New dining options (flex dining) effective October 1, 2019

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jis

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I beg to differ on your statement that full dining service will never return to the trains losing it. Look back to the 24 hour diner experiment on the SL, which was successful on eliminating F&B losses on that train, while preserving full dining service. Once new leadership (both at Amtrak and in the Executive Branch) takes over, we should all write to Congress to pass legislation mandating full service diners to return on ALL LD trains and require them be open 24 hours.
All I said is that the level of staffing in Diners will not return.

Of course everyone is allowed their own fantasies. I would not deny that to anyone. [emoji57]
 

Qapla

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It does not take much equipment, space or people to make "fresh" subs like Subway does (and, remember, Subway is the largest "fast-food chain" in the world) ... that type of service would be simple to put on a train - and it would not have to be a "chain" sub shop.

Adding a flat grill - hamburgers, fried eggs, and a few other things could be added to the mix.

Having a car like the one @dlagrua posted would make this fairly easy ... although the current cafe/lounge cars have enough room for the fresh sub idea

Meals could be served in a car like this with 3 people/employees. There is no reason a car like that should not be able to make money without overpricing the menu (like it is now) - after all, Subway makes money with their modest pricing ... and they are having to pay rent to be on a storefront.
 

Seaboard92

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As one of the few members here who has working experience in a dining car. On both ends customer facing, and in the kitchen I can speak on the subject.

Honestly I would always want to have at least three servers (can include LSA’s) because that’s the only way to provide good service to your passengers.

Between seating passengers, getting orders, filling drinks, filling orders, bussing tables, resetting tables, and handling checks. One person could not service a 48 seat diner and do a good job.

Even two people doing all of that is setting the crew up for failure. You really need to have three to four people to accomplish the mission.

And in the kitchen it depends what style meal you are making. When I’ve worked kitchen we had three options total so we were able to do with a small crew of four. Two cooking, one on dishes, and one plating. But when I worked New River Train we had seven in each kitchen.

But we were making 1,000 plus meals out of two diners. Hence we needed a larger crew to keep track of inventory, dishes, plating, and preparation.

I loved my time in a diner. It was probably the favorite job I’ve had on the rails. I would love to do it again. And it’s a real shame Amtrak is doing away with it because I would have happily worked for them doing it.
 

jebr

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There is no reason a car like that should not be able to make money without overpricing the menu (like it is now) - after all, Subway makes money with their modest pricing ... and they are having to pay rent to be on a storefront.
There's still a cost to operating a train car, especially once the cost to purchase and maintain that car are factored in. Furthermore, Amtrak will have a much higher labor cost than the average restaurant, simply by its very nature. Amtrak has to pay enough to compensate for being away from home for days at a time, having a schedule that precludes most other part-time jobs, and essentially needing to hire full-time employees. There's going to be very few people that would work on Amtrak if they can get the same pay at the local Subway - at least working at the local Subway you get to sleep in your own bed every night! Currently, the cafe car operates with one staff member, and with contemporary dining there's typically only one staff member in that car. Anything beyond a heat-and-eat concept would almost certainly require at least one additional staff member, which Amtrak is trying to avoid retaining/adding if at all possible.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Even if they paid the subway / fast food pay scale the costs are still totally different. You have to cover that employees hotel at the end point, and their transportation to and from the hotel. You also can’t deliver supplies to the train once or twice a week on a normal truck route, instead a commercial commissary has to deliver the entire inventory every time the the car departs the terminal.

You can’t make it profitable.
 

ehbowen

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Honestly I would always want to have at least three servers (can include LSA’s) because that’s the only way to provide good service to your passengers.

Between seating passengers, getting orders, filling drinks, filling orders, bussing tables, resetting tables, and handling checks. One person could not service a 48 seat diner and do a good job.

Even two people doing all of that is setting the crew up for failure. You really need to have three to four people to accomplish the mission.

