Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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Rasputin

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Jan 17, 2019
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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 group 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? 🤷‍♂️
They will be still riding when it is a boxcar with folding chairs.
 

20th Century Rider

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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.
Unfortunately, and according to the latest Amtrak Service Line Plan, flex dining will become permanent. The only realistic hope then is that it will continue to 'evolve' into something more appropriate to the needs and tastes of the travel... along the line of what you said. Speaking for myself, dining has always been an important part of the experience and I will be very discouraged to spend those big bucks for LD trips.
 

20th Century Rider

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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.
You speak for a good many people on this forum!!!
 

me_little_me

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Jul 16, 2010
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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've personally seen evidence of how much they like it over the old meals.

On the Crescent in December, there was one group of 4 sleeper millennials enjoying their dinner in the "diner-lounge". Every single one of them chose to bring food back from the cafe. Not one of them chose the included Amtrak Garbage.

I should have taken a picture but I didn't think of it at the time.
 

20th Century Rider

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I've personally seen evidence of how much they like it over the old meals.

On the Crescent in December, there was one group of 4 sleeper millennials enjoying their dinner in the "diner-lounge". Every single one of them chose to bring food back from the cafe. Not one of them chose the included Amtrak Garbage.

I should have taken a picture but I didn't think of it at the time.
Awesome take! Just goes to show you how irrelevant is the fake research to justify those tiny-tasteless, unhealthy, unsatisfying, disappointing, and cheap those 'flex' meals really are.

Amtrak should take a cue... if it cares... from the responses on this forum... most are probably some of the most enthusiastic and devoted rail travelers in the country!
 

lordsigma

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My reading of the five year service line plan was not that flex dining would be expanded to all routes. It was that flex dining was the plan for the eastern routes (in a single modified Viewliner II food service car) and that the western routes would continue to have traditional offerings with perhaps eventual service tiers similar to VIA - if you notice that was under the heading experiential service plan and there was language in there directly referencing the need to approach the western trains differently because of the meals being more important to the experience Or something similar to that. Yes the word contemporary appeared there but I personally don’t take flex dining being rolled out to the western trains as what that section meant. And this experiential action item was listed as a separate entity from the roll out of flex dining for the eastern trains. Some of you I’m sure disagree with my interpretation of that and I respect that, but just sharing what I took from it. Obviously this was all pre Covid so who knows what will happen at this point.
 
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20th Century Rider

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My reading of the five year service line plan was not that flex dining would be expanded to all routes. It was that flex dining was the plan for the eastern routes (in a single modified Viewliner II food service car) and that the western routes would continue to have traditional offerings with perhaps eventual service tiers similar to VIA - if you notice that was under the heading experiential service plan and there was language in there directly referencing the need to approach the western trains differently because of the meals being more important to the experience Or something similar to that. Yes the word contemporary appeared there but I personally don’t take flex dining being rolled out to the western trains as what that section meant. And this experiential action item was listed as a separate entity from the roll out of flex dining for the eastern trains. Some of you I’m sure disagree with my interpretation of that and I respect that, but just sharing what I took from it. Obviously this was all pre Covid so who knows what will happen at this point.
This is what's in the Amtrak-Service-Line-Plans-FY21-25, pg 89. They keep referring to Millennials as justification for the way they are doing cost cutting... but as stated many times on this forum, such is not a realistic or accurate justification for removal of dining cars and replacing full service with flex meals.

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 7.16.16 AM.png
 

Nick Farr

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Dec 25, 2019
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Honestly, I wasn't terribly impressed with the "Full Service" dining options to begin with. I miss the Signature Steak, but even that was about on par with what you'd find as the special at B-grade truck stop restaurant. There a lot they could do to enhance the overall experience, even assuming an on-board chef is never going to come back AND realizing that the train fan demographic has been decimated by COVID.

1) Eliminate the paperwork: Give the SCAs and Dining Car Attendants mobile devices to allow them to take orders, know which passengers have meals that have been ordered in advance, confirm service times, give reminders of when dinner items should be picked up, passengers checked in on, etc...and otherwise respond to passenger requests.

2) Better plating: Right now, "Flex Dining" is TV Dinners with a salad and sometimes a roll. Just as Flight Attendants or European Cafe Car attendants do, the staff can heat up different portions of a meal and serve them on actual plates or prepare a tray. I'm assuming they were already doing some version of this with the "Full Service" dining, but the plates and silverware tended to be all plastic.

3) Reusable Tableware: Get rid of the plastic. Reheat items in foil which can be recycled. Use plates and silverware. Airlines have trays and other systems for washing these items off the train, and with a little imagination Amtrak can cut down on a lot of waste and provide a better experience.

