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Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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jruff001

Train Attendant
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Jan 23, 2020
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98
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.
The OBS Chiefs lasted for many years after the operating crew became Amtrak employees.
 

jruff001

Train Attendant
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Jan 23, 2020
Messages
98
I know I'll be in the tiny minority here, but the dining car change doesn't change the sleeping car value proposition too much for me personally. On a long-distance trip what matters to me the most by far is a bed to sleep in at night, and privacy. The dining cars have been going downhill for so long I don't see this as a huge change. (Plus I was enjoying being seated with strangers less and less. Newer / younger Amtrak dining car passengers seem so completely surprised by and uncomfortable with the arrangement, it had been becoming just an awkward experience for the whole table most of the time.)

Don't get me wrong - overall I definitely don't like the change, and it is definitely a minus, but I'll still shell out the $ for the bed and privacy when I have the chance (and bring along as much of my own food & booze as I can carry!). It's still a unique way to travel and may not be around for much longer.
 

tricia

Conductor
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Spring Creek, NC
I know I'll be in the tiny minority here, but the dining car change doesn't change the sleeping car value proposition too much for me personally. On a long-distance trip what matters to me the most by far is a bed to sleep in at night, and privacy. The dining cars have been going downhill for so long I don't see this as a huge change. (Plus I was enjoying being seated with strangers less and less. Newer / younger Amtrak dining car passengers seem so completely surprised by and uncomfortable with the arrangement, it had been becoming just an awkward experience for the whole table most of the time.)

Don't get me wrong - overall I definitely don't like the change, and it is definitely a minus, but I'll still shell out the $ for the bed and privacy when I have the chance (and bring along as much of my own food & booze as I can carry!). It's still a unique way to travel and may not be around for much longer.
My own priorities are pretty much in agreement with yours. I certainly agree that the dining cars "have been going downhill." I never really loved the food, but liked some meals well enough to consider them a plus.

But the recent shift to "flex" food leaves me with very little on the menu I'm willing to eat. That rules out a multi-night trip for me, especially if it originates away from home--I can't really carry enough food with me for enough meals. And I kinda resent that I now need to either provide my own food or eat a bunch of crap that I know will leave me feeling ill.

Although some on this forum will find this heretical :eek: ... I'd be quite williing to give up the traditional dining "experience" if the pre-prepared food was better quality.
 

20th Century Rider

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but I'll still shell out the $ for the bed and privacy when I have the chance (and bring along as much of my own food & booze as I can carry!). It's still a unique way to travel and may not be around for much longer.
I do agree sleeping while rolling over rail tracks is a unique and very enjoyable way to travel... and bringing along one's own food and drink makes it extra fun... the problem is with Amtrak's high sleeper cost which used to include food now does not... [unhealthy unsatisfying flex meals bring down the experience.] You now pay the same knowing it excludes that railroad french toast and hot coffee for breakfast, angus steak burgers for lunch, and steak for dinner... and the bonus of riding along and sharing the adventure with others seated at the table.

Counting my retirement pesos, I then think of where that same money could take me with a glorified car trip. While one must drive and navigate... includes complete freedom and you can be independent from those attendants and waiters; who are sometimes excellent and sometimes not.

Meeting others on a car trip? Absolutely... small town acquaintances can be very meaningful... as along the road at rest stops, or while sitting outside your hotel room sipping bourbon. Food? You have your endless choices of restaurants; or pick up things at the grocery for a relaxing evening at that mom and pop strip motel.

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Dakota 400

Conductor
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Mar 5, 2014
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2,091
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.
I wonder what percentage, if any, of Amtrak's top management have ever taken a long distance train trip. Having experience with a product that one is trying to manage would improve decision making, I think.

Some parts of the cruise industry have experienced similar situations. Executives with no cruise experience are hired which has led to some poor decisions that negatively impacted their cruise guests.
 

jruff001

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
98
I do agree sleeping while rolling over rail tracks is a unique and very enjoyable way to travel... and bringing along one's own food and drink makes it extra fun... the problem is with Amtrak's high sleeper cost which used to include food now does not... [unhealthy unsatisfying flex meals bring down the experience.] You now pay the same knowing it excludes that railroad french toast and hot coffee for breakfast, angus steak burgers for lunch, and steak for dinner... and the bonus of riding along and sharing the adventure with others seated at the table.
Understood about the pricing. Everyone has to re-evaluate whether it is worth it to them. I totally get & respect why some people would say "No thanks; I'd rather fly, drive or not go" now.