And in the kitchen it depends what style meal you are making. When I’ve worked kitchen we had three options total so we were able to do with a small crew of four. Two cooking, one on dishes, and one plating. But when I worked New River Train we had seven in each kitchen.
Don't anyone try and tell me that the private railroads threw away money on extra people just for the fun of it. Yes, I know that wages were much lower in those days, but so were revenues and the railroad owners liked money just as much then as now. Seaboard92 is correct. A 48 seat diner in the classic days would normally operate with 11 employees...a chef, a cook, two assistant cooks, six waiters (one for every two tables), and a steward in overall charge of the car. When your reputation and your profitability for the overall passenger operation rests in large measure upon your food and you have to serve 300 passengers out of a single 48 seat diner, you have to turn those tables.

If all you care about is nickels and dimes, you're going to have a nickel-and-dime operation. When your focus is on providing excellent service, you're going to have customers who want to come back. Amtrak's incentives, and those of the host railroads, at the present time are all wrong. And I don't see a change of political leadership, in either party, as salvation as long as the current short-term mentality remains in place.

What is the answer? Dunno, short of divine intervention. Worth asking for, IMHO.
 

PVD

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If you look at food service as a standalone item you will always have a problem. Most businesses would look at food service in terms of the bigger picture: how many more customers will use my service? can I charge everyone more because they see my service as being worth it? It doesn't have to make money or break even on its own, it has to be part of a plan for the whole entity to make more money.
 

Larry H.

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It does not take much equipment, space or people to make "fresh" subs like Subway does (and, remember, Subway is the largest "fast-food chain" in the world) ... that type of service would be simple to put on a train - and it would not have to be a "chain" sub shop.

Adding a flat grill - hamburgers, fried eggs, and a few other things could be added to the mix.

Having a car like the one @dlagrua posted would make this fairly easy ... although the current cafe/lounge cars have enough room for the fresh sub idea

Meals could be served in a car like this with 3 people/employees. There is no reason a car like that should not be able to make money without overpricing the menu (like it is now) - after all, Subway makes money with their modest pricing ... and they are having to pay rent to be on a storefront.
While I agree with the idea, I must note that Subway was among the chains likely to go out of business within the next year or so due to low sales. This was in a yahoo article about companies that would no longer be around in a year or so.
 

Seaboard92

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Well like EHBowen said the dining car used to be the Loss Leader of passenger trains. It was provided because it was a needed service on board the trains. With dining cars railroads were able to eliminate meal stops, and continue rolling for starters. After that it was a point of pride to have the best meal service possible.

And the private railroads offered some truly memorable meals.

The Illinois Central “Kings Dinner”. Which had a Cocktail, a shrimp cocktail or crab fingers for an appetizer, a fish course, a broiled steak, apple wedges for dessert, and a 13 Oz bottle of wine for 9.85 in the 1950s.

And that was on the route of today’s City of New Orleans and a far cry from what’s available now before this new contemporary crap comes out.

And of course the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad Systems we’re fiercely competing with each other. And produced some meals that were out of this world.

The Northern Pacific was known by their Big Baked Potato so much so that they built their Seattle commissary in the shape of a large potato.

Even into the late 60s till Amtrak Day the B&O/C&O, Seaboard Coastline, Illinois Central, Union Pacific, and Santa Fe were all still putting out great meals and took a lot of pride from it.

Dining cars never made money, and the old railroaders knew that. They were there to raise the prestige of the train.
 

Qapla

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I must note that Subway was among the chains likely to go out of business within the next year or so due to low sales. This was in a yahoo article about companies that would no longer be around in a year or so.
And Arby's wasn't supposed to survive the early 1980's - we see what happened there.

There are many independent sub shops that are making money hand-over-fist ... even if Subway were to fail, partly due to their high franchise fees, it does not follow that the "made fresh" sub is a bad concept - it works just fine.
 

Bob Dylan

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And Arby's wasn't supposed to survive the early 1980's - we see what happened there.

There are many independent sub shops that are making money hand-over-fist ... even if Subway were to fail, partly due to their high franchise fees, it does not follow that the "made fresh" sub is a bad concept - it works just fine.
Plenty of Sub Shops, both Chain and Independant, doing good business here in Austin which is currently booming in all areas, but just like Starbucks, there will be shakeout due to building them on every corner, aka "Greed is good!"
 

Qapla

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Yes, but putting "one on every train" is not quite the same as "one on every corner"
 

PaulM

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Just exactly when does the changes to the SM come about. I was curious and checked prices before and after Oct 1.

