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I recently returned from a round trip from Pittsburgh to Salt Lake City on the Capitol Limited and California Zephyr, roomette on each leg of the trip. Given the recent discussion of food service on Amtrak, I was particularly observant in the Dining Cars. Overall, the food quality and service was excellent on both trains. I did notice that announcements relating to meal times always included the fact that "community seating" is used in the Dining Car, and to be "sure and wait to be seated by the staff." Traveling alone, twice the staff seated me at a table that seemed to upset the people already seated at the table; one time the staff re-seated me, the other time the person was told to "move his coat off the seat so the man can sit down." That produced an unpleasant meal time. Perhaps the era of community seating is becoming more difficult to do on a train.

 

At dinner, I overheard several people ask if they could order from the lunch menu, as they weren't that hungry, or they wanted a sandwich. Everyone was told "no," but on the CL the staff finally allowed an elderly lady to have a hot dog off the children's menu, and another time a man was allowed a luncheon sandwich after much discussion. All of the trains were nearly full, and the return trips the weekend before Thanksgiving were indeed full, with numerous announcements made about NOT placing luggage on the seats as all seats are SOLD. With that passenger load, meal time in the Dining Car was never completely full, except for one lunch period when 4 names were on a wait list. I am unsure what the answer is, but I think society's changing meal habits demand more lighter fare and/or sandwiches over a full dinner meal.

 

Also, on the CZ, the last table in the Dining Car was always occupied by Amtrak staff, including both Sleeping Car Attendants. They seemed to be there much of the time, to the point it was a joke in the sleepers, "where are the attendants?" Answer - in their office in the Diner. In the lounge car, a homemade sign was taped to a table (closest to the snack area) that said this table was for Amtrak staff. On one hand, it is nice these people are accessible, but on the other hand they are occupying valuable public space. What business has their staff take their breaks at a table in the middle of the public area?

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Perhaps the era of community seating is becoming more difficult to do on a train.

 

........

 

On one hand, it is nice these people are accessible, but on the other hand they are occupying valuable public space. What business has their staff take their breaks at a table in the middle of the public area?

Would you rather have 1 or 2 people at every table and then have 80 people on a waiting list? :huh: Americans are so use to eating alone at McD's or Wendy's that the thought of sharing a table with 3 strangers :o is unthinkable! :blink: Part of the charm of traveling by train is the community seating in the Dining Car. Some of the most interesting people I've met on the train have been my table mates! :) I hope it never goes away.

 

Where would you like the staff to take their breaks? :huh: I'm sure if you work in an office, you would not like to be forced to take all your breaks and meals only at your desk. Forcing them to eat or take breaks in their rooms would be the same! (Their room or seat is their office.)

 

Maybe they are not paying passengers, but they are still "the public". Or do you consider them "a lesser class"? :huh:

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.......

On one hand, it is nice these people are accessible, but on the other hand they are occupying valuable public space. What business has their staff take their breaks at a table in the middle of the public area?

 

Where would you like the staff to take their breaks? :huh: I'm sure if you work in an office, you would not like to be forced to take all your breaks and meals only at your desk. Forcing them to eat or take breaks in their rooms would be the same! (Their room or seat is their office.)

 

Maybe they are not paying passengers, but they are still "the public". Or do you consider them "a lesser class"? :huh:

 

Um, except for the single level trains, they could take their breaks in the special area set aside for them in the lower level of the Trans/Dorm.

 

Meals, I understand, it does make sense to do that in the diner. Breaks; not so much.

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True, but then they could not be reached by the passengers if needed.

Edited by the_traveler
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Gee, I am a little puzzled by the tone of The Traveler in responding to the OP, especially in "punctuating" almost every sentence with an emoticon.

 

I don't find the OP critical of community seating at all in his/her posting. I rather conclude that the OP is pointing out, correctly if my Amtrak experiences are at all valid, that there are people in today's world who want to assert their individual preferences in situations where it has been made very, very clear that communal preferences must have priority. So when you are traveling alone on Amtrak, as the OP was, that person can be put into uncomfortable situations because of the selfish actions of a few. I suspect the OP would agree with The Traveler except for the fact that his response seems to be aimed squarely at the OP.

 

As for the employe breaks, it sounds as if there might have been an issue with sleeper pax not being able to find their SLCs except by always going to the dining car? And as far as the lounge table, I have always found that one table downstairs is always set aside for the conductor. I personally find that not a problem as it makes sure the conductor(s) are in a public area available to pax instead of being hidden away in some tiny room somewhere in a lengthy train.

