Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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Sauve850

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Jan 9, 2014
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There's a lot of pessimism on food service but I'm optimistic it has no where to go but up. Lots of things going on in our country that need addressing but hopefully when some of the dust settles improvements can be made.
 

20th Century Rider

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Jan 26, 2020
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I will say that Amtrak is not the only place that has reverted to pre packaged meals during the pandemic. My entire dining service where I work at a university is 100% pre packaged no to order or cafeteria style meals allowed for the fall semester. As I have said before I don’t think it is impossible for better meals to eventually return - the Acela first class is also getting dog food in a box currently (Possibly worse than the flex dining From the descriptions I’ve seen before people praise the short hauls too much) and Acela is the pride of the fleet. Sadly what they have done does have some public health backing - most of the guidance is advising institutional kitchens and food service to do prepackaged meals unsealed only by the diner. Unfortunately if you want a good meal right now you either have to cook it yourself or goto a restaurant. We shall see what happens when the pandemic is past us.
Yes, we get it and understand fully that food services on all modes are cut back due to the pandemic.

But the issue here is whether or not Amtrak will use this as an excuse to make such poor and low level of service permanent and as part of the travel product... and justify it due to, 'popular demand;' as has been justifications of cutbacks in the past. The flex meal program is subpar to: prison food, MRI's, k-rations, and boot camp chow. It leaves passengers unsatisfied, still hungry, and feeling short changed. It's just cheep and bad... and it is unconscionable that such disgrace should become a permanent fixture of the 'first class rail' product. Doesn't make sense! Not logical! No way!
 

lordsigma

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Yes, we get it and understand fully that food services on all modes are cut back due to the pandemic.

But the issue here is whether or not Amtrak will use this as an excuse to make such poor and low level of service permanent and as part of the travel product... and justify it due to, 'popular demand;' as has been justifications of cutbacks in the past. The flex meal program is subpar to: prison food, MRI's, k-rations, and boot camp chow. It leaves passengers unsatisfied, still hungry, and feeling short changed. It's just cheep and bad... and it is unconscionable that such disgrace should become a permanent fixture of the 'first class rail' product. Doesn't make sense! Not logical! No way!
I guess if the dog food departs the Acela but not the western diners when all is said and done we will know. I’m not 100% convinced yet it will never return to any of the routes, but i also won’t bet any money on that either - this is Amtrak after all.. I mean who knows if they think they can still sell tickets maybe they even keep the boxed meals on the Acela.
 
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west point

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Jun 9, 2015
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The question will be answered if Congress and a president push thru the dining requirement. If the law is passed requiring same a period of 90 days should be enough to implement it. Of course the spread of Covid-19 will be a problem that will determine how it will be implemented. Cooked meals in a diner will have to be distributed somehow.
 
Joined
Feb 18, 2019
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I read in another forum that a high level official on Amtrak said full service dining will not return. If that is the case,and I have a feeling it is,there should be other offerings like sandwiches and pizza. Isn't there a refrigerator? Also the price for sleepers should be adjusted for the huge downgrade in food service.
The opinions on Amtrak flex food service seem to break into two: (1.) "I do not ride the train for the food so get over it" or (2.) "I feel strongly about the [french-toast/surf-turf/whatever] and demand their return."

I fall in between. For me, the experience of sharing a table with fellow travelers as we jointly enjoy food service is a big feature of Amtrak travel. The food can be good-enough and the other experiences, such as being lolled to sleep in my bunk, certainly remain important. I interpret "flex dining" as fast food on the rails, both as to the food itself and the anonymous, routine way it is presented. It is an empty, if not off-putting, experience in all senses compared to the traditional dining car.
 

tricia

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Aug 23, 2011
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The opinions on Amtrak flex food service seem to break into two: (1.) "I do not ride the train for the food so get over it" or (2.) "I feel strongly about the [french-toast/surf-turf/whatever] and demand their return."

I fall in between. For me, the experience of sharing a table with fellow travelers as we jointly enjoy food service is a big feature of Amtrak travel. The food can be good-enough and the other experiences, such as being lolled to sleep in my bunk, certainly remain important. I interpret "flex dining" as fast food on the rails, both as to the food itself and the anonymous, routine way it is presented. It is an empty, if not off-putting, experience in all senses compared to the traditional dining car.
I think you're missing a third opinion that a fair number of us hold: I want the food on the train to be good enough that I don't get off the train after a long ride feeling queasy from preservative and sugar overload.

If that means food-in-a-box during the current epidemic, so be it. But please, however it's prepared and presented, provide some less-highly-processed alternatives for those of us who don't eat fast food for most of our meals.
 

Skyline

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Feb 19, 2016
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No it wouldn't work let me give you the best case study for why it won't work.

The American European Express/ Greenbriar Limited/ American Orient Express/ Grand Luxe Express/ Greenbriar Presidential Train

I am grouping the five different trains together because they shared the same exact equipment set, and for the most part were all part of the same basic idea. Providing a luxury rail based cruise around America.