4) Local options: When going through Denver, I just order Postmates/Grubhub and pick up by dinner on the 6 (or sometimes lunch/breakfast on the 5). For about the same as it costs to truck things from Chicago all the way out and back, why not allow local providers the opportunity to create to-go meals ready for pickup at stops?

The other thing that nobody seems to be addressing is the incredibly uneven service that is really the differentiating factor. I've had SCAs that were amazingly attentive and SCAs that I saw twice in my two day journey. I had some DCAs that were great about coming around and taking orders and setting up meal times and DCAs that were surly and sometimes mean. I know there are union politics in play, but the sleeping car product will not survive in an era where consistent, friendly service is the norm even at the most economical ends of the market.

And, yes, of course I'm still going to be riding the Zephyr out to Reno no matter what happens...but I'm not sure if this experience will survive beyond the rail fans dying out, the folks who hate flying and the one-and-done bucket lister.
 

lordsigma

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This is what's in the Amtrak-Service-Line-Plans-FY21-25, pg 89. They keep referring to Millennials as justification for the way they are doing cost cutting... but as stated many times on this forum, such is not a realistic or accurate justification for removal of dining cars and replacing full service with flex meals. I read “different strategy” to mean that the approach needs to be different than the one night trains.

View attachment 18307
i went back and read it too. I don’t really read flexible dining when I read that. It sounds more like they had an idea for a tiered level of service that would appeal to different groups of riders while flex dining is clearly the plan for the eastern routes. I think they are stating here that the western trains require a different strategy than the one nighters.
 

railiner

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I don't think so-called "millennials" are any different from 'the rest' of us...as far as enjoying sitting down at a table for traditional dining car service. The only difference, perhaps, is some of the choices on the menu, as in more 'healthy'...but then again, most people are trending towards that nowadays.

For those that prefer 'fast food take out'...there is the cafe. Not including meals with sleeper's is the way allow 'flexible choice'. Or, on the other hand, offer an optional meal 'package' to both sleeper and coach passengers....
 

Barb Stout

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Mar 13, 2019
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428
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.
I just can't see how one could fit a cooler/container of food into a roomette with 2 people for the amount of time one would be on some of those long distance trains which is how I travel. It's tight enough as it is. And then the room to prep it? Long distance trains HAVE to have onboard meals for the passengers. Decoupling the meals from the sleeper prices is a good idea though. That way if I ate too much for lunch, I could skip supper without feeling I wasted my money.
 

20th Century Rider

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Jan 26, 2020
Messages
486
Honestly, I wasn't terribly impressed with the "Full Service" dining options to begin with. I miss the Signature Steak, but even that was about on par with what you'd find as the special at B-grade truck stop restaurant. There a lot they could do to enhance the overall experience, even assuming an on-board chef is never going to come back AND realizing that the train fan demographic has been decimated by COVID.

1) Eliminate the paperwork: Give the SCAs and Dining Car Attendants mobile devices to allow them to take orders, know which passengers have meals that have been ordered in advance, confirm service times, give reminders of when dinner items should be picked up, passengers checked in on, etc...and otherwise respond to passenger requests.

2) Better plating: Right now, "Flex Dining" is TV Dinners with a salad and sometimes a roll. Just as Flight Attendants or European Cafe Car attendants do, the staff can heat up different portions of a meal and serve them on actual plates or prepare a tray. I'm assuming they were already doing some version of this with the "Full Service" dining, but the plates and silverware tended to be all plastic.

3) Reusable Tableware: Get rid of the plastic. Reheat items in foil which can be recycled. Use plates and silverware. Airlines have trays and other systems for washing these items off the train, and with a little imagination Amtrak can cut down on a lot of waste and provide a better experience.

4) Local options: When going through Denver, I just order Postmates/Grubhub and pick up by dinner on the 6 (or sometimes lunch/breakfast on the 5). For about the same as it costs to truck things from Chicago all the way out and back, why not allow local providers the opportunity to create to-go meals ready for pickup at stops?

The other thing that nobody seems to be addressing is the incredibly uneven service that is really the differentiating factor. I've had SCAs that were amazingly attentive and SCAs that I saw twice in my two day journey. I had some DCAs that were great about coming around and taking orders and setting up meal times and DCAs that were surly and sometimes mean. I know there are union politics in play, but the sleeping car product will not survive in an era where consistent, friendly service is the norm even at the most economical ends of the market.

And, yes, of course I'm still going to be riding the Zephyr out to Reno no matter what happens...but I'm not sure if this experience will survive beyond the rail fans dying out, the folks who hate flying and the one-and-done bucket lister.
Well thought out reply... with valid points... including what you said about all those disposable plastics going into landfills; and the incredibly uneven service. It will be interesting to see what ultimately happens...
 