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I am not happy at all those people who whine about community seating. Seriously, why are you going to take up a whole table by yourself while everyone else is on the waiting list or whatever? Maybe these people should just choose to NOT eat in the Diner. You eat in the diner, you put up with community seating. JMO.

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Gee, I am a little puzzled by the tone of The Traveler in responding to the OP, especially in "punctuating" almost every sentence with an emoticon.

 

I don't find the OP critical of community seating at all in his/her posting. I rather conclude that the OP is pointing out, correctly if my Amtrak experiences are at all valid, that there are people in today's world who want to assert their individual preferences in situations where it has been made very, very clear that communal preferences must have priority. So when you are traveling alone on Amtrak, as the OP was, that person can be put into uncomfortable situations because of the selfish actions of a few. I suspect the OP would agree with The Traveler except for the fact that his response seems to be aimed squarely at the OP.

 

As for the employe breaks, it sounds as if there might have been an issue with sleeper pax not being able to find their SLCs except by always going to the dining car? And as far as the lounge table, I have always found that one table downstairs is always set aside for the conductor. I personally find that not a problem as it makes sure the conductor(s) are in a public area available to pax instead of being hidden away in some tiny room somewhere in a lengthy train.

Like the OP, I also travel alone. (At least 90% of the time!) So I am one of those "thrown" in with 3 strangers. As I said, without being "forced" to join these strangers, I would not have met people from all over the US (including another AU member), Canada, England and Australia!

 

And it may also be noted that sometimes, some of those SCAs even voluntarily help out serving in the Dining Car if needed. I have seen that any times!

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Gee, I am a little puzzled by the tone of The Traveler in responding to the OP, especially in "punctuating" almost every sentence with an emoticon.

 

I don't find the OP critical of community seating at all in his/her posting. I rather conclude that the OP is pointing out, correctly if my Amtrak experiences are at all valid, that there are people in today's world who want to assert their individual preferences in situations where it has been made very, very clear that communal preferences must have priority. So when you are traveling alone on Amtrak, as the OP was, that person can be put into uncomfortable situations because of the selfish actions of a few. I suspect the OP would agree with The Traveler except for the fact that his response seems to be aimed squarely at the OP.

 

As for the employe breaks, it sounds as if there might have been an issue with sleeper pax not being able to find their SLCs except by always going to the dining car? And as far as the lounge table, I have always found that one table downstairs is always set aside for the conductor. I personally find that not a problem as it makes sure the conductor(s) are in a public area available to pax instead of being hidden away in some tiny room somewhere in a lengthy train.

Like the OP, I also travel alone. (At least 90% of the time!) So I am one of those "thrown" in with 3 strangers. As I said, without being "forced" to join these strangers, I would not have met people from all over the US (including another AU member), Canada, England and Australia!

 

And it may also be noted that sometimes, some of those SCAs even voluntarily help out serving in the Dining Car if needed. I have seen that any times!

Understood! I just don't think the OP was complaining about having to sit with other people, but the fact--which I have encountered a few times and I suspect you have too--that a few people object to having a single person sit down with their party. In those cases, I have asked to be reseated with strangers who are much more friendly and amenable to meeting new people (and in understanding the point of dining on a train!!)

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I, too, travel alone most of the time. I have had only a few instances that were uncomfortable, but never so much as to ask to be moved. I have only encountered one person who refused to speak at all. Fortunately, there were 2 others at the table and the 3 of us had a pleasant conversation. The most unusual situation that I encountered was being seated for breakfast with 3 Mennonite young men, who were traveling in coach. I think they were uncomfortable having a middle-aged woman seated with them, but they were polite and including me in their conversation. I, in turn, learned a lot more about Mennonites.

 

On one of the western trains, I was at another table when a woman refused to be seated with anyone other than her husband. When 2 more people were seated at her table, she made a scene and the LSA explained community seating. She got up in a huff and left the dining car. Her husband remained seated until she came back and got him. He appeared to be mortified. The rest of the dining car was amused by the "entertainment."

 

So far, no one has refused to be seated with me, but I figure it will happen eventually.

 

I agree with the_traveler, that one of the highlights of train travel is sharing a meal and experiences with "strangers."

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Occasionally I travel alone and I have noticed that the conversation was better with 4 strangers than with a 3-some and me.

