Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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crescent-zephyr

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It's possible that Amtrak's dining car relationship with Aramark may ultimately result in better meals on western trains, but not traditional dining car meals. In other words, meals that resemble what VIA offers on the Ocean and Canadian. I could live with that as a happy medium.
The Canadian is full service traditional dining with full dining car staff.

What is the staffing on the Ocean? I’m guessing it’s the same as Amtrak’s pre-contemporary dining car staffing.
 

jiml

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The Canadian is full service traditional dining with full dining car staff.

What is the staffing on the Ocean? I’m guessing it’s the same as Amtrak’s pre-contemporary dining car staffing.
On the Ocean, during off-peak season, there were a total of 4 or 5 staff in the diner and adjacent lounges - depending on direction. The sleeper lounge attendant/bartender also plated and warmed the pre-prepared food, there were 2 or 3 waitstaff and an attendant/bartender in the coach lounge. The latter occasionally assisted with clearing tables or delivering desserts, but for the most part it was a crew of 3 eastbound and 4 westbound - all busy, all hard-working. Food was very good even though not "cooked from scratch" onboard.
 

Dakota 400

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The quality of food in the full-service diners was poor, while pre-cooked meals of the type served in first class on airlines can be very good. It has been many years since Amtrak has used diners to their full capabilities, for example eliminating the staff to wash dishes. The job of the chef became mostly reheating food. I doubt we ever see a return to labor-intensive dining, but think that AMtrak could do a good job with pre-cooked meals.
I agree with your thoughts other than the quality of food when we had full service diners. In my experience, those meals were as good as or better than what domestic first class air meals were.

The return of labor-intensive dining is unlikely. The dining quality and service that I experienced in December/January of 2018-2019 on the Silver Meteor and on the Auto Train in January of this year was good to very good. I'd be satisfied if that standard of food service could be re-established.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Sorry about that. I thought that the meals were cooked offsite, similar to the Ocean.
VIA Rail is a strange operation so it’s easy to get confused. The Canadian is nice but has had its own share of budget cuts as well. When I last rode several years ago the employees were complaining that they had just switched to plastic flowers vs. real. In recent photos I’ve noticed they no longer have the nice little jam jars for the plastic kraft jams. Little cuts even as prices go up.

The bigger point is on the staffing levels- the ocean sounds like its operating like the Amtrak full service dining Cars were operating before contemporary dining. So the ocean sadly isn’t a compromise in between traditional dining and contemporary dining.

I’m also wondering if it’s even possible to go back, as I suspect the dining car commissaries are no longer operating. But I’m not sure.
 

20th Century Rider

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I’m also wondering if it’s even possible to go back, as I suspect the dining car commissaries are no longer operating. But I’m not sure.
It seems that now all we can talk about is what's in the rearview mirror. And over and over again, we see that exemplary services that once existed are almost never restored.

Example... when coach meals were a part of air travel behind first class, they were removed by one airline, then removed by all airlines; replacing them with free water and 'for purchase' items. And yes, some airlines in Europe now charge for water and have removed so much seat space as to cause extreme discomfort and possible conflicts; as in 'air rage.'

So over and over again we can only speculate what will hold for air travel. As COVID storms on, it promises to change patterns of life we took for granted.

Only one thing is for sure... change is constant.
 

me_little_me

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It seems that now all we can talk about is what's in the rearview mirror. And over and over again, we see that exemplary services that once existed are almost never restored.

Example... when coach meals were a part of air travel behind first class, they were removed by one airline, then removed by all airlines; replacing them with free water and 'for purchase' items. And yes, some airlines in Europe now charge for water and have removed so much seat space as to cause extreme discomfort and possible conflicts; as in 'air rage.'

So over and over again we can only speculate what will hold for air travel. As COVID storms on, it promises to change patterns of life we took for granted.

Only one thing is for sure... change is constant.
But Amtrak has no comparable competition. Airlines are all bottom feeding to fill their planes based on the cheapest price and, therefore, the least service. Even First Class has been cheapened although many of their customers seek out the best of the carriers. However, since most Business Class/First Class travel in planes is company-paid, most companies choose the lowest price even there.

Amtrak prices are more reflective of their costs albeit, they are trying to reduce losses by cutting those costs. Were they to receive the subsidies the airlines get, they'd have more money. But then, again, if they got above water and had enough capital, they could (but not necessarily would) be able to provide more and better service. So far, it seems that they only want to cut costs rather than try to increase revenue.

Your last statement is correct. But it doesn't necessarily mean that the change has to be a downhill one.
 

20th Century Rider

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But Amtrak has no comparable competition. Airlines are all bottom feeding to fill their planes based on the cheapest price and, therefore, the least service. Even First Class has been cheapened although many of their customers seek out the best of the carriers. However, since most Business Class/First Class travel in planes is company-paid, most companies choose the lowest price even there.

