Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
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Jan 18, 2016
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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.

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I don't understand why they think Millennials don't want good food. I see them spending a LOT of money in expensive restaurants. WHY would the same people be willing to eat the miserable food Amtrak is serving?
 

Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
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Jan 18, 2016
Messages
113
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.
Meals must be paid for separately and sleeper fares reduced. My suspicion, though, is that if they eliminate the all inclusive price they will not reduce ticket prices much at all. I agree that the whole dining concept needs rethinking but Amtrak's personnel are a major problem. Dining car staff bark at passengers, as you say. They order them where to sit. Order! Many are simply not suited to the job. They seem to resent it. The only justification for a train trip of two nights is that it is a kind of cruise, an experience. Amtrak has been unwilling to develop this concept. I would like to use up my Rewards points and then I will be finished with long distance trains in the US after decades of travel pre and post Amtrak. If conditions ever allow again I'll spend my money in other parts of the world where passengers are treated with some dignity, Spending well over $1,000 to cross the US (one way) in a train is insane given the very low level service provided, including very unreliable air conditioning. As for those Rewards points, the uncertainty of Covid travel restrictions that might be imposed after buying the ticket or even during the cross country trip or after arriving coupled with the risk of inadequate or no air conditioning deter me from making plans. I think too Amtrak has now dropped its no penalty cancellation policy despite the growing Covid outbreaks and despite airlines flexible cancellation policies.
 

Ferroequinologist

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Jan 18, 2016
Messages
113
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.
It's also dangerous for those of us on low sodium or other diets.
 

Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
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Jan 18, 2016
Messages
113
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
You are quite right.
 

tricia

Conductor
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Aug 23, 2011
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1,065
I think too Amtrak has now dropped its no penalty cancellation policy despite the growing Covid outbreaks and despite airlines flexible cancellation policies.
Amtrak is still waiving cancellation and change penalties and fees for all reservations made up to August 31. A few days ago I had no difficulty getting a full points refund for a trip I cancelled.
 

Nick Farr

Train Attendant
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Dec 25, 2019
Messages
90
Spending well over $1,000 to cross the US (one way) in a train is insane given the very low level service provided, including very unreliable air conditioning.
The one thing Amtrak can't take away from us is the views and the fact that we have a room for for 2-3 days. Combine hotel and airfare or the costs of any other mode of travel and it's roughly on par with those costs.

Now I'm just thinking why can't we add our own rail car and experiment with service levels like we like!
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
20,004
The one thing Amtrak can't take away from us is the views and the fact that we have a room for for 2-3 days. Combine hotel and airfare or the costs of any other mode of travel and it's roughly on par with those costs.

Now I'm just thinking why can't we add our own rail car and experiment with service levels like we like!
How do you turn a Large Fortune into a Small One?
Go to Vegas, own a Race Horse/Yacht/Jet/Private Rail Car!!😉
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
469
It's also dangerous for those of us on low sodium or other diets.
Going on the journey now means you're willing to pay big pricing for unhealthy food and poor service. Makes no sense to me and I will probably opt out of future Amtrak travel.

In the past a real motivator were the delicious meals included. I'm no longer motivated. There's a good possibility that most millennials would agree!
 

20th Century Rider

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Jan 26, 2020
Messages
469
Meals must be paid for separately and sleeper fares reduced. My suspicion, though, is that if they eliminate the all inclusive price they will not reduce ticket prices much at all. I agree that the whole dining concept needs rethinking but Amtrak's personnel are a major problem. Dining car staff bark at passengers, as you say. They order them where to sit. Order! Many are simply not suited to the job. They seem to resent it. The only justification for a train trip of two nights is that it is a kind of cruise, an experience. Amtrak has been unwilling to develop this concept. I would like to use up my Rewards points and then I will be finished with long distance trains in the US after decades of travel pre and post Amtrak. If conditions ever allow again I'll spend my money in other parts of the world where passengers are treated with some dignity, Spending well over $1,000 to cross the US (one way) in a train is insane given the very low level service provided, including very unreliable air conditioning. As for those Rewards points, the uncertainty of Covid travel restrictions that might be imposed after buying the ticket or even during the cross country trip or after arriving coupled with the risk of inadequate or no air conditioning deter me from making plans. I think too Amtrak has now dropped its no penalty cancellation policy despite the growing Covid outbreaks and despite airlines flexible cancellation policies.
It is probably fair to say that Amtrak is no longer connected with the passengers it serves. You point this out very well... and I'm in total agreement... I have experienced everything you've pointed out. You speak for me too!
 