 

Anyone else notice that? Any Socialogist available to explain it? Then there are folks like the wife that Penny wrote about :giggle:

Edited by RRrich

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IMHO the community seating is done for the convience of the dining staff and not as a social experiment in "community interaction" Take my SWC (LAX-CHI) segment in 12/11. The dining car has (18) tables. If you start at table # 1 with (2) diners at the start of dinner at 5:00 PM and seat (2) more people at each succeeding empty table every (15) minutes, between the hours of 5:00-9:00 PM you could seat 112 people total (approximately) with (2) per table based on every 15 minutes a table comes open 45 minutes after dinner starts to start back at table # 1.

 

There are 2 sleeprs times 21 rooms per sleeper times 2 people per room (approximately) equalling 86 possible sleepr diners. That leave 36 spots divided by 2 people or (18) 2 person per table slots for coach passengers.

 

So I base my opinion on the math and visual observation that during all (3) meals on the SWC, the dining car used very few seats in (8) table section of the dining car.

 

Put yourself in the place of the LSAs. Would you rather go from the center serving section back and forth the WHOLE length of the dining car or from the center section back and forth 1/2 of the dining car.

 

I ate at various times for all (3) meals and at no time where there more than (2) tables being used in the (8) table section and wandered from my room to the SSL car at various times during meal hours.

 

Personally I enjoyed the "characters"/dining mates we met but I see no real reason to put (4) people to a table other than for LSA convienence or high ridership time with extra sleepers and more coach people eating in the dining car

 

 

NAVYBLUE

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So you are saying that out of 200-300 coach passengers, you only want to feed 36? And let the other 160-260 passengers go hungry for 2-3 days?

 

How cruel are you really?

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Given the recent discussion of food service on Amtrak, I was particularly observant in the Dining Cars. Overall, the food quality and service was excellent on both trains.

Ever notice how the folks who praise the meals rarely seem to have specifics as to what exactly made all the meals so great or what exactly they're comparing them to?

 

 

Americans are so use to eating alone at McD's or Wendy's that the thought of sharing a table with 3 strangers is unthinkable!

Um what? I've visited hundreds of restaurants all over the country and the vast majority of the patrons I've seen were anything but alone. Breaking bread with others is not only common, it's downright expected. Fast food chains may not be considered social outlets for adults, but they are absolutely a social experience for children and teenagers.

 

 

True, but then they could not be reached by the passengers if needed.

I'd actually prefer to find the sleeper car attendant IN the actual sleeper car when needed. But maybe that's just me.

 

 

I agree with the_traveler, that one of the highlights of train travel is sharing a meal and experiences with "strangers."

I agree that it's often fun and rewarding to meet new folks over a meal, but I wouldn't hold it against anyone if they didn't like it or were hesitant to join in.

 

 

Occasionally I travel alone and I have noticed that the conversation was better with 4 strangers than with a 3-some and me. Anyone else notice that? Any Socialogist available to explain it?

Just a standard social dynamic at play. You're kind of a "fifth wheel" in that situation, so to speak. Not a bad thing per se, but you can't expect a threesome to be as open and casual toward you as they are toward each other.

 

Oddly enough one of the least comfortable dining experiences I ever had was with three other single travelers. The vibe was really anti-social for some reason. Almost like someone had bet everyone at the table a hundred dollars that they couldn't stay quiet throughout the entire meal. Really odd, but also kind of amusing when I think about it now. Most of the time there's at least a little crosstalk to break the ice. Sometimes people are just naturally quiet or shy. Sometimes they're extroverted whack jobs who just want to spout some backward rhetoric about some group they don't like or don't understand. Sometimes it can get a little annoying but most of the time it's fun and enjoyable. Amtrak would be wise to keep this option alive and well in the future.

 

 

So you are saying that out of 200-300 coach passengers, you only want to feed 36? And let the other 160-260 passengers go hungry for 2-3 days? How cruel are you really?

Ugh. Reactionary much?

Edited by Texas Sunset

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Personally I enjoyed the "characters"/dining mates we met but I see no real reason to put (4) people to a table other than for LSA convienence or high ridership time with extra sleepers and more coach people eating in the dining car

 

I'm sure that part of the reason is the "but we've always done it this way.". But part of the reason for not spreading people out is because of the reduced staffing levels the crew they don't have time to reset the tables after use. So the crew set all tables and works its wat through the car during the meal period by doing community seating. Remember, unlike a normal restaurant, thre are no busboys on Amtrak.