Oh and I don't like French Toast, don't eat meat, and there is still coffee available in the sleeping cars in the morning (and I am not a big fan of sharing a table anymore as I mentioned above). :)
 

jruff001

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
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I wonder what percentage, if any, of Amtrak's top management have ever taken a long distance train trip.
Conversely, I wonder what percentage of posters here have ever worked for Amtrak or had to be responsible for managing something within Congressionally-mandated budget restrictions. :p

Frankly I agree with the concept that no taxpayer money should go towards funding a nice dining car experience for sleeping car passengers.

Editing to add: I don't expect a hotel to provide three meals / day for no extra charge.
 

John Santos

Train Attendant
Joined
Jun 24, 2018
Messages
88
[snip]
Frankly I agree with the concept that no taxpayer money should go towards funding a nice dining car experience for sleeping car passengers.
That might be penny wise and pound foolish, if decent dining increases the revenue (by attracting more passengers) by much more than it costs. Which is very hard to judge, but seems to be the opinion of most people here. Certainly, the converse (cutting service and quality) doesn't save money because it reduces revenue more than it saves.
 

jruff001

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
98
That might be penny wise and pound foolish, if decent dining increases the revenue (by attracting more passengers) by much more than it costs. Which is very hard to judge, but seems to be the opinion of most people here.
Yes, I know that is the conventional wisdom here but I hold the opposite opinion (backed up with some first-hand knowledge of Amtrak's dining car operations).

The full-service dining cars are / were such complete financial basket cases that slightly higher sleeping car revenue was never going to offset. IMO.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
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Oct 21, 2015
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Although some on this forum will find this heretical :eek: ... I'd be quite williing to give up the traditional dining "experience" if the pre-prepared food was better quality.
I went into “contemporary dining” with an open mind. I actually liked how low key it was to just walk in and have a seat at an open table. Sit and relax after eating. I didn’t miss the “service” or the traditional dining car “experience” at all. What I missed was feeling like I ate a full meal.

So yes I agree.

I will continue to say Amtrak’s best idea was the original “cross country cafe” - an all day cafe style menu, and then specific meal time entrees that were prepares in the kitchen. Sad that it only lasted a few months before they gave up.
 

Larry H.

OBS Chief
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
960
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.
Your right about congress, there in lies the problem. However for the kind of charges you are paying for a sleeper, I don't blame people for thinking the food service should be at least decent. Amtrak ran diners since 71 I think it was? For years they provided a full service diner with real china, tablecloths and a reasonably decent quality of choices. That has all ended, but the fares continue to climb. If I wanted boxed lunches I could take the bus and save thousands.
 

20th Century Rider

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Oregon Coast
I went into “contemporary dining” with an open mind. I actually liked how low key it was to just walk in and have a seat at an open table. Sit and relax after eating. I didn’t miss the “service” or the traditional dining car “experience” at all. What I missed was feeling like I ate a full meal.

So yes I agree.

I will continue to say Amtrak’s best idea was the original “cross country cafe” - an all day cafe style menu, and then specific meal time entrees that were prepares in the kitchen. Sad that it only lasted a few months before they gave up.
Yes, it was quite a bit nicer in the beginning... greater quantity and quality of food, served in a nice balsa wood box delivered in a reusable cloth pouch... included a larger serving of wine, and an in room amenity kit... reminiscent of earlier days. Then then chopped that twice into the absolute nothingness it is today.

This discussion can be seen going in different directions with differing opinions... some say that we must accept the present service for what it is [that is true... take it or leave it and don't travel which will cut revenue even more] while others are saying that a better management focus will yield greater revenues for reintroducing the higher quality services from before.