Joined
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From what I’ve seen of where some millennials choose to sit, I think by changing to “contemporary living space trends,” Amtrak must mean removing all furniture and any attractive decoration from what was supposed to be a nice dining car, then promoting a “warehouse-style contemporary depressing bare bones floor for you to sit on so you will feel at home. Remember to sit in the middle of the floor so you can be in everyone else’s way and be as annoying as possible.”
 

me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,180
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.
In the past, when people asked me about rail travel (as well as in my Amtrak seminars) and the days to get there vs flying, I would tell them that flying is the punishment you have to do to enjoy yourself but overnight in a sleeper is as much a part of the vacation as is the destination and you will be telling people of the beautiful scenery, the opportunity to have a nice meal as the world goes by and an opportunity to sit down with strangers and leave as friends.

I can't say that any more. The first still exists. The second has been removed by Amtrak and may never return. The third has also been removed by Amtrak (not by the virus) as there is no reason to sit with strangers in the diner and end up talking for an hour about life, leaving as friends and then seeing them later and waving and saying hello although sitting with the next set of soon-to-be friends.

Amtrak is now just a slow but very expensive plane for those unable or unwilling to fly or drive.
 

20th Century Rider

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In the past, when people asked me about rail travel (as well as in my Amtrak seminars) and the days to get there vs flying, I would tell them that flying is the punishment you have to do to enjoy yourself but overnight in a sleeper is as much a part of the vacation as is the destination and you will be telling people of the beautiful scenery, the opportunity to have a nice meal as the world goes by and an opportunity to sit down with strangers and leave as friends.

I can't say that any more. The first still exists. The second has been removed by Amtrak and may never return. The third has also been removed by Amtrak (not by the virus) as there is no reason to sit with strangers in the diner and end up talking for an hour about life, leaving as friends and then seeing them later and waving and saying hello although sitting with the next set of soon-to-be friends.

Amtrak is now just a slow but very expensive plane for those unable or unwilling to fly or drive.
Yup! As so many of us are saying... Amtrak no longer cares about the customers it is supposed to be serving. This transit mode is now overpriced and irrelevant for many of us.
 

Manny T

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Jun 7, 2015
Messages
486
I think I understand the point about Millennials -- imagine a big city fine dining restaurant with tablecloths, dim lighting, good service, fine cuisine, extensive wine list, multi-course meals, and 2.5 hours to dine -- see a lot of millennials eating there? No, it's all guys with expense accounts or well-heeled old folks. Your typical millennial will grab a slice of pizza after the gym, get a Starbucks and continue surfing social media all night.

That's Amtrak's argument -- millennials don't want restaurant style dining, they want grab-and-go.

But Amtrak's argument is a fallacy -- the millennials aren't the ones riding Amtrak across the country. That market is composed of (relatively) well-heeled old folks, primarily, who are paying for their dining and by and large (if this forum is evidence) want their nice sit-down meals.

Amtrak's argument for flex-dining is fake, and it alienates the prime target audience for LD.
Save money in the short run, and at the same time alienate the audience for long distance trains to justify their demise -- a "win-win" for Amtrak suits.
 

Exvalley

Service Attendant
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Jul 7, 2020
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I could be mistaken, but it doesn’t seem to me that rail fans are getting any younger. If Amtrak wants to attract millennials they need to offer experiential travel, not just a method of getting from point A to point B. Millennials want the adventure itself. Better food, trivia contests, wine tastings and live music are what they need. Not TV dinners and a worn down room.
 

Exvalley

Service Attendant
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I think I understand the point about Millennials -- imagine a big city fine dining restaurant with tablecloths, dim lighting, good service, fine cuisine, extensive wine list, multi-course meals, and 2.5 hours to dine -- see a lot of millennials eating there? No, it's all guys with expense accounts or well-heeled old folks. Your typical millennial will grab a slice of pizza after the gym, get a Starbucks and continue surfing social media all night.
Millennials may not be eating in fine dining restaurants, but the are certainly dining in brewpubs, gastropubs and farm to table restaurants. They appreciate good food, but they also appreciate value. Neither of which Amtrak is offering right now.
 

Nick Farr

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Dec 25, 2019
Messages
90
It is probably fair to say that Amtrak is no longer connected with the passengers it serves. You point this out very well... and I'm in total agreement... I have experienced everything you've pointed out. You speak for me too!
I started riding the Pere Marquette in the 90s, and if we're being honest--has Amtrak as an organization ever connected with the passengers it serves?

I say this noting that I've been on trips with some really remarkable Sleeping Car Attendants (SCAs), one or two Dining Car Attendants and a really amazing Conductor who I will always be grateful to for this amazing picture:

IMG_20191129_090351.jpg

I know there are amazing service staff at Amtrak who do everything in their power to create magic. Unfortunately, the culture of Amtrak service seems like one where the passengers are an inconvenience to be dealt with more than anything else.

