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Safety and environmental issues with Amtrak's Flex Dining concept

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crescent-zephyr

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Aramark... big and bureaucratic food subcontractor. show me how Amtrak efficiency management intersects with Aramark quality and value going towards passenger service?????????
Huh? What other national food companies can Amtrak choose from? Aramark, Sysco... who else?
 

MARC Rider

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Every time I’ve seen somebody order a burger/hot dog/pizza/sandwich/etc... from the cafe, I’ve seen the OBS just slice the wrapper to vent it, and put the entire package in the convection oven. I’ve never saw them take it out and put it on a plate before heating it up! And then take it off the plate and put it back in the wrapper.

Even that Delta video shows the plastic trays of food coming out of the convection oven!
Oh, I've seen the cafe car attendant take the burger/hotdog/etc. out and nuke it separately from the bun, and even toast the bun in the other oven. I'v also seen them just nuke it all together, especially when things get busy. I think the pizza is designed to be nuked in the box.
 

lordsigma

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Huh? What other national food companies can Amtrak choose from? Aramark, Sysco... who else?
Aramark and Sysco are actually not exactly the same thing. Aramark's core business is as a food service outsourcing provider (for example outsourcing running your cafeteria, kitchen, or commissary instead of running it in-house - they also do outsourcing of facilities management.) While Sysco is mainly a food supplier (they sell the actual food and ingredients.) For example your college campus may contract dining services to Aramark who employ the cooking staff and run the cafeteria and Aramark may in turn use Sysco as a supplier for food products. Sodexo and Compass are competitor companies more in line with what Aramark does.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Aramark and Sysco have slightly different core businesses. Aramark's core business is as a food service provider (for example outsourcing running your cafeteria instead of running it in-house.) While Sysco is mainly a food supplier for restaurants, cafeterias, and other industrial kitchens. For example your college campus may contract dining services to Aramark and Aramark may in turn use Sysco as a supplier for food products. Sodexo is a company more in line with what Aramark does.
VIA uses Sysco... at least they did the last time I rode the Canadian. That’s why I thought of them.

Ok.. so add Sodexo to the mix.. anyone else?
 

lordsigma

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VIA uses Sysco... at least they did the last time I rode the Canadian. That’s why I thought of them.

Ok.. so add Sodexo to the mix.. anyone else?
Is Sysco who they buy food from or do they actually manage commissaries for them? They very well may have an outsourcing arm I am not aware of but I know they are primarily a supplier. On the flip side I don't think Aramark actually sells food supplies they just prepare meals. At least around here Sodexo and Compass are more in line with what Aramark does (though as I said Aramark also does facilities management outsourcing.)
 

lordsigma

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Ok.. so add Sodexo to the mix.. anyone else?
I'm sure there's some smaller outfits around.. but the big three are Aramark, Sodexo, and Compass. Any one of them can basically do whatever you want them to. They can purchase stuff from any supplier you want and as you've pointed out make any level quality of meals - it's all what you're willing to pay.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Is Sysco who they buy food from or do they actually manage commissaries for them? They very well may have an outsourcing arm I am not aware of but I know they are primarily a supplier. On the flip side I don't think Aramark actually sells food supplies they just prepare meals. At least around here Sodexo and Compass are more in line with what Aramark does (though as I said Aramark also does facilities management outsourcing.)
A sysco truck restocked the diner in Winnipeg. I’m not sure who has what contract.

The point I was trying to make is Aramark isn’t the bad guy.. Amtrak needs a National supplier and whoever they choose can supply whatever quality of food Amtrak desires.
 
