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Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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flitcraft

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Is dining a deal-killer for us? Maybe...For the last ten years or so, we've taken LD trains on average twice a year--occasionally more, occasionally less. Always in sleepers. We don't have high expectations for food on a train, really. Just basically that there be healthy, palatable choices for all three meals, and with enough choice so that it isn't the same meal every time. That isn't asking a lot. And I agree that an expanded set of offerings in the cafe car could satisfy us, even though we will miss the experience of the dining car. But flex dining is making us reconsider how often and whether we travel by LD train in the future. Frankly, our train travel is a big splurge for us--we both drive 20 year old compact cars and seldom eat out. Train travel is something special; if it becomes Ryan Air by rail, it will lose a lot of its appeal. We'll likely take the Empire Builder again sometime--haven't done that for many years; but without question, we'll travel Amtrak a lot less. I'll miss it, without question. But I bet Amtrak won't miss our business, sadly.
 
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tgstubbs1

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I tried to do as much research on station location and environs so I could get food during stops. Some stations have stores, delis, restaurants, etc. close enough to walk if you know where they are. Some might not have anything nearby.
Usually when I travel I enjoy food specialties from the local area if I can.
 

west point

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What I do not understand why Amtrak does not go to prepaid meals ? The set up would be refrigerated much like airline meals . When making reservations pick your meal. Cut off times would be posted with the reservation system. Then heat them up as patrons come to the diner or has them delivered to sleeper locations. Any meals not taken because of whatever reason will be offered for sale to other passengers or those that booked too late to prepay.

This method would require more catering locations to maintain freshness. Unfortunately many routes do not at present have locations that can provide timely caterring especially on the western routes.
Locations that could provide meals are TOL, BUF , Pittsburgh, CLT, ATL, Florence, maybe Columbia, JAX or Orlando, MEM, Kansas City, Houston, Denver, MSP, ABQ, SLC, RNO, The Builder on west maybe a problem except Spokane?

This is by no mean a perfect solution but certainly better than what has bbeen or the present terribles.
 

crescent-zephyr

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What I do not understand why Amtrak does not go to prepaid meals ? The set up would be refrigerated much like airline meals . When making reservations pick your meal. Cut off times would be posted with the reservation system. Then heat them up as patrons come to the diner or has them delivered to sleeper locations. Any meals not taken because of whatever reason will be offered for sale to other passengers or those that booked too late to prepay.

This method would require more catering locations to maintain freshness. Unfortunately many routes do not at present have locations that can provide timely caterring especially on the western routes.
Locations that could provide meals are TOL, BUF , Pittsburgh, CLT, ATL, Florence, maybe Columbia, JAX or Orlando, MEM, Kansas City, Houston, Denver, MSP, ABQ, SLC, RNO, The Builder on west maybe a problem except Spokane?

This is by no mean a perfect solution but certainly better than what has bbeen or the present terribles.
There is nothing stopping Amtrak from working with a local catering company. For at least 10 years the Empire Builder used to pick up “Big Sky Chicken Dinners” in Montana that could be purchased in the lounge car.
 

fdaley

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Jan 25, 2020
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From the Amtrak Service Line Plans FY 21-25:

"Millennials, the largest population cohort, seek travel experiences that are inexpensive yet Instagram-worthy, with seamless Wi-Fi capability for any work or leisure/social activity. In contrast, Baby Boomers gravitate toward luxury experiences with differentiated amenities, yet also value seamless connectivity. As a responsible steward of federal dollars, Amtrak must ensure we are making investments that maximize public benefit"

The Long Distance Trains provide Instagram-worthy sights and relative comfort even if food is not included. The market that cares deeply about the food is not the market Amtrak wants on the trains.
I certainly don't think the traditional dining service Amtrak was offering in recent years amounted to a "luxury" experience. It was acceptable and often good, and the current offerings are unappetizing at best, loaded with sodium and so small as to leave one hungry an hour later. So, they're a deal-killer for me and for a lot of others who've traveled Amtrak often in the past.

All of Amtrak's talk about millennials just seems like so much blather to me. The ridership in sleeping cars has always skewed older because people over 50, and especially over 65, are more likely to have the time and money to travel that way. As a matter of basic business sense, it doesn't seem particularly smart to economize in ways that alienate your most loyal, high revenue customers and hope that their lost business will be offset by new customers from a demographic that mostly isn't in the habit of using your services.
 

Sauve850

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They are rushing the development of a vaccine by bypassing some of the normal protocols. The risk is that it could turn out like the 1976 flu vaccine that had some very serious side effects. There is going to be resistance to a vaccine that a lot of people will feel has not been carefully tested over a period of time. And, as you say, it will take time to get people vaccinated. Such a vaccine may only have a 50% efficacy according to Fauci and may only work for three months. Various vaccines may be needed due to multiple strains. The point is that this is going to be a long, complex process. There is no panacea. Meanwhile, if Amtrak's concern is social distancing they have NO EXCUSE for the miserable food they are now offering. They can either improve the frozen food offerings to be more like airline first class or bring back a chef. Meals can be delivered to rooms. If they don't do this they will just keep extending the 'flexible' meals indefinitely. I'm pretty sure they will do the latter, if in fact the LD trains even survive.
What airline are you flying first class thats serving food? Ive been on two major airlines first class and no food.
 

me_little_me

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Source? There are over 1 billion instagram users.
And with 1B of them, one can always make up stories about their liking to eat Amtrak garbage and find many that qualify.