Either way, the experience has been severely diminished. Many posts continue to bring up personnel service issues and equipment problems. I am just not happy with the devaluation of travel product value and quality. And I absolutely refuse to travel from coast to coast eating those noxious flex meals. Nor do I believe Amtrak's LD services can be sustained with what they are presently offering.
 

tgstubbs1

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
130
I think somebody told me a certain number of things are now prohibited on trains, deep fryers, etc.

I don't know if they could get back to the type of dining they had in the heyday of rail travel if they wanted to (and had the funds).

Of course, they have air fryers now. They do a pretty good job on some things,.
 

me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,267
(Plus I was enjoying being seated with strangers less and less. Newer / younger Amtrak dining car passengers seem so completely surprised by and uncomfortable with the arrangement, it had been becoming just an awkward experience for the whole table most of the time.)
That may be your experience but not mine. I found younger people were as willing to talk and were as friendly as we were. In fact, those that were new seemed to be very appreciative having someone at the table that "knew the ropes" about traveling on Amtrak. So many who have only traveled once or twice know nothing about what is included in the meals, "smoke stops", finding lower fares, differences between bedrooms and roomettes, existence of the cafe, and some new sleeper passengers on the Superliners, that there was a lounge car on the train!
 

flitcraft

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 10, 2018
Messages
558
The problem from my perspective is that Amtrak expects us to pay Waldorf Astoria prices for sleepers and gives us vending machine level food. Charge Bolt Bus prices and I'm okay with tiny 'flex' meals of simple carbs and sugar. It's what I'd expect. But Amtrak is painting itself into a corner--they can't survive on a clientele of nothing but hard-core railfans and Amish folk. Provide a decent level of amenities--food that wouldn't cause a riot if it were served at Denny's--and you have a lot more repeat business, given the inherent attractiveness of relaxing and watching the scenery go by. I think most people don't expect high-level restaurant food on a train, but, for the price paid, they are entitled to expect food that is at least moderately healthy and tasty.

Incidentally, if they really were catering to millenials, I guarantee that the obscene amount of unrecycled trash involved with flex dining is a real turn-off.
 

20th Century Rider

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Messages
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Oregon Coast
The problem from my perspective is that Amtrak expects us to pay Waldorf Astoria prices for sleepers and gives us vending machine level food. Charge Bolt Bus prices and I'm okay with tiny 'flex' meals of simple carbs and sugar. It's what I'd expect. But Amtrak is painting itself into a corner--they can't survive on a clientele of nothing but hard-core railfans and Amish folk. Provide a decent level of amenities--food that wouldn't cause a riot if it were served at Denny's--and you have a lot more repeat business, given the inherent attractiveness of relaxing and watching the scenery go by. I think most people don't expect high-level restaurant food on a train, but, for the price paid, they are entitled to expect food that is at least moderately healthy and tasty.

Incidentally, if they really were catering to millenials, I guarantee that the obscene amount of unrecycled trash involved with flex dining is a real turn-off.
You said that really well! On behalf of the many of us trying to get the massage to Amtrak, Thank You! And as everyone [except Amtrak] knows, the millennials are wanting good food and service too!!!
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
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Oct 21, 2015
Messages
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Hey, you can cook all kinds of things, onion rings, hot dogs, you name it. There's this guy on TV that makes great food in a air fryer.
You should see what this guy on tv can do on a George Foreman Grill!

Other than grill-lounges which are long gone, I’m not sure if there were any fryers in dining car kitchens. And either way, ovens, grills, and steam tables are all still available for use. But that required extra staffing.