20th Century Rider

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Messages
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i went back and read it too. I don’t really read flexible dining when I read that. It sounds more like they had an idea for a tiered level of service that would appeal to different groups of riders while flex dining is clearly the plan for the eastern routes. I think they are stating here that the western trains require a different strategy than the one nighters.
I don't think anyone knows where Amtrak is really going with the food program... but when they say, "...The strategy includes redesigning sleeper cars, contemporary seating in dining/lounge cars similar to current living space trends, updated menus and service equipment..." sounds a lot like what they said to justify the flex meals.

So... Just what are the terms 'current living space trends; updated menus.' What does that mean and from what source do those terms actually come from? I'm concerned that when they refer to a modern day concept... such as millennial preferences... it totally lacks rationale.
 

Nick Farr

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Dec 25, 2019
Messages
91
I don't think so-called "millennials" are any different from 'the rest' of us...as far as enjoying sitting down at a table for traditional dining car service.
Hard disagree, from both my own personal experience and what I have observed.

I'm sure there is a class of rail fans who doesn't mind reservations, being forced to sit with total strangers AND being barked at by DCAs who will forget something about your order. The paperwork involved and the need to sign a form not attached to a credit card receipt is something that throws off the under 40 set. That being said, I'm hard pressed to find many folks under 40 who will find this kind of a product acceptable and we haven't even gotten to the food offerings yet.

While those over 40 in age or BMI were totally happy with the offerings, every pre-COVID time I've dined in the car I've heard someone at my table ask "can I just get a dinner salad" or "is there a soup option"?

Until you fix the service aspect, you're not going to be able to decouple the cost of dining from the sleepers--unless you just call Amtrak to complain about the service and essentially get that portion refunded to you.
 

20th Century Rider

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I just can't see how one could fit a cooler/container of food into a roomette with 2 people for the amount of time one would be on some of those long distance trains which is how I travel. It's tight enough as it is. And then the room to prep it? Long distance trains HAVE to have onboard meals for the passengers. Decoupling the meals from the sleeper prices is a good idea though. That way if I ate too much for lunch, I could skip supper without feeling I wasted my money.
All good and valid points. I remember taking a trip in the early days of Amtrak... I brought along cold roasted chicken and potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil, some cookies and fruit, and wine. That works for an overnighter... but it would certainly take some ingenuity to figure out how to bring along food for longer periods of travel... in such a way that it's light and easy to carry.

One could bring along some items such as cookies, fruit, cheese, and salami... and supplement with purchased food. All just thoughts; we will see what Amtrak offers as things evolve... and plan according to their own wishes.
 

me_little_me

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I don't think anyone knows where Amtrak is really going with the food program... but when they say, "...The strategy includes redesigning sleeper cars, contemporary seating in dining/lounge cars similar to current living space trends, updated menus and service equipment..." sounds a lot like what they said to justify the flex meals.

So... Just what are the terms 'current living space trends; updated menus.' What does that mean and from what source do those terms actually come from? I'm concerned that when they refer to a modern day concept... such as millennial preferences... it totally lacks rationale.
I know what it means. No furniture except one dirty couch and one broken chair. Bags of half-eaten food on the floor. Empty beer bottles littered all over. Remains of marijuana cigarettes. Netflix playing on the TV. Receipts from GrubHub everywhere. Psychedelic pictures on the wall.

Was I right? What prize do I get?
 

crescent-zephyr

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Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,564
Hard disagree, from both my own personal experience and what I have observed.

I'm sure there is a class of rail fans who doesn't mind reservations, being forced to sit with total strangers AND being barked at by DCAs who will forget something about your order. The paperwork involved and the need to sign a form not attached to a credit card receipt is something that throws off the under 40 set. That being said, I'm hard pressed to find many folks under 40 who will find this kind of a product acceptable and we haven't even gotten to the food offerings yet.
These problems exist everywhere at Amtrak too. In business class on a Michigan train I was scolded for not ordering my free water separate from my paid snacks (how was I supposed to know?) and then I had to sign a receipt for a single “free” bottle of water.

Millennials don’t want TV dinners though I’m sure of that. I would argue that the contemporary dining was designed for railfans who are used to eating TV dinners alone while watching the Strasburg railcam. Or for older passengers who are used to TV dinner quality food at their retirement home.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I don't think anyone knows where Amtrak is really going with the food program... but when they say, "...The strategy includes redesigning sleeper cars, contemporary seating in dining/lounge cars similar to current living space trends, updated menus and service equipment..." sounds a lot like what they said to justify the flex meals.