First off the American European Express (AEE) operated their cars similar to how Iowa Pacific's Pullman Rail Journey's operated theirs. They initially operated six days a week on the rear of the Capitol Limited in two five car trainsets each with three sleepers, a diner, and a lounge. However the ridership didn't metabolize for it. Granted the Capitol Limited would not have been the route I would have chosen for a service like this, rather I would have chosen the California Zephyr west of Denver, or the Coast Starlight. This operation ran from November 1989 to December 1990.

Greenbriar Limited (GL) . The theory on this train was that it would cater to tourists, and tour groups going to the Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia and the train would run from Washington, DC to Chicago, IL. Passengers could get off and stay at the hotel for awhile before getting on one of the next departures. This train ran smooth for a few months before a grade crossing incident happened that put most of the consist on the ground. However the train stayed consistently profitable, and they were even going to try a New York-Florida train in the winter. However a trespasser strike on the NEC on the test run spooked the investors and they withdrew their support. All in all it lasted an entire year.

American Orient Express (AOE): Now this was the real deal, at times it was a massive 21-24 car consist with 13 sleepers, 2-3 crew cars, an observation, a super dome, conventional lounge cars, and a dining cars. Now this train was a true work of art everything inside was beautifully appointed and well taken care of. They ran a variety of routes across the USA with Amtrak providing the locomotives and operating crews. They ran from Washington, DC to Los Angeles on the Grand Transcontinental (WAS-RVR-CHS-SAV-NOL-KCY-ABQ-Grand Canyon-LAX), but the most popular trips were the ones that ran out of Salt Lake City, UT the National Parks of the West, or the Great Northwest. This train had a fairly long run from 1994 to 2006. I actually got to tour the train on its last voyage east back in 2005.

Grand Luxe Express (GLX): This was owned by the owner of Colorado Railcar (another failed business at this point) and concentrated mostly on the two really strong routes in the American Orient Express playbook the National Parks of the West and the Great Northwest. They also went back to their routes on the AEE by offering a few cars on the rear of regularly scheduled Amtrak moves as well. But shortly after they bought the train in 2006 the 2008 recession hit and the company went bankrupt and the cars were sold.

Greenbriar Presidential Express (GPE): This is a still born train of the same exact rolling stock that was supposed to run from Washington, DC to the Greenbriar. However this one never turned a wheel, and the host railroads are allegedly to blame for that. The cars have again been sold and are all across the country now.

I've worked two of the cars from this train.

Each of these examples should be viewed as learning opportunities should Amtrak ever decide this market has possibilities. Take what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they may have had no control over into consideration.

Amtrak has an advantage over these private corporations and investors. It should have federal dollars to draw upon in the ramp-up, and potentially a future administration and congress that could help navigate roadblocks caused by operating railroads.

It's not the right time to actually move on any expansion of service. Once Covid-19 is resolved, and the economy rebounds, it might be. For now, passenger rail advocates have a full plate just trying to maintain service at current levels. But there is no harm in discussing future projects and even giving them serious study.
 

RichieRich

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Dec 2, 2016
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293
Also the price for sleepers should be adjusted for the huge downgrade in food service.
LOL We paid $3,600 on the AT at Xmas...taking 10 bucks of the price is rather irrelevant! How much would you suggest they discount without food?
 

20th Century Rider

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Jan 26, 2020
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LOL We paid $3,600 on the AT at Xmas...taking 10 bucks of the price is rather irrelevant! How much would you suggest they discount without food?
The fare reduction should reflect a substantial percentage of what they now charge for sleeper service... as determined by: 1] elimination of dining car and staff; 2] elimination of meals and value of such as posted on previous menus. Customers such as myself see this as a devaluation of product; which needs to be justifiably accommodated in repricing. As in, 'Don't make me a hostage of my love for rail travel... such loyalty has its limits.'
 

toddinde

Service Attendant
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Apr 23, 2015
Messages
116
I read in another forum that a high level official on Amtrak said full service dining will not return. If that is the case,and I have a feeling it is,there should be other offerings like sandwiches and pizza. Isn't there a refrigerator? Also the price for sleepers should be adjusted for the huge downgrade in food service.
The doom and gloom is unwarranted. Dining service will return because it has to. It just makes sense to not have it. It may change however. I happen to believe that better food service will emerge post pandemic. During the Boardman years, Amtrak pulled the diner off the Silver Star with only the clearly deficient cafe car. By any measure, contemporary dining is an improvement over that. Long ignored are the long distance trains with poor food service. The Palmetto, Maple Leaf and Adirondack are examples. We need to get to a place where trains operating over multiple meal periods have full, quality dining. In Europe, this is routine. I’m a big fan of the Deutsche Bahn cars that have a carry out cafe on one side, a center kitchen, and sit down service on the other. A two or three person crew staffs these cars. The menu is not exhaustive, and the entrees pre-made, but it’s good quality and tasty. These cars should be open throughout the trip so there isn’t just a rush at meal times. At seat and in room service should augment where necessary. Once we get over the threat of tri-weekly trains and get Amtrak into growth mode, the food service will follow.
 