While I think it would have been best to keep the chef and fire.. err “furlough” everyone else (keeping 1 lsa per train as was the original plan for cross country cafe) - that train has left the station and probably won’t return.
 

fdaley

Train Attendant
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Jan 25, 2020
Messages
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The problem from my perspective is that Amtrak expects us to pay Waldorf Astoria prices for sleepers and gives us vending machine level food.
This is exactly the problem. No one really expects a 20th Century Limited level of service anymore. But in its last incarnation, Amtrak's traditional dining offered something of about the same quality as Applebee's and other fast casual chains. Now, without any corresponding reduction in sleeper prices, they're offering low-grade TV dinners on bare tables and a breakfast service that makes Motel 6 look upscale. The clientele for sleeper travel includes a large number of occasional users who, as they discover how much the onboard experience has been downgraded, are apt not to return. A reduction in price would reflect the reality of the current quality of Amtrak's service, but I have little expectation that we'll see any adjustment in sleeper charges. And I personally wouldn't want to take a cross-country trip with the current food offerings no matter how much the price was cut. I might be willing to pay more for something that was significantly better.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
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Messages
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This is exactly the problem. No one really expects a 20th Century Limited level of service anymore. But in its last incarnation, Amtrak's traditional dining offered something of about the same quality as Applebee's and other fast casual chains. Now, without any corresponding reduction in sleeper prices, they're offering low-grade TV dinners on bare tables and a breakfast service that makes Motel 6 look upscale. The clientele for sleeper travel includes a large number of occasional users who, as they discover how much the onboard experience has been downgraded, are apt not to return. A reduction in price would reflect the reality of the current quality of Amtrak's service, but I have little expectation that we'll see any adjustment in sleeper charges. And I personally wouldn't want to take a cross-country trip with the current food offerings no matter how much the price was cut. I might be willing to pay more for something that was significantly better.
It is with deepest appreciation I thank you and others on the forum for voicing concerns with such eloquent and meaningful perceptions and wisdom. Amtrak service has become abysmal and is taking advantage of their most loyal patrons... or... making clear they just don't care about their best customers.

Am I missing something???
 

Sidney

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
66
Amtrak is still saying full service dining will return to the Western trains September 1. As much as I would like to believe that,and with no end to this pedemic,I don't think that will happen.

Sandwiches would be a welcome respite from the current offerings. Is there a logical reason they couldn't do this? It doesn't require a cook. How about cheesecake for dessert? That abysmal brownie doesn't cut it. Nothing seems to change and the sleeper prices remain high.

One of my legs next month is from Chicago to Utica. $320 is the roomette and rail fare price. Subtracting the rail fare of $76,that is quite high for a 9:30PM departure with no dinner and those sorry breakfast items. I opted for business class. Then again,as long as people are willing to pay,Amtrak will charge it.
 

Larry H.

OBS Chief
Joined
Dec 22, 2006
Messages
960
To those who think the diner is no longer a necessity, I would ask, why then did every railroad carry a diner if its so unnecessary. I used to ride to Chicago from St.Louis quite often. The GM&O managed to carry a full service diner and quite well prepared food, and that was for a six hour or less trip. Santa fe as has been noted refused to down grade their amenities for the sake of saving some money. I guess its just a whole world of changes that have made the idea of long distance rail almost a forgotten mode of travel. And yet when you depart a city like Chicago there can easily be hundreds of people boarding, so its mostly the fact that the rail systems in our nation haven't begun to hold a candle to what other nations have accomplished, and most of them offer some consist with very elegant dining still.
 

fdaley

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
72
Yes, I know that is the conventional wisdom here but I hold the opposite opinion (backed up with some first-hand knowledge of Amtrak's dining car operations).

The full-service dining cars are / were such complete financial basket cases that slightly higher sleeping car revenue was never going to offset. IMO.
I would be interested in knowing more specifics of your perspective on the economics of the traditional dining cars vs. "flexible" dining, if you're able to provide more detail. From my own back-of-the-envelope calculation when Amtrak announced the switch from traditional to "contemporary" dining on the Lake Shore and Capitol, it appeared the management expected to save about $2,000 per departure. That sounds like a lot, but when you consider what they charge for rooms, especially at the higher bucket prices, that savings might be entirely offset if, say, a couple of bedrooms and a couple of roomettes on a given train don't sell because of the change.
 

Exvalley

Service Attendant
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From my own back-of-the-envelope calculation when Amtrak announced the switch from traditional to "contemporary" dining on the Lake Shore and Capitol, it appeared the management expected to save about $2,000 per departure.
That’s $45 per bedroom/roomette if the sleepers are full on the LSL. It’s also a savings of $1.46 million per year. Not chump change.
 
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