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PVD

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Aramark will manage a program for somebody and provide product, when I worked at a group of hospitals, the dietary depts and cafeterias were staffed by hospital employees, but the food service management and supply was Aramark. Clinical dieticians were still hospital folks. I believe Sysco may have actually delivered some of the food and supplies to the facilities for Aramark, but that's a long time ago, and I don't remember 100%
 

lordsigma

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Aramark will manage a program for somebody and provide product, when I worked at a group of hospitals, the dietary depts and cafeterias were staffed by hospital employees, but the food service management and supply was Aramark. Clinical dieticians were still hospital folks. I believe Sysco may have actually delivered some of the food and supplies to the facilities for Aramark, but that's a long time ago, and I don't remember 100%
Yep management and outsourcing is their game - we used to have Sodexo at my college campus. Sometimes those guys will run the program for you using in house labor, and sometimes they do it all in our case all our food service staff was Sodexo employees. We gave them the boot a couple years ago and went totally in house. Sodexo used Sysco as their main supplier - our in house department now uses Performance for a lot of their stuff (which is a competitor to Sysco) but they also use some local vendors as well. Sorry for taking this a bit off topic!
 

Bob Dylan

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Yep management and outsourcing is their game - we used to have Sodexo at my college campus. Sometimes those guys will run the program for you using in house labor, and sometimes they do it all in our case all our food service staff was Sodexo employees. We gave them the boot a couple years ago and went totally in house. Sodexo used Sysco as their main supplier - our in house department now uses Performance for a lot of their stuff (which is a competitor to Sysco) but they also use some local vendors as well. Sorry for taking this a bit off topic!
My employer, the University of Texas, did the exact same thing.
 

PVD

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When I was coaching Empire State Games Ice Hockey, I remember we were dormed and fed at a different University than most of the other teams and athletes because of the rink location. Sodexo was trying to make a name for themselves in college food service (they had merged with Marriott Food Service to become a major presence in the US and were gradually taking over and phasing out the Marriott name) our athletes and coaches has great food, the majority of the teams at the main university hosting about 80% had very limited institutional offerings. Not a lot of meal plan and dorm action at most schools over the summer, but those Sodexo folks really went all out for us. Games ran late one day and we returned after the contracted hours, the dining hall manager said "don't worry, I'll ask some staff to stay and make sure we get it right" Most summers, the schools we were at would have thrown some slop on a table and gone home.
 

lordsigma

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(they had merged with Marriott Food Service to become a major presence in the US and were gradually taking over and phasing out the Marriott name)
Yep I believe when they were first brought in to replace in house staff at my school it was Marriott.
 

20th Century Rider

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Why them? They would be delivering the exact same quality of food. Amtrak can order anything they want from their current vendor.
Gate gourmet offers a high quality of catering. But you do have a point. Management is attempting to put as little as possible into catering to maximize profits. I wonder what Amtrak actually pays for one of those little tiny tasteless flex meals that are composed of extenders and cheap ingredients? The point to be made is that the customer is being shorted.😒
 

Devil's Advocate

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Where I live Gate Gourmet’s kitchen is about fifteen minutes away from the station at typical calling times, but I don’t think it needs to be a national service or that Gate Gourmet would necessarily want Amtrak’s business. In fact it’s probably better for the passengers if it’s a local option like they used to have on the Portland Builder. There are other kitchens within five minutes of the station that could deliver whatever you want but most caterers probably won’t chase a sloppy night owl schedule. Amtrak could resolve that issue by renting refrigerators at the station and taking deliveries at a dependable hour. I think it’s really unlikely they’d go this route but probably doable with enough motivation and the right management.
 

railiner

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Where I live Gate Gourmet’s kitchen is about fifteen minutes away from the station at typical calling times, but I don’t think it needs to be a national service or that Gate Gourmet would necessarily want Amtrak’s business. In fact it’s probably better for the passengers if it’s a local option like they used to have on the Portland Builder. There are other kitchens within five minutes of the station that could deliver whatever you want but most caterers probably won’t chase a sloppy night owl schedule. Amtrak could resolve that issue by renting refrigerators at the station and taking deliveries at a dependable hour. I think it’s really unlikely they’d go this route but probably doable with enough motivation and the right management.
During the 80's, when I worked at the Denver station, Amtrak established a "mini-commissary" there, and we did just that....installed FDA approved food service refigerator, ice maker, food storage racks, sinks, etc...to restock certain items on the CZ, Pioneer, and Desert Wind. The vendor's would deliver at the same time each day, regardless of when the trains departed...
 

