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Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
144
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.
LIVE MUSIC! Please, not that! Give me peace
 

Sidney

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
62
On the EB in June they said I could order anything from the cafe car and a poster said the same on the LSL. Why can't this be standard on all the trains? It would certainly add variety to a 3 day trip.

I just returned from an 8 day circle trip. Some trains allow you to eat in the dining car,others relegate you to your room. From LA to Chicago on the Sunset/Eagle we had to have meals in our rooms until SAS. After that we could eat in the diner. Why can't all these rules be uniform?
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,687
Why can't all these rules be uniform?
The rules are uniform. The LSA’s are the problem.

I’ve been told it’s a “rule” that Amtrak employees, including the LSA are not allowed to sit in the booths of the viewliner II “diner lounge.”

Naturally I’ve seen them all sitting at the booths like normal. They don’t care.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
706
Location
Oregon Coast
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.
So many of Amtrak's most loyal customers are reflecting about the reality of these insane cutbacks. We are all saying the exact same thing... Amtrak just doesn't care about us. And this 'millennial' thing is just a lot of 'hoop-la' about absolutely nothing that means anything... just silly justification to please the bean counters upstairs. The bottom line is this... such a total disconnect with fare paying passengers will ultimately discourage ridership.
 

Palmetto

Conductor
Joined
May 12, 2014
Messages
2,033
Location
Miami
The rules are uniform. The LSA’s are the problem.

I’ve been told it’s a “rule” that Amtrak employees, including the LSA are not allowed to sit in the booths of the viewliner II “diner lounge.”

Naturally I’ve seen them all sitting at the booths like normal. They don’t care.
And they are not held accountable. It's a management problem. Same goes for schools, large companies, etc. etc.
 

Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
144
The rules are uniform. The LSA’s are the problem.
In the NE corridor staff often take up an entire table in cafe cars. Conductors spread their paper work all over the table so that no-one can use the space, even when the cafe is packed. Once I asked the conductor to let me sit down and got a hostile reaction.

A couple of years ago on the CV the dining car crew were huddled around a computer watching a game while people came in to eat. They stayed there for at least five minutes before bothering to do their jobs.

There has never been much discipline in the way Amtrak operates. Your experience depends entirely on the mindset of the employees you are dealing with. You're a captive audience. Complaining is a waste of time.
 

Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
144
And they are not held accountable. It's a management problem. Same goes for schools, large companies, etc. etc.
The same goes for PUBLIC schools. Private schools have the authority to dismiss incompetent teachers - and they do. There is accountability; far less in public schools. There are problems with large companies too but they are also more in control than Amtrak. A rude or indifferent hotel employee of a major chain is less likely to be retained than a similar Amtrak employee. Of course large companies outsource a lot of jobs so they have near total control over their employees and can pay low salaries that wouldn't be possible here. Amtrak can't outsource onboard personnel. They haven't outsourced their 800 number to the Philippines or India yet. Is that because they legally cannot do so?
 
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tricia

Conductor
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Aug 23, 2011
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1,103
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Spring Creek, NC
The same goes for PUBLIC schools. Private schools have the authority to dismiss incompetent teachers - and they do. There is accountability; far less in public schools. There are problems with large companies too but they are also more in control than Amtrak. A rude or indifferent hotel employee of a major chain is less likely to be retained than a similar Amtrak employee. Of course large companies outsource a lot of jobs so they have near total control over their employees and can pay low salaries that wouldn't be possible here. Amtrak can't outsource onboard personnel. They haven't outsourced their 800 number to the Philippines or India yet. Is that because they legally cannot do so?
Staff should be decently paid AND do their jobs properly. I don't think having Amtrak join the race to the bottom for absolute cheapest wages would be an improvement.
 

Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
144
Staff should be decently paid AND do their jobs properly. I don't think having Amtrak join the race to the bottom for absolute cheapest wages would be an improvement.
I completely agree that staff should be decently paid. I am an opponent of outsourcing. I merely brought it up because Amtrak is obsessed with the bottom line. Are Amtrak employees poorly paid? The problem seems to be one of poor management and very likely the difficulty of removing unionized employees, same as in public schools. Unions are necessary but they have their downside when they retain bad employees. This has been a problem of police unions, for example, that protect some of the worst officers.
 

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,544
Location
Texas
Private schools have the authority to dismiss incompetent teachers - and they do.
Private schools also have the authority to dismiss competent teachers for "infractions" as irrelevant as differing spiritual views, familial status, or sexual orientation - and they do.