So... Just what are the terms 'current living space trends; updated menus.' What does that mean and from what source do those terms actually come from? I'm concerned that when they refer to a modern day concept... such as millennial preferences... it totally lacks rationale.
The living space trends refer to coffee shops etc. that have couches and lounge seating and encourage you to use the space as a “3rd space” - it would actually more closely resemble the old Pullman lounge cars but anything Amtrak has ever tried recently has been replaced with standard booth seating in just a few years “based on customer and employee feedback.”
 

tricia

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I just can't see how one could fit a cooler/container of food into a roomette with 2 people for the amount of time one would be on some of those long distance trains which is how I travel. It's tight enough as it is. And then the room to prep it? Long distance trains HAVE to have onboard meals for the passengers. Decoupling the meals from the sleeper prices is a good idea though. That way if I ate too much for lunch, I could skip supper without feeling I wasted my money.
And even if you can find room for the cooler, there's no reliable access to ice along the way to keep things in it cold. That's one of the reasons I cancelled a three-night Amtrak trip recently: I can bring food along if I must, but living on nothing but shelf-stable snacks for several days is nearly as bad as the flex options--and not good enough for me to sign up for, for such a long trip.
 

Sidney

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I don't understand why cafe car food can't be substituted for the flexible offerings. This did happen on an EB trip in June. At least it's a bit of variety. If fkex dining continues beyond September and I'm sure it will,there has to be some variety. Does anybody at Amtrak read these posts? They must have an inkling of the almost 100% negative response to the food situation on the Western trains.
 

lordsigma

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These problems exist everywhere at Amtrak too. In business class on a Michigan train I was scolded for not ordering my free water separate from my paid snacks (how was I supposed to know?) and then I had to sign a receipt for a single “free” bottle of water.

Millennials don’t want TV dinners though I’m sure of that.
I would agree. While I do sometimes try to be the eternal optimist on this and while I don’t find food to be the overwhelming draw of the train for me, (For me it’s the adventure and sitting in my room and watching the world go by) I am a millennial and I would rather the traditional dining.
 

niemi24s

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Does anybody at Amtrak read these posts?
I suspect Amtraks only use of these posts is to transfer them to audio and play them as punishment to employees deserving such cruel and unusual treatment .
They must have an inkling of the almost 100% negative response to the food situation on the Western trains.
They must?? What leads you to believe that?
 

Willbridge

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I don't think so-called "millennials" are any different from 'the rest' of us...as far as enjoying sitting down at a table for traditional dining car service. The only difference, perhaps, is some of the choices on the menu, as in more 'healthy'...but then again, most people are trending towards that nowadays.

For those that prefer 'fast food take out'...there is the cafe. Not including meals with sleeper's is the way allow 'flexible choice'. Or, on the other hand, offer an optional meal 'package' to both sleeper and coach passengers....
The funny thing about the millennial angle is that in their choices of restaurants and bars they enjoy all of the things that current Amtrak management takes away. Until a few weeks before the police came and tear-gassed my street, I lived on Denver's Capitol Hill. It's an apartment house district and I liked the neighborhood coffee houses and saloons. Often they included communal tables. Sometimes we'd have a good cross-generational conversation -- exactly like being in a dining car! Some of the staff would send people over to my table to help them kick around travel ideas. Oddly enough, the potential millennial travelers wanted good food at reasonable prices, however they could get it. And they wanted to meet local people in the places they would visit.

The Amtrak millennial is not typical.
 

Rasputin

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My millennial children are familiar with traveling by train, both coach and sleeper overnight but they are not railfans. They have no problem using the Acela service, the Pacific Surfliner, the Downeaster or the Capitol Corridor. They recognize these services as efficient and economical. However they tell me they have no intention of traveling on Amtrak long distance trains. They just have too few days off and they don't see much sense in taking 3 days out of their vacation to travel from the east coast to Flagstaff to visit the Grand Canyon and then three days to return. On the basis of what they tell me, I think Amtrak's efforts to turn its long distance train services on its head in order to attract millennials is a fool's errand.
 
Joined
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And even if you can find room for the cooler, there's no reliable access to ice along the way to keep things in it cold. That's one of the reasons I cancelled a three-night Amtrak trip recently: I can bring food along if I must, but living on nothing but shelf-stable snacks for several days is nearly as bad as the flex options--and not good enough for me to sign up for, for such a long trip.
And for those of us who come from abroad to enjoy the long distance trains, it just isn’t practiceable to add a cooler to our existing luggage or to cart enough food for a three or five day trip. Nor do we usually have the knowledge as to where to fill up between trains or where to hop off to collect from a local diner. Once normal times return I for one would not opt to travel on the LD trains if all that was on offer was the disgusting sounding food described on this forum. Sadly I suspect I have taken what turns out to be both my first and last US rail trip
 
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