Of course, 1B users mean at least 1B neurons, which is a tenth of a human brain or 1M fruitfly brains. But I'm sure that Instagram users have a few orders of magnitude more than one - at least on average.
 

20th Century Rider

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Typo error on your part. I corrected it below.

  • Helps eliminate incentives for older passengers and others who have higher service expectations
Amtrak's apparent reasoning is that millennials love those flex meals and the salads without the carrot slivers [which they have just eliminated.] Uh oh! Now they've upset the millennials! So if they've been successful in eliminating us baby boomers... and the millennials too... now they can finally remove those LD trains. Thats what they're good at. BTW They made the post office prepay employee pensions for workers who have not even been born yet and so the PO is now broke too.

The government is supposed to be 'by the people and for the people,' but if they can get rid of the people too, then the government will have attained its greatest potential... 'a monument for monuments!'

Wait! I thought we were talking about Amtrak!🚋🚃:oops:

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bms

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Cleveland
"Millennial" is a marketing buzzword. There will never be a generation that prefers worse food for the same price.

I also don't understand why Amtrak doesn't load enough food onto the train to last the whole trip. Half the menu is gone by the end of every trip. This was a problem previously but now that the food is nonperishable, there's really no excuse.
 

Rasputin

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Jan 17, 2019
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Not to mention “higher service expectations” is the equivalent of a Denny’s or an IHOP.
Given my last trip on the Lake Shore, I would have jumped for joy if 48 had pulled up to a Dennys or an IHOP for breakfast en route.

(This was May 2019 - I can't recall if it was contemporary dining or flexible dining at that time and does it make any difference?)
 

Nick Farr

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"Millennial" is a marketing buzzword. There will never be a generation that prefers worse food for the same price.
It's actually a well-recognized demographic, just like the Boomer generation. (Sorry Gen X, no love for you.)

It's a matter of preferences. There are demographics that will not care as much about dining options, not find the Flex Dining to be a deal-killer or actually prefer it.
 

joelkfla

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I've read it in a number of places but here is one. They are compressing a process that normally takes years into a few months. The US is fast-tracking a coronavirus vaccine, but bypassing safety standards may not be worth the cost
OK, that appears to be written by qualified authors, and though I've never heard of those Australian universities, they seem to be well respected and unbiased.

But the risks cited are to the safety of human test subjects, and the possibility of reduced public acceptance due to the accelerated process. I didn't see any concerns expressed about the safety of the vaccine to the public after completion of the human trials.

I trust Dr. Anthony Fauci implicitly. I've seen him praised by numerous other doctors, and he was addressed with great respect by other prominent doctors in a televised forum. Dr. Fauci says no vaccine will be approved in the U.S. unless it is safe (unlike Russia.)
 

Devil's Advocate

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Source? There are over 1 billion instagram users.
Using instagram ≠ instgrammer if you take my meaning. In my example an instagrammer is someone who chooses their methods and destinations based (at least in part) on how well they will be received on social media. I'm subscribed to hundreds of social media accounts and the vast majority of travel related content revolves around bang-for-buck budget hacks rather than caution to the wind spending. That's not to say there are no instragrammers who travel in luxury out of their own deep pockets. I'm just saying they're a minority compared to the vast and ever-present thrifty traveler segment. Even luxury-focused instagrammers would likely only travel in Amtrak sleepers once or twice before moving on to something else, which makes chasing them more of a passing fad than a genuine replacement or expansion.
 
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20th Century Rider

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It's actually a well-recognized demographic, just like the Boomer generation. (Sorry Gen X, no love for you.)

It's a matter of preferences. There are demographics that will not care as much about dining options, not find the Flex Dining to be a deal-killer or actually prefer it.
It's interesting to see all the research that has been conducted... 75 million strong and now in greater numbers than the babyboomer generation. They are certainly a well recognized demographic... but with variances in preferences depending on where they live, ethnic background, etc.

Empirical research shows minimal patronage of LD trains... and that they don't like LD food service.

Regarding millennials and rail transit:

Regarding millennials and food preferences:
.


 

Barb Stout

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Mar 13, 2019
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Basically, it comes down to this:

From the Amtrak Service Line Plans FY 21-25:

"Millennials, the largest population cohort, seek travel experiences that are inexpensive yet Instagram-worthy, with seamless Wi-Fi capability for any work or leisure/social activity. In contrast, Baby Boomers gravitate toward luxury experiences with differentiated amenities, yet also value seamless connectivity.
So both groups want WiFi, but at least some of the Western trains that I have taken either don't have it or it's not strong enough to be useful. But that was with my old phone. Maybe my new phone will be better. So does this mean that Amtrak is planning on improving this aspect?
 

crescent-zephyr

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Given my last trip on the Lake Shore, I would have jumped for joy if 48 had pulled up to a Dennys or an IHOP for breakfast en route.

