think that a better menu and better inventory management would increase revenue.
 

PVD

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I would agree with that. I think it would increase revenue, and if it was a normal business, that would be part of a plan to improve overall yield per passenger. But they are handicapped by something that most businesses are not. F&B is standalone rather than part of the whole pie. I might want to increase food costs slightly to put out a much better selection, and if I improve revenue and only cut losses slightly, but lots more people like my service and ride my trains and bring in much higher ticket sales, in a private business, you would happy. But that doesn't satisfy the congressional mandate to eliminate F&B losses. I can't lose 50,000 more (arbitrary number) to sell 250,000 more in tickets. United or American or Delta can....
 
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Qapla

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Like many "venues" with a captive audience, Amtrak prices their excuse for food like a stadium or movie theater does. Having ridden in coach, I have heard what people say - at least on the trains I have been on. More than once I have heard people bemoan the high cost of buying a microwaved (rubberized) burger for what Amtrak charges. It tends to lead to those who feel they "must" eat "something" to spend as little as they can getting "something" to eat. If the food was better, the menu larger and the cost lower there would be more sales to people who just "want" something to eat .... not just to those who feel they "need" something/anything to eat - and, they would buy more of it.

Why doesn't Amtrak offer popcorn like movie theaters do? It doesn't cost much to make. It stores in very little space before it is popped. It cooks itself once you turn the popper on. It is a popular snack people are willing to pay for. It encourages people to buy more drinks.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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The Amtrak prices are reasonable for what they are. Slightly more than a Starbucks but way less than Theme Park / Stadium Prices. Bottled Water at Starbucks $1.80, Amtrak $2.50 Disney $3.50 Broadway / Stadiums $5+

The current national cafe menu is actually looking better than in the past. Provided it's properly stocked there are some solid options. - https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/menus/national/National-Cafe-Menu-1119.pdf

Amtrak does sell popcorn, not made on the train of course which would be way more trouble than it's worth since the machine would have to be installed and meet all the safety codes.
 

Qapla

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Amtrak does sell popcorn, not made on the train of course which would be way more trouble than it's worth since the machine would have to be installed and meet all the safety codes.
If RK Stores can have popcorn machines right at their service/checkout counter - don't see why there would be prohibitive safety concerns for Amtrak. But, what do I know ...
 
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PVD

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Most commercial popcorn machines that make fresh popcorn use hot oil, although air popping is getting more popular for home use. If you are selling pre-popped, you might as well sell pre-packed, since inventory and sanitary considerations are much lighter than the big bags of pre pop (which also take up quite a bit of room)
 

crescent-zephyr

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Having a popcorn popper using hot oil on a moving train sounds like a real recipe for disaster.
Sadly I’ve done it. And it is. It’s a real mess. The oil and the kernels get everywhere.

If RK Stores can have popcorn machines right at their service/checkout counter - don't see why there would be prohibitive safety concerns for Amtrak. But, what do I know ...
Are you in danger of the rk store derailing and turning on its side and the popcorn machine killing someone?
 

McIntyre2K7

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probably microwave popcorn would work...but it would take up a lot of time to pop individual portion bags.....
It could work if they sell the mini popcorn bags and use a very high wattage microwave. I have a 1300 watt microwave and it cooks those mini bags in 35 seconds.
 
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PVD

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Fresh popped is a high margin item and as a salty snack encourages purchases of large highly profitable soft drinks, a perfect movie theater/sports venue type item. The very large bags of reasonably fresh pre-popped, if not kept in storage too long, and displayed in a warmer is decent, but definitely not as good as fresh. The mice really liked it, too. When I worked in a skating rink in the 70's we used to get popcorn and candy from the Arthur Sarnow Candy and Popcorn Company. I think they are actually still in business.
 

MrNews

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One big problem with microwave popcorn is if you cook it just right, it smells fabulous. Twenty seconds too long, and you have the foulest smell which lingers (everywhere) for hours, if not days!

I, too, book a sleeper for the privacy and bed. The "free" meals were a bonus when I took my first long-distance trip ten years ago. Our most recent trip (September '19, Silver Star) with no dining car (we brought our own food, boiled water for soup & tea in our roomette) was just fine. It would be lovely if they brought back competent dining service for first-class passengers, but that's highly unlikely, even when the pandemic is over. For that kind of rail experience, you now have to go to Canada or Europe...
 

toddinde

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So what you are suggesting is that no food should be included? That’s fine. I’d rather have that and be able to choose from the full cafe car menu.
I think there is room for an improved dining car. One that offers sit down service throughout the day, but a simpler menu of quality items. The extent to which food is pre made is a matter of economics. The point was made that pre made is inherently more expensive with the labor cost being the delta. I like the dining cars on the average intercity European train. They seem to meet the need, flexibly, with sit down service. This is not so hard to figure out.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I think there is room for an improved dining car. One that offers sit down service throughout the day, but a simpler menu of quality items. The extent to which food is pre made is a matter of economics. The point was made that pre made is inherently more expensive with the labor cost being the delta. I like the dining cars on the average intercity European train. They seem to meet the need, flexibly, with sit down service. This is not so hard to figure out.
At this point the sit down service isn’t even on my concern list, I just want food that I actually want to consume.
 

Qapla

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Having a popcorn popper using hot oil on a moving train sounds like a real recipe for disaster.
There is some merit in that - guess the same goes for coffee machines ... hot, scalding water is very dangerous.

Are you in danger of the rk store derailing and turning on its side and the popcorn machine killing someone?
No, but then, I do believe there are already several things on a moving train that can become lethal in a derailment.


The popcorn was just a thought ... I'm happy to accept it may not be the best idea - but then, neither is "flex dining"
 

crescent-zephyr

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There is some merit in that - guess the same goes for coffee machines ... hot, scalding water is very dangerous.



No, but then, I do believe there are already several things on a moving train that can become lethal in a derailment.


The popcorn was just a thought ... I'm happy to accept it may not be the best idea - but then, neither is "flex dining"
It can be done, it would just have to be specially built for the service like the coffee makers, refrigerators, etc. if you notice on airlines and Amtrak everything has latches on it, it’s all bolted down, can lock in place, etc.

It’s actually a good point to make regarding costs to operate food service on Amtrak. A restaurant can just buy a commercial coffee maker. Amtrak can’t. It’s a much more complex and expensive process due to all of the safety laws.
 
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