20th Century Rider

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This article is five years old.
The Wall Street Journal printed this last year... "Onetime Delta CEO Richard Anderson has nearly eliminated the railroad’s operating losses, but some train fanatics are fuming about the changes." Although to be fair - Covid has put a damper on all travel... but does anyone think Amtrak management has gotten better... ?
 

20th Century Rider

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Yeah, he’s right. He did eliminate the operating losses.

Cutting trains, cutting food, cutting amenities, etc... etc... :rolleyes:
The government expects passenger trains... so incredibly environmentally friendly... to be totally self supporting; while it loads the funding on highways that bring exhaust fumes from the cars... and the airlines with funding for airports. Where's the logic in that... and where's the EPA???
 

Skyline

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Same thing for freshly cooked gourmet food at fine restaurants.
Not all restaurants. There is a niche for restaurants that offer healthy, safe menus. Some are "gourmet," however that might be defined (it varies!). They proudly promote health and these days, safety -- and have been rewarded by reviewers and the public.

A Google search for "Healthy gourmet restaurants in (locale)" or even a search of TripAdvisor will reveal some of these. Not all are perfect, but they are leaning in the correct direction. Supporting restaurants that have its customers' health and safety in mind may cost more in some but not all cases, but is worth it if you can afford it.
 

MARC Rider

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Here's a food service alternative from the "golden age" (or at least 1954), The Gull, a joint service by 4 railroads connecting Boston and Halifax.


The train leaves Boston about 10 PM, Halifax (through cars, really) at 8:15 AM. Total trip time is 27-28 hours. No food service on-board between Boston and Moncton. (Canadian National had a dining car between Moncton and Halifax, so you can get dinner on the northbound ride and breakfast on the southbound ride.)

All other food service is at station stops:

Portland on the southbound only for breakfast (a 15 minute scheduled stop)
Vanceboro, ME on the southbound only (a 20 minute scheduled stop)
McAdam, NB both northbound and southbound. The schedule says a 30 minute meal stop. Northbound it's breakfast at 10 AM, southbound it's a rather late supper at 10:30 PM. i would personally pack something to tide me over.
St. John NB, southbound only 5:45 - 8:20 PM, this looks like it;s a bit better for dinner.
Moncton, NB southbound only 1 hour stop 1:55 -2:55 PM (Though one could still get lunch in the diner from Halifax)
Sackville, NB, southbound only at 12:49 PM (doesn't say how long the stop is, maybe it's just food available for people who are boarding)
Truro, NS, southbound only, 15 minute stop at 9:50 AM.
Halifax, NS also had meal service available, for those who wish to buy something in the station.

Applying this to Amtrak, all food service (except the potentially profitable booze-serving cafe cars) could be eliminated.

Food stops for the eastern long-distance trains could be made the the following locations:
Capitol Limited: WB Martinsburg, Elkhart; EB Cumberland. (Passengers would buy dinner in Chicago and bring it aboard)
Lake Shore Limited- WB Albany, Elkhart; EB Buffalo, Albany
Silver Star SB - Washington, Jacksonville, Orlando; NB Orlando, Cary, Washington
Silver Meteor - SB Jacksonville, Orlando; NB Orlando, Jacksonville, Washington
Crescent - SB - Washington, Atlanta; NB Atlanta, Charlottesville
Cardinal -- WB Culpepper, White Sulfur Springs, Lafayette; EB - Charleston, White Sulfur Springs/Clifton Forge, Washington

Food service outlets at the station stops would be independently owned and operated. Their business model would include other markets besides serving the train passengers, including restaurant and catering, etc. Passengers could order ahead online, and thus just debord to pick up their food, thus minimizing wait times and delays. Amtrak could allow more than one food service outlet at a station, thus fostering competition, variety and improved quality of the food. Local people could come dine at the station in a more conventional way, and be entertained by the trains arriving and passing through.

All food service costs (except the profitable booze-serving cafe cars) would be off-loaded from Amtrak's books, yet the relatively small number of people traveling through meal times can get fed. And we could stop complaining about how Amtrak can't serve good food, and start complaining about how these food stop eateries can't provide good food. :)
 
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