JoeShmo

Train Attendant
Joined
May 4, 2019
Messages
21
I am taking the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited in a few months, Chicago/Tucson, and I am hoping that regular dining is back by then. The dining menu is a big reason, though not the only reason, that I prefer a roomette.
 

mitako

Train Attendant
Joined
May 21, 2018
Messages
66
I called Amtrak yesterday to modify an upcoming trip. Asked agent about the flex dining and he said Amtrak still claims it will go back to traditional dining after August 31, but that "could change." I told him I personally don't believe it will ever return, but I hope I am proved wrong.

My trip in September cost around $2,000 for train tickets, and hubby and I will be on trains for around 80 hours total. That's a lot of $$$$$ and a lot of hours to spend eating salty, overly sauced, gross looking meals.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
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Jan 26, 2020
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If it's only temporary because of the pandemic, I'm OK with it, so maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves here. After all, Amtrak did say at the outset of this that it would restore full-service dining on the western trains when the health emergency has passed. But because of how Amtrak has handled meal service on the eastern trains, some of us don't have a lot of confidence that management will make good on its restoration promise -- especially with the financial pressures of prolonged low ridership as the pandemic lingers or worsens in much of the country. As you say, we shall see. I am not at all keen on traveling until we see virus cases go way down nationwide. But if we beat the virus and still have no dining service, I'll keep staying home.
In complete agreement with everything you said. They are saying they will restore full meal service; but if that threshold passes and they don't, that will indeed cement a credibility issue. As far as my personal loyalty and trust... they will have lost it.
 

PVD

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If it goes back, the meals might look a bit better, but there is a very good chance they fill still not make a nutritionist smile. The Adirondack and Maple Leaf were mentioned earlier, since they are mostly? paid for by NYS don't expect any great changes. They won't pay for a cafe car service on any train that doesn't go past Albany, do you think they will upgrade the ones that do? I'm certainly not against it, just not holding my breath.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
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Oct 21, 2015
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In complete agreement with everything you said. They are saying they will restore full meal service; but if that threshold passes and they don't, that will indeed cement a credibility issue. As far as my personal loyalty and trust... they will have lost it.
It’s been no secret that Amtrak management wanted to roll out “contemporary dining” nation-wide. This was the excuse to do that.

Are any of the dining car commissaries still operating?
 

jiml

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Feb 27, 2019
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This is not just an Amtrak thing. VIA Rail offers a bag of chips and one bottle of water on all trains right now - including several trains with durations of 10 - 12 hours and one with two overnights. "Our complete meal and beverage service is suspended on all our routes.
Passengers with dietary restrictions are asked to plan accordingly." A recent reviewer of a 4 1/2 hour Air Canada flight received a granola bar, a bottle of water and a tiny dispenser of hand sanitizer in Business Class. Either of these alternatives makes Amtrak's current offerings look at least acceptable, with the ability to access a cafe car an added bonus.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Oct 21, 2015
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This is not just an Amtrak thing. VIA Rail offers a bag of chips and one bottle of water on all trains right now - including several trains with durations of 10 - 12 hours and one with two overnights. "Our complete meal and beverage service is suspended on all our routes.
Passengers with dietary restrictions are asked to plan accordingly." A recent reviewer of a 4 1/2 hour Air Canada flight received a granola bar, a bottle of water and a tiny dispenser of hand sanitizer in Business Class. Either of these alternatives makes Amtrak's current offerings look at least acceptable, with the ability to access a cafe car an added bonus.
What via rail train is operating overnight right now?
 

Devil's Advocate

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May 24, 2010
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The opinions on Amtrak flex food service seem to break into two: (1.) "I do not ride the train for the food so get over it" or (2.) "I feel strongly about the [french-toast/surf-turf/whatever] and demand their return."
Something that seems to get lost in the dining discussion is the concept of value for money. If Amtrak was charging Silver Starvation prices for California Zephyr and Empire Builder sleeper tickets then maybe the blowback would be relatively mild, but if they want to charge full service fares for generic TV tray meals then you better believe that's not going to fly with a lot of members. The lack of dependable access to ice reported by recent travelers dilutes the value even further by restricting the kinds of food you can bring with you to work around the other limitations.
 
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Exvalley

Service Attendant
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Absolutely agree. I see no value in a meal that I can buy for $3 in the freezer aisle.
 

20th Century Rider

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Something that seems to get lost in this discussion is the concept of value. If Amtrak was charging Silver Starvation prices for California Zephyr and Empire Builder sleeper tickets then maybe the blowback would be minimal, but if they want to charge full service fares for generic TV tray meals then you better believe that's not going to fly with a lot of members. The lack of dependable access to ice reported by recent travelers also makes bringing your own food a more tedious and difficult process as well. I've yet to see anything that indicates properly handled food is a major infection vector so I consider most of these changes to be based on lazy bean counting rather than proactive life saving.
Exactly! This is what so many of us are concerned about... Amtrak has sharply reduced the value of the product to 'bare bones' without reducing the price!
 
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