Unions are necessary but they have their downside when they retain bad employees. This has been a problem of police unions, for example, that protect some of the worst officers.
Police unions are in a different league from common carrier unions. It's up to Amtrak management to set minimum standards for service, ensure these standards are being met by the staff, and document failures in order to take appropriate action. The problem is that there is no obvious person to handle this task. In theory the LSA is responsible for maintaining service standards, but if the problem is with the LSA then it's up the conductor. The conductor is only aboard for a fraction of the LSA's total shift and his primary responsibility is the safe operation of the train. Burdening operations staff with maintaining customer service levels is a clumsy solution that results in widely varying standards and no paper trail for taking action except in extreme circumstances.
 

Dakota 400

Conductor
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
2,069
The rules are uniform. The LSA’s are the problem.

I’ve been told it’s a “rule” that Amtrak employees, including the LSA are not allowed to sit in the booths of the viewliner II “diner lounge.”

Naturally I’ve seen them all sitting at the booths like normal. They don’t care.
Maybe a return to On-Board Service Chiefs would help.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
706
Location
Oregon Coast
I really miss those full service Amtrak meals. Do you think the navy would take a 70 something year old dude who wants to really eat well??? Hey! Wait a minute... in this navy flick those millennials and younger are eating the same food Amtrak served in the good old days! I thought Amtrak said they only eat flex meals! ;)
 

railiner

Conductor
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
8,152
Location
South Florida
On the trains that had Chief's, the conductor's are not that "busy", most of the time. The main reason they had Chief's was that the train crew's, were still employed by the host railroads at that time, and more and more of them rotated from freight service, so they were not that cognizant of passenger crew supervision. Nor did they have that much stake in Amtrak's operation's. Of course there were notable exception's, and some did a superb job in fulfilling that part of their obligation. Hence, the On Board Chief's position was created, so that Amtrak could more effectively supervise their OBS employees.

Once Amtrak took over direct employment of train crew's, and had more control of their monitoring of OBS employees, the Chief position was considered redundant in an ever tighter budget, coupled with train crew districts lengthening in many places, which further aided that monitoring.
 

Dakota 400

Conductor
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
2,069
I really miss those full service Amtrak meals. Do you think the navy would take a 70 something year old dude who wants to really eat well??? Hey! Wait a minute... in this navy flick those millennials and younger are eating the same food Amtrak served in the good old days! I thought Amtrak said they only eat flex meals! ;)
Those sailors Thanksgiving dinner was better than my last one was. Breyer's Ice Cream!

Thanks for the post!
 

Larry H.

OBS Chief
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
960
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.
The last long distance trip I took was probably five years ago by now. On the Southwest Chief returning from California we had a nice couple who sat with us in the diner. Which then was still somewhat of a restaurant affair. After we got our food it was obvious that the couple were on their first rail trip. The quality of food wasn't very good even then and the service so so at best. They told us they had taken the train due to the advertisements of fine meals and scenery, but after this first trip it would be the last due to the disappointing food served. Mind you that was before the awful box of gook we got on the CNO one evening a couple years ago. It wasn't fit go give a dog and has pretty much like others, killed my enthusiasm for rail travel. The big mistake here in my opinion is that Amtrak seems to think the diner is an out of place and out of date service they would just as soon do without. They need to take the diner's part of the trip as important as the engines that make it run. Remove them and the trip isn't going anywhere. At least that is how I feel about it and from what I read here so do most others.
 

fdaley

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
72
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.
Like you, I am known among my friends and acquaintances as the guy to call if someone is thinking about a train trip. Ever since contemporary/flexible dining made its debut on the Lake Shore and Capitol, I have been advising people to avoid the affected trains. Now I'm having to tell them to skip basically the entire long-distance network. I can't in good conscience recommend Amtrak's current standard of food service to anyone, even though some of the other attractions of rail travel -- the scenery, and the fun of traveling in a private room -- are still there.

And I do think, as you say, that this reflects the mindset of Amtrak's current top management. They don't seem to have any conception of what makes long-distance train travel special or desirable. They see an overnight train as being comparable to a very long flight -- something on the order of flying to Australia. But of course, if one's trip from New York to Chicago or Washington to New Orleans involves a no-frills endurance run regardless of mode, one might as well fly and get it over with a lot faster -- not to mention for a lot less money.
 

Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
144
The last long distance trip I took was probably five years ago by now. On the Southwest Chief returning from California we had a nice couple who sat with us in the diner. Which then was still somewhat of a restaurant affair. After we got our food it was obvious that the couple were on their first rail trip. The quality of food wasn't very good even then and the service so so at best. They told us they had taken the train due to the advertisements of fine meals and scenery, but after this first trip it would be the last due to the disappointing food served. Mind you that was before the awful box of gook we got on the CNO one evening a couple years ago. It wasn't fit go give a dog and has pretty much like others, killed my enthusiasm for rail travel. The big mistake here in my opinion is that Amtrak seems to think the diner is an out of place and out of date service they would just as soon do without. They need to take the diner's part of the trip as important as the engines that make it run. Remove them and the trip isn't going anywhere. At least that is how I feel about it and from what I read here so do most others.
I agree. Pre Flexible Dining the food was mediocre and the service was the same or worse. When they first implemented Flexible Dining they offered a cheese / cold meat platter that included a half (half- not the tiny airline size bottle) bottle of quality wine. The cold plate was excellent. I commented to friends that the quality of the ingredients was greater than that of the dining-car offerings. Since then the cheese plate has disappeared and what they offer is all unhealthy junk. Remember how Amtrak started out. Not long after they took over Santa Fe operations they downgraded the Super Chief. AT&SF gave them an ultimatum: maintain the same level of service (it affected Santa Fe's image) or drop the name "Super Chief". Amtrak dropped the "Super Chief" name. That ignoble tradition carries on.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
706
Location
Oregon Coast
Yup... you mimic the thoughts and feelings of just about everyone on this forum. So many times I've thought about what a fine and delightful experience it would be... fine meals and a chance to meet and make friends in the dining car. Then I would look at the menu enhancements [prehistoric at this point] and buy my ticket. Like countless others I find the new 'flex flop flipped out puddle garbage' a disgusting affront on the traveler. Now I'm just wanting to burn up my points and be out of all this nonsense. I mean... the scenery's great! But you can see that riding a horse!
 

Ferroequinologist

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
144
Private schools also have the authority to dismiss competent teachers for "infractions" as irrelevant as differing spiritual views, familial status, or sexual orientation - and they do.


Police unions are in a different league from common carrier unions. It's up to Amtrak management to set minimum standards for service, ensure these standards are being met by the staff, and document failures in order to take appropriate action. The problem is that there is no obvious person to handle this task. In theory the LSA is responsible for maintaining service standards, but if the problem is with the LSA then it's up the conductor. The conductor is only aboard for a fraction of the LSA's total shift and his primary responsibility is the safe operation of the train. Burdening operations staff with maintaining customer service levels is a clumsy solution that results in widely varying standards and no paper trail for taking action except in extreme circumstances.
You are correct that there is no on board end-to-end supervisor on board. One WITH AUTHORITY is badly needed.
Your comments about the hiring/firing practices of private church schools is complex and controversial and probably not appropriate to discuss here. Non unionized employees can be dismissed for many reasons, sometimes unjust.
 

Larry H.

OBS Chief
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
960
Yup... you mimic the thoughts and feelings of just about everyone on this forum. So many times I've thought about what a fine and delightful experience it would be... fine meals and a chance to meet and make friends in the dining car. Then I would look at the menu enhancements [prehistoric at this point] and buy my ticket. Like countless others I find the new 'flex flop flipped out puddle garbage' a disgusting affront on the traveler. Now I'm just wanting to burn up my points and be out of all this nonsense. I mean... the scenery's great! But you can see that riding a horse!
Its interesting when you read the Dining by Rail book, the history and recipes from the railroads, you see that most of the big name trains were operated with fine dining in mind as a draw to the passengers and to the reputation of the company... Those days appear gone. We do need to remember that the issue is really one of congress deciding that a diner needed to make money in stead of being a necessary service like having bathrooms.
 

nferr

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 24, 2009
Messages
277
Its interesting when you read the Dining by Rail book, the history and recipes from the railroads, you see that most of the big name trains were operated with fine dining in mind as a draw to the passengers and to the reputation of the company... Those days appear gone. We do need to remember that the issue is really one of congress deciding that a diner needed to make money in stead of being a necessary service like having bathrooms.
Come on. Who was riding the big name trains with fine dining. Retired middle class like today? Students? No. It was mostly well heeled and business executive types. And even then the private railroads lost big money on passenger service once the airlines came in. It's so silly to compare Amtrak to trains like the 20'th Century Limited when you look at the clientele of each. Amtrak is here to provide transportation to the masses. Now I agree there is a middle ground that Amtrak should be offering to it's Sleeper passengers, bu they have to get that food mandate changed by Congress.
 
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