(This was May 2019 - I can't recall if it was contemporary dining or flexible dining at that time and does it make any difference?)
After “traditional dining” there was Contemporary dining .1 which had the boxed salad meals. I never had one but the reviews on here were somewhat favorable for what they were. They certainly looked higher quality and healthier based on the photos l.

The current version, the TV dinners, are the new and improved menu. Even though everyone I’ve talked to, including Amtrak staff, say there should be an entree salad option offered.
 

crescent-zephyr

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It's a matter of preferences. There are demographics that will not care as much about dining options, not find the Flex Dining to be a deal-killer or actually prefer it.
Do you honestly beleive that anyone would prefer the current menu and selections?
 

Nick Farr

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Do you honestly beleive that anyone would prefer the current menu and selections?
Yes. There are people who love those TV dinner style meals and there is more variety in the expanded options menu.

My point is that Amtrak is trying to capture the market that doesn't care about the food while, possibly, discouraging people who are going to be turned off by the lack of proper dining service.

Which reminds me, did they ever have a proper bar up top on the observation car? There's that wet bar by the stairwell that I've never seen used...
 

Bob Dylan

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Yes. There are people who love those TV dinner style meals and there is more variety in the expanded options menu.

My point is that Amtrak is trying to capture the market that doesn't care about the food while, possibly, discouraging people who are going to be turned off by the lack of proper dining service.

Which reminds me, did they ever have a proper bar up top on the observation car? There's that wet bar by the stairwell that I've never seen used...
Yep, the Empire Builder used to staff it with a Second LSA that sold Drinks. Last time I saw it used was in 2011 on the way home from the Seattle Gathering.
 

Devil's Advocate

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There are people who love those TV dinner style meals and there is more variety in the expanded options menu.
Who said they loved Amtrak's new TV dinners? The positive commentary I've seen so far has been faint and vaguely worded praise at best. I can understand and agree that there are people who will eat almost anything and/or simply do not care what is served, but what is there to love about these meals? I realize that TV dinners were a big deal back in the 1950's but this is 2020 and I don't eat food that puts my health at risk unless it's worth the fat and calorie hit. That does not included generic precooked leftovers.
 

Nick Farr

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Who said they loved Amtrak's new TV dinners? The positive commentary I've seen so far has been faint and vaguely worded praise at best. I can understand and agree that there are people who will eat almost anything and/or simply do not care what is served, but what is there to love about these meals? I realize that TV dinners were a big deal back in the 1950's but this is 2020 and I don't eat food that puts my health at risk unless it's worth the fat and calorie hit. That does not included generic precooked leftovers.
From Lean Cuisine to DEVOUR there's lots of frozen food nuke-it-and-go aficionados. I don't get it either.

And yes, I had vague "it's not the end of the world" praise for these meals.

If you look at most of the fast food people eat, from a fat and salt perspective it's not that much better.

It's not a deal killer for me. It's not what I'd do, but I'm more interested in advocating/exploring alternative solutions than beating a fait accompli to death.
 

crescent-zephyr

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It's not a deal killer for me. It's not what I'd do, but I'm more interested in advocating/exploring alternative solutions than beating a fait accompli to death.
And I get that. I understand what you’re trying to do but I highly doubt even 1% of sleeping car passengers would say they prefer the TV dinner menu. (Notice I’m saying menu, not service style, that’s a different discussion).

Which reminds me, did they ever have a proper bar up top on the observation car? There's that wet bar by the stairwell that I've never seen used...
I saw it used years ago on the Empire Builder. This also meant the cafe downstairs never closed for meal breaks. One of the attendants was always downstairs serving and the upstairs was open during peak times. They had snacks too, just nothing heated up. You could get chips, m&m’s, pastries in the morning, etc.
 

Sidney

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I'll be on the Texas Eagle/Sunset from Chicago to LA next month and the SW Chief on the return. That's Sunday afternoon through early Wednesday morning going out. I'll ask if I can substitute a cafe car item like a pizza or a burger. If not I'll buy them. I only like the Shrimp and lobster sauce,but eating that for lunch and dinner is tough. I always purchase breakfast danish at convenience stores before I board so I can have another option.

As many have said,the current offerings which seem to be permanent do not deter my passion for riding in a sleeper. I booked this trip using a points sale in July so I was paying a little over 32,000 points round trip. To get to Chicago from where I board in Harrisburg Pa I paid cash for overnight coach. With the guarantee of two seats to yourself,it was worth it. My only concern is now that my points have dwindled down the thought of paying anywhere from 525 to 600 dollars for two nights and blah food in a roomette from Chicago to the West Coast could curtail my train wanderlust.
 
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