WAS to ORL, roomette, 2 persons, $ premium SM over SS:

Sep 23 thru 30: $29, 49, 49, 49, 49, 49, 86, 69.

Oct 1 thru 7: $49, 49, 49, 29, 29, 49, 29.

It doesn't take any sophisticated analysis to see there is no difference.

It almost looks like the revenue managers foresee that the announcement of the service level drop will depress demand for the SM even before it actually happens. I was under the impression that the premium had been much higher. than shown for Sep 23 - 30.
 

Winecliff Station

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Just exactly when does the changes to the SM come about. I was curious and checked prices before and after Oct 1.

WAS to ORL, roomette, 2 persons, $ premium SM over SS:

Sep 23 thru 30: $29, 49, 49, 49, 49, 49, 86, 69.

Oct 1 thru 7: $49, 49, 49, 29, 29, 49, 29.

It doesn't take any sophisticated analysis to see there is no difference.

It almost looks like the revenue managers foresee that the announcement of the service level drop will depress demand for the SM even before it actually happens. I was under the impression that the premium had been much higher. than shown for Sep 23 - 30.
I think if Amtrak were to change price points in relation to the removal of the diner cars, it would be seen as an admission to lower value, and therefore lower quality of the meal service. Since I don't see that happening I'm assuming there will be no reflection by way of reduction in fares.
 

philabos

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Jul 13, 2011
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Well like EHBowen said the dining car used to be the Loss Leader of passenger trains. It was provided because it was a needed service on board the trains. With dining cars railroads were able to eliminate meal stops, and continue rolling for starters. After that it was a point of pride to have the best meal service possible.

And the private railroads offered some truly memorable meals.

The Illinois Central “Kings Dinner”. Which had a Cocktail, a shrimp cocktail or crab fingers for an appetizer, a fish course, a broiled steak, apple wedges for dessert, and a 13 Oz bottle of wine for 9.85 in the 1950s.

And that was on the route of today’s City of New Orleans and a far cry from what’s available now before this new contemporary crap comes out.

And of course the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad Systems we’re fiercely competing with each other. And produced some meals that were out of this world.

The Northern Pacific was known by their Big Baked Potato so much so that they built their Seattle commissary in the shape of a large potato.

Even into the late 60s till Amtrak Day the B&O/C&O, Seaboard Coastline, Illinois Central, Union Pacific, and Santa Fe were all still putting out great meals and took a lot of pride from it.

Dining cars never made money, and the old railroaders knew that. They were there to raise the prestige of the train.
You are absolutely right. The Century served Lobster Newberg right up to the last day. It was great.
Even the lowly PRR President had a full diner out of New York in the morning and it would be full with a line by the Newark station stop. Those Pennsy crews knew how to turn tables with the waiters hustling to get the fabulous poached eggs on corned beef hash out with hot individual pots of coffee while the steward moved constantly up and down the car to make change (no credit cards then). It amazed me how many people they could serve just between NY and Philadelphia .
Sadly, you could never do it today IMHO. The crews, economics, and customers have changed. Everyone seems happy with a coffee and bagel in a bag from Zaros.
 

Thirdrail7

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A
But we were making 1,000 plus meals out of two diners. Hence we needed a larger crew to keep track of inventory, dishes, plating, and preparation.
What you mentioned here is the key. As annoying as it is, Amtrak has made the premise of the dining car obsolete by cutting the potential for the use of the dining car.

Amtrak has continually cut the available seats on these trains over the years. If the consist was expanded, you would likely reduce your losses. Years ago, you may have had 300-360 coach passengers, 20-30 bedroom passengers, 18-24 roomette passengers and 32-64 slumbercoach passengers on the train.

At this point, the typical base eastern consist accommodates roughly 20 roomettes, 6 bedrooms capacity for 180 coach passengers. An expanded consist may hold 60 to 120 more coach passengers. Additionally, there are only a limited amount of seating designated for actually long distance travel so out of the 240 seats, you may have 120 that may be on the train long enough to choose the dining car over the cafe. it more seats were actually designated for longer travel, you may see the dining car receiving more patronage.