While it may require a mild capital upgrade of the Dining Cars, retraining of the staff and probably a Union contract modification, it really would not take much more to make "Flex Dining" more appealing than some TV dinners.

The problem is the organizational culture isn't there to do it, from what I can see.
 
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20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
469
I started riding the Pere Marquette in the 90s, and if we're being honest--has Amtrak as an organization ever connected with the passengers it serves?

I say this noting that I've been on trips with some really remarkable Sleeping Car Attendants (SCAs), one or two Dining Car Attendants and a really amazing Conductor who I will always be grateful to for this amazing picture:

View attachment 18318

I know there are amazing service staff at Amtrak who do everything in their power to create magic. Unfortunately, the culture of Amtrak service seems like one where the passengers are an inconvenience to be dealt with more than anything else.

While it may require a mild capital upgrade of the Dining Cars, retraining of the staff and probably a Union contract modification, it really would not take much more make "Flex Dining" more appealing than some TV dinners.

The problem is the organizational culture isn't there to do it, from what I can see.
Hey... is that you Nick? You look good! If you were the conductor on the train I was riding I know it would be a great trip!
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,561
Amtrak board meeting -

“You know what millennials want? Smaller salads. With only iceberg. And cheaper salad dressing.”

Done! What else?

“A plastic bowl with all of the food frozen and cooked together so it all tastes like the salty sauce.”

Easy! Next?

“No choice of dessert. Just a Brownie.”

Oh cmon we have to give them a choice...

“Ok fine... they can have a brownie or a blondie”

Isn’t that the same thing?

“Yeah! Exactly.”
 

tonys96

Conductor
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Messages
1,364
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.
I wish, hope, pray that you are correct about full service dining.
However, I seriously doubt it will come to pass, at least not in any form we have seen in the past 15 years.
 

flitcraft

Lead Service Attendant
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Jan 10, 2018
Messages
479
Trying to 'rebrand' service to fit millennials for LD trains is a fool's errand. LD trains inherently cannot depend on the business of people whose jobs provide, at best, two weeks annual vacation. We hardly ever took LD trains back when my husband and I were both working full-time jobs with limited vacation time--that time was simply too precious to spend several days of it on slow trains. The US is unique among industrialized countries in its norms of extremely limited paid vacation time, and businesses compound that by making it difficult to take even unpaid leave. So, depending on the trade of folks in their prime earning years is not a winning business model.

That leaves two classes of travelers for LD trains--one of which are people in rural areas not well-served, or in many cases served at all, by buses and planes. Those folks are the mainstay of LD coach travel, and with the continuing degradation of bus and plane service to fly-over country, I would presume that this market isn't going away in the post-pandemic future. The other class are those who ride the trains but have the luxury of having plenty of time for train travel--and yes, a lot of them are retirees. Somehow Amtrak seems to think that once they all die off, that group will disappear, but I would imagine that the next generation of retirees that replaces them would be a fertile market for LD train service--as long as the experience in the sleepers and dining cars is an attractive one. After all, the scenery and relaxation are not going away--and Amtrak has no way to degrade them!
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
1,344
Trying to 'rebrand' service to fit millennials for LD trains is a fool's errand. LD trains inherently cannot depend on the business of people whose jobs provide, at best, two weeks annual vacation. We hardly ever took LD trains back when my husband and I were both working full-time jobs with limited vacation time--that time was simply too precious to spend several days of it on slow trains. The US is unique among industrialized countries in its norms of extremely limited paid vacation time, and businesses compound that by making it difficult to take even unpaid leave. So, depending on the trade of folks in their prime earning years is not a winning business model.

That leaves two classes of travelers for LD trains--one of which are people in rural areas not well-served, or in many cases served at all, by buses and planes. Those folks are the mainstay of LD coach travel, and with the continuing degradation of bus and plane service to fly-over country, I would presume that this market isn't going away in the post-pandemic future. The other class are those who ride the trains but have the luxury of having plenty of time for train travel--and yes, a lot of them are retirees. Somehow Amtrak seems to think that once they all die off, that group will disappear, but I would imagine that the next generation of retirees that replaces them would be a fertile market for LD train service--as long as the experience in the sleepers and dining cars is an attractive one. After all, the scenery and relaxation are not going away--and Amtrak has no way to degrade them!
Well said.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
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Jan 26, 2020
Messages
469
this would be a huge improvement and is all pre-prepared food.

Bread and nitrates? Not good for me. When on the BOS ALB sector on the Lake Shore they said I could order anything I wanted from the cafe menu. I got the panini and the salad which was not a chef's salad. After that first bread-y bite I just went for a mouthful of the inside stuff. A little lettuce, tomato, sliver of onion, and nitrate laden salami.

Bread and nitrates or flex flop? It's a choke and croak happening. Enough said.
 
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