Amtrak prices are more reflective of their costs albeit, they are trying to reduce losses by cutting those costs. Were they to receive the subsidies the airlines get, they'd have more money. But then, again, if they got above water and had enough capital, they could (but not necessarily would) be able to provide more and better service. So far, it seems that they only want to cut costs rather than try to increase revenue.

Your last statement is correct. But it doesn't necessarily mean that the change has to be a downhill one.
It is easy to see why and how this discussion is going around and around... and much of what you say is true. But then bring in the examples of government funding propping rail service world wide because the infrastructure is dependent on vast amounts of land space. Amtrak is being expected to turn a profit so that no government funding is needed; which is in itself an issue because when it comes to addressing the common good. So food is the first thing to go. More funding would bring a higher level of service and greater ridership... but because rail is what it is, profits could still be too low to break even. Now bring in environmental concerns and roads laden with traffic congestion; and the government stepping in to ease transit problems... again, for the tax payers.

Today I am allowing myself to ramble across all the bewildering complexities of our rail dilemma. In the end, one must ask; is rail transit justified? Yes and no. Long distance makes life better for a small population living in rural areas. Transit in the megalopolis areas is becomes a priority issue do to transiting in densely populated areas threatened with smog from congested roads. Rail travel must transcend the desires of a few for recreational vacationing. It's about meeting the need for necessary mobility within our society as comfortable and efficiently as possible.

Bottom line... it would be great for all of us if we can figure out how to implement an environmentally qualitative rail solution to meet the desires and requirements of the citizenry to be mobile.
 

joelkfla

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Oct 16, 2018
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Sorry about that. I thought that the meals were cooked offsite, similar to the Ocean.
I rode the Canadian Vancouver to Toronto 2 years ago, and the food was far superior to Amtrak's, with a rotating dinner menu featuring regional specialties, and fresh cooked breakfast including delicious pancakes served with real maple syrup. They also had a welcome aboard wine tasting in the lounge, and a local singer-songwriter traveling with the train and performing twice a day in the lounge or one of the domes for most of the trip.

That was 2 years ago, so I don't know whether it had been downgraded at all before the pandemic.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Reading those words made me dig out a photo of my trip... maple syrup to the right below my coffee. Also notice the little jam jars on the table, those have since been budget cut to the little plastic kraft jams. 76390D8A-21B4-4BCB-AA44-65409F031C38.jpeg
 

dlagrua

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Amtrak is receiving better funding of late so I would believe that the restoration of food service will be tied to how rapidly the passengers return. This can be a difficult question though. If the trains start filling up again, then management may make the argument that full meal service is not needed. If ridership continues to be light then maybe the thinking could be how Amtrak can attract more ridership by offering more amenities. So far all that we have seen are cuts over the last few years... morning paper, chocolates, the elimination of ice, the flower on the dinner table, a switch to plastic plates and cups that pollute the environment, and now the "Flexible" TV dinner using even more plastic.
My opinion is that full dining service is likely to return in 2021 after this Corona Virus scare is over but we do not have Amtrak leadership right now that is friendly to the long distance trains. The key is the elimination of the John Mica amendment to the transportation bill that forces Amtrak dining cars to be the first in recorded history to be a profitable enterprise for a railroad.
 

20th Century Rider

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Amtrak is receiving better funding of late so I would believe that the restoration of food service will be tied to how rapidly the passengers return. This can be a difficult question though. If the trains start filling up again, then management may make the argument that full meal service is not needed. If ridership continues to be light then maybe the thinking could be how Amtrak can attract more ridership by offering more amenities. So far all that we have seen are cuts over the last few years... morning paper, chocolates, the elimination of ice, the flower on the dinner table, a switch to plastic plates and cups that pollute the environment, and now the "Flexible" TV dinner using even more plastic.
My opinion is that full dining service is likely to return in 2021 after this Corona Virus scare is over but we do not have Amtrak leadership right now that is friendly to the long distance trains. The key is the elimination of the John Mica amendment to the transportation bill that forces Amtrak dining cars to be the first in recorded history to be a profitable enterprise for a railroad.
'According to Amtrak' in its FY21-25 Service Line Plans which came out this spring... mention is made of the passenger profile of those on Western LD services... "The current rider demographic skews heavily to retirees and train aficionados due to long trip times and less concern about on-time reliability. Our goal is to develop a more contemporary experience which leverages the important communal experience that the traditional rider expects with service options more attractive to Millennials."