However, the consist are still being cut and you compete against your own cafe car, plus the food courts that surround you major stations.

It makes sense that money is lost.
 

Larry H.

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Speaking of the old days of diners. I got a gift of a copy of the "Dining by Rail" which is an absolutely wonderful history of the diners along with photos and top recipes of nearly every railroad of the time. On a local level I was always impressed by the GM&O from St. Louis to Chicago. When Union station was all but deserted they still ran a fully functioning and very fine dining car. The breakfast were wonderful and the meals on the return trip well prepared as well. Plus the parlor car had a wonderful older gentleman who was the porter and catered to everyones needs in a very well built and maintained car, sometime with a fan tale lounge in the rear third of the seating. The dining by rail discusses how the railroads when they cared really wanted to outdo the competitors service and as has been said usually they ran at a cost of meals that only covered about half the expense. No matter they wanted to treat the passengers to a diner worthy of the best in their home towns. How far Amtrak has fallen from those goals. Odd how the powers that be almost have no comprehension on what a train trip is and how it should be run. I also agree that the consist have for years been far short of previous breakdowns. Remember too many had a first class lounge, first class diner and well as a Coach diner and lounge. I saw a photo in trains magazine recently of the combined "City" trains approaching California and you could count 32 passenger coaches.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Here's the thing... Anderson is partly right. The dining car model is pretty old fashioned.

In my opinion the best idea Amtrak ever had was the ORIGINAL cross country cafe concept which kept the chef downstairs but consolidated all of the food service to one car which eliminated the lounge LSA and could have easily eliminated 1 server as well. (In my mind you would want to keep 1 server to assist the LSA, but in the new model the Sleeping Car Attendants could do that?).

Ideally... the basic setup for LD trains would be the CCC concept with a chef but no table service. And then select trains would have a "Premium" dining car that in reality might be more like the Pacific Parlour car with a limited, but fancy menu. Limited private seating. And maybe you have to pay extra for it. Kinda like on the cruise ships where the buffet and main dining room are free but you pay extra for the private table fancy experiences.
 

jis

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Just exactly when does the changes to the SM come about. I was curious and checked prices before and after Oct 1.

WAS to ORL, roomette, 2 persons, $ premium SM over SS:

Sep 23 thru 30: $29, 49, 49, 49, 49, 49, 86, 69.

Oct 1 thru 7: $49, 49, 49, 29, 29, 49, 29.

It doesn't take any sophisticated analysis to see there is no difference.

It almost looks like the revenue managers foresee that the announcement of the service level drop will depress demand for the SM even before it actually happens. I was under the impression that the premium had been much higher. than shown for Sep 23 - 30.
You are wasting your time doing this analysis. No one has said that there will be any change in ticket prices. Food is still included in the Sleeper ticket. It is just different food delivered in a different "style".
 

Ryan

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I'm coining a new term, in the vein of Godwin's law. Stavely's Law shall be that for any given thread on AU, the probability of a discussion turning to AutoTrain expansion increases to 1. :D
 

lordsigma

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Still no official word whatsoever from Amtrak. Are they fighting with the Union? Trying to finalize the details of the new setup? I wonder how much notice they will give Crescent and Meteor passengers I would have thought this would have come out officially by now as the Auto Train announcement came out quite a while ago..
 

OBS

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Still no official word whatsoever from Amtrak. Are they fighting with the Union? Trying to finalize the details of the new setup? I wonder how much notice they will give Crescent and Meteor passengers I would have thought this would have come out officially by now as the Auto Train announcement came out quite a while ago..
Trust me, there is no delay because of the union. It has no contractual leverage in the situation.
 

pennyk

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I'm coining a new term, in the vein of Godwin's law. Stavely's Law shall be that for any given thread on AU, the probability of a discussion turning to AutoTrain expansion increases to 1. :D
;) Staff is in the process of moving the Auto Train expansion posts to a new thread in the Amtrak Future subforum:
https://discuss.amtraktrains.com/threads/auto-train-expansion-changes.75952/

Please, please post any future comments about Auto Train expansion/changes in that thread and limit comments in this thread to contemporary dining on eastern trains.

Thank you,
Staff
 
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