 

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Community Seating in the Dining Car is one of the pleasures of traveling by train. The way Amtrak seats people is no different than it was on the private railroads. Even as a child, I enjoyed meeting others when we ate in the dining car. Back ine the 50s, when a lot of well known people used to travel by train, you never knew who you might get to meet specially if you were on the Super Chief or 20th Century LTD. Usually people who wanted to be alone took their meals in their rooms. Once when I was on the Super Chief, a large family group was traveling together and they were served their meals as group in the Turquose Room of the Dome Lounge so they could all be seated together. I am not sure if they had to pay extra for that. People need to just relax and get to know each other. I have heard of several romances that started with two strangers sitting at the same table in the Dining Car and eventually to marriage.

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So you are saying that out of 200-300 coach passengers, you only want to feed 36? And let the other 160-260 passengers go hungry for 2-3 days?

 

How cruel are you really?

My observation is that very few coach passengers use the dining car.

 

Amtrak prices the dining car meals based on getting as large a revenue transfer as possible from the sleeping car fares. The result is that the prices of dining car meals are really high - much higher, in my opinion, than the value received. With tip, dinner for two could top $80. Add wine, and your pushing $100. There is no way Amtrak dining is worth that kind of cost, and if you assume many coach passengers are riding in coach to save money, I don't see them then paying Amtrak prices for meals. They could easily pay more for dining then the rail fare.

 

As for community dining, it's OK when I'm alone, but if my wife is along (not likely after her last ride), then I hate it. We would rather just have a quiet meal for two. It's particularly galling when the dining car is nearly empty and they still cram you four to a table. Overall, it is not something that I consider a selling point of riding Amtrak long distance trains, at least not for my travel. I've often said that I'd be lousy in sales. I hate small talk.

Edited by PRR 60

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People who regularly travel on Amtrak realize that todays trains (except for the Autotrain) have only have one dining car. Limited tables makes it necessary to utilize all seats. My wife and myself most often travel together and it is rare that we are seated alone. We have been seated with some very nice people, some chatty and some quiet, but most often the dining experience has been pleasant. We've had the opportunity to meet interesting folks, some single and some married.

A few years back on the Autotrain my wife slept late and I ventured to the dining car for the continental breakfast. I was seated with thee other guys who's wives were still sleeping as well. Sharing breakfast with those guys was nothing short of enjoyable. Point is that unless the train is lightly used that day, you won't get a private table so for those taking exception to this policy I say get over it. If you can't live with sharing then buy a sleeper and have dinner as a hermit, in complete privacy.

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I am usually traveling alone and I like community seating because you DO meet people. Yes, you are taking your chances that the strangers you sit with could be really interesting and enjoyable to chat with; or the opposite.

 

As to coach passengers not eating in the diner: in my experience, they often do. I always take at least one meal in the diner, usually supper. I note who is in sleeper and who is in coach when the server asks and presents sleeper passengers with the ticket to sign.

 

I have many times sat with a group consisting of all coach passengers.

 

As to singles: yes, a single person is often less comfortable and/or interesting to a married couple. I did travel coast to coast once with a girlfriend, and we were typically seated with other couples, typically retirees (we were not retired). The conversations nearly always went along standard couples conversations: careers, kids, grandchildren, travel history, etc, whereas, as a single, the conversations tended to vary a lot more: art, music, books, news, train technical discussion, etc etc. (Come to think of it, maybe those are the subjects I myself brought up :mellow: ).

 

Just my experiences.

Edited by Maine Rider

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The strangest experience I ever had in the dining car was my trip to SAS -- I was traveling alone. On the return to CHI I was the ONLY one in the dining car for breakfast! Not just when I initially sat down, but for the entire meal! The LSA told me to just wait till we get to Austin [or was it FW] anyway she said that business would pick up. Sure enough it was busier for dinner, and busier still by supper. But I will say that was the fastest service I ever received. Though all eyes were upon me, and that was a bit creepy. :P

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I'm sure there are the occasional awkward moments in community seating. But for me it has been a routinely enjoyable time to meet different people - sometimes very different people! But in my experience, that has just enriched the trip. (Mark Twain observed, 'The sure cure to prejudice is travel.')

 

The meals do not last that long, and surely we can enjoy engaging with different folks for that period of time. (I'm off on the Crescent from NYC to New Orleans in February and can't wait to meet different folks.)