Regarding the 'Contemporary Food Service Model,' "We are now offering updated food service for sleeping car customers on several single- night overnight trains, targeting improved flexibility and customer satisfaction while reducing food and beverage operating costs. Additionally, café menus are being enhanced and standardized to improve offerings to generate additional revenue, simplify processes and reduce operating costs. The service line will also benefit from the food and beverage point-of-sale system (POS) with improved features."

It appears that Amtrak decisions are solely independent of ridership views and opinions, and are based upon what management hierarchy comes up with to please the 'bean counters.' That's where we continue to hear... "Due to the overwhelming popularity of..." Pleasing millennials is just a form of justification within to firm up these plans.

No different than the post office raising rates... all based upon operational infrastructure, management hierarchy, and pleasing the 'bean counters.' Customer opinion / satisfaction is not part of the equation.

Amtrak-Service-Line-Plans-FY21-25
 

Exvalley

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Our goal is to develop a more contemporary experience which leverages the important communal experience that the traditional rider expects with service options more attractive to Millennials."
It appears that Amtrak decisions are solely independent of ridership views and opinions, and are based upon what management hierarchy comes up with to please the 'bean counters.'
These two sentences appear to be inconsistent.
 

20th Century Rider

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These two sentences appear to be inconsistent.
Amtrak goals are undocumented assumptions to fit the direction of what plans they want to make to save money. The first statement is taken directly from the Amtrak report. Much has been said on this forum questioning just what 'millennials' need; want; expect... and the validity of such to justify such changes for service.

The second statement questions such validity; “It appears that Amtrak decisions are solely independent of ridership views and opinions, and are based upon what management hierarchy comes up with to please the 'bean counters.”

So the second statement is my reaction to the questionable assumption of the report.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Amtrak is the definition of inconsistent! These reports are sickening. Millennials don’t want TV dinners. The only people who defend the food are “train aficionados” that say the train ride is still worth it to them.
I honestly think most train fans probably aren't that happy with the new meals, but there appears to be a surprisingly vocal minority that seems to go out of their way to remind everyone else that there is almost nothing Amtrak can do to lose their future business. Which is fine I guess, but why do they think unquestioning acceptance would make for a compelling case to anyone but Ned Flanders? 🤷‍♂️
 
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20th Century Rider

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I honestly think most train fans probably aren't that happy with the new meals, but there appears to be a surprisingly vocal Ned Flanders brigade that seems to go out of their way to remind everyone else that there is almost nothing Amtrak can do to lose their future business. Which is fine I guess, but why do they think unquestioning acceptance would make for a compelling rebuttal to anyone else? 🤷‍♂️
What's frustrating for me is Amtrak's false justifications for those abysmal noxious meals. Millennial's like them? Where's the reliable survey that documents that conclusion???

I'd rather see them eliminate 'complementary' food completely even if it means lowering the cost just a little. It would be great to bring in a new thread to this forum on innovative ways to bring one's own food along that would be much more enjoyable and that would enhance the journey just as much as the traditional full service dining.
 

crescent-zephyr

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If you like a diet of Hebrew Nationals and microwave pizza, I’m sure it is.
I don’t. I Ordered the cheese and cracker plate, hummus and pretzel chips, and a chicken Caesar salad. (Lunch and dinner). I probably got some peanut m&ms for dessert.
 

Exvalley

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I don’t think that Amtrak ever believed that millennials prefer flexible dining, at least as far as the food is concerned. I think it was an excuse. I also think that their recent statement is more forward-looking and that they genuinely want to develop products that appeal to millennials. This is because they did not say that they wanted to keep the status quo with Flexible Dining. So my hope is that they will put forth some effort into developing a product that will appeal to younger generations. But we are talking about Amtrak and I fully accept that my hopes may be dashed.
 
Joined
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Most of this discussion seems to assume that Amtrak first-class fares are based at least in part on the cost of serving meals. Even though Amtrak does indeed transfer some of the sleeping car revenue to the dining car account, I'm not sure that's the basis of the fare. Fares appear to be based purely on supply and demand. In other words, Amtrak charges the maximum fare it can get while still filling up the space. Presumably, if enough potential riders are turned off by the new meal service, demand and fares will fall automatically. But that -- I suspect -- is the extent of the linkage.
Yeah, I'm definitely not riding until regular dining service has been brought back.
 
Joined
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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.
I'm not going if they don't bring back the regular dining service. Going to the Dining Car and interacting with others on the train is integral to the long-distance train experience. They, at the very least, need to talk to those who run first-class airliner dining services and see how they do it.
 

20th Century Rider

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I don’t think that Amtrak ever believed that millennials prefer flexible dining, at least as far as the food is concerned. I think it was an excuse.
Exactly! And the 'millennials' generation is not even a factor... it's overall ridership / funding / revenue / profitability.
 
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