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I like to play a certain game in the diner. I have been profoundly deaf since childhood and have the typical deaf person's soft mumble. I'm a pretty fair lipreader, so can hold up my end of the conversation. Sometimes when I sit down I don't say anything about my deafness just to see how my table companions will react to my speech. Sometimes I do mention it. Nine times out of ten, if I don't mention it, the other folks around the table just listen more carefully, thinking that maybe I'm a foreigner or something, often asking what country I'm from (one asked very kindly afterward if I'd had a stroke). The tenth time someone will recognize my speech as deaf speech. Now, when I announce in the beginning that I'm deaf but read lips, six out of ten will react with dismay—not because they think deafness is something to be horrified about, but because they believe they don't know how to handle it and don't want to hurt my feelings. It's all an interesting lesson in human nature.

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The problem is not community seating but the way it is handled. It is ludicrous to cram four people into a single table in an empty diner, which is what usually happens early at breakfast. Before Amtrak the normal policy was to seat each new person or party at a free table, and then seat people with strangers only when all tables had one or more people at them.

 

Moreover, the use of the bench seats rather than individual chairs makes it difficult for people to stay in their space, and there is always the problem of being crammed in next to a very large person who is taking up much of one side. If the crews would be a little more flexible rather than fill the car up table by table, and be sensitive to the needs of large people, it would go better.

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Personally I enjoyed the "characters"/dining mates we met but I see no real reason to put (4) people to a table other than for LSA convienence or high ridership time with extra sleepers and more coach people eating in the dining car

 

I'm sure that part of the reason is the "but we've always done it this way.". But part of the reason for not spreading people out is because of the reduced staffing levels the crew they don't have time to reset the tables after use. So the crew set all tables and works its wat through the car during the meal period by doing community seating. Remember, unlike a normal restaurant, thre are no busboys on Amtrak.

 

AlanB,

 

Agree. It does make sense from a logistics point to do community seating. Having worked at a resort as a Sales Manager, part of my duties was a weekly dinner shift as a "opreations supervisor". Having wait staff take as few steps(physically) as possible was a goal to increase efficiency. And as you stated, absent busboys you would want to concentrate your efforts as to avoid delays in seating people after reseting tables.

 

My premise that it was possible to do (2) per person per table seating just not logistically desired by AMTRAK with limited staff.

 

NAVYBLUE

Edited by NAVYBLUE

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So you are saying that out of 200-300 coach passengers, you only want to feed 36? And let the other 160-260 passengers go hungry for 2-3 days?

 

How cruel are you really?

 

Really cruel, if "you" think I am. But, no I don't think like that. I was useing this example to show that community seating is for LSA convience. I was trained in TQM (Total Quality Management) which basic premise is to constantly try to improve the process which AMTRAK may or may not train or adher to.

 

You start out with (2) per table and if it "appears" that the demand is starting to excede the supply of (2) people per table seatings, then you start to double up and go to (4) to a table to meet the demand. Unfortunately I don't think AMTRAK likes to think "outside the box" as is taught in TQM. My way no one "starves" in the scenario you "tried" to paint.

 

Flexibility not rigidity is what breeds success. McDonalds is very good at tracking past trends utilzing there point of sales systems and is very good at predicting sales and adjusting personnel requirements to meed the anticipated needs. They do a very good even though they can't anticipate a tour bus pulling in although where I was an asst manager the tour bus drivers were good about calling 15-20 minutes out to allow us to "ramp up"

 

It's not like AMTRAK doesn't know what their sales were for meals for every train for every day for the last 10-15 years. It is probably their rigidity to change and convenience for LSAs to stick to community seating and their lack of having all the info into a data base to try to anticipate demand that has us in community seating for dining.

 

Also, this may come as a shock to you, but some people "don't" want to be with other people in a dining experience. Do we deny their choice to appease the LSAs. The resort I worked at did community seating as we drew from all around the Middle Atlantic/New England area and for dining staff efficiency and social interaction seated (4) to a table, but NEVER refused people who wanted to dine alone. Not everone is a "social animal" and smart food operators learn that from the get go.

 

NAVYBLUE

Edited by NAVYBLUE

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One has to remember community seating in the Diner is by no means new to railroads or a unique situation for Amtrak-just look at North by Northwest - community seating in the Big Diner on the 20th Century is crucial to the plotline :)

 

Eve Kendall: I tipped the steward five dollars to seat you here if you should come in.

Roger Thornhill: Is that a proposition?

Eve Kendall: I never discuss love on an empty stomach.

Roger Thornhill: You've already eaten!

Eve Kendall: But you haven't.

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