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Devil's Advocate

Amtrak's New "Fresh Choices" Dining on CL & LSL

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The photo above is from a Hampton Inn. Nothing is cooked fresh at a hampton inn... just quickly heated and put out. And they manage to serve an entire hotel breakfast with only 1 person cooking and stocking usually. (That's a 3 or 4 story hotel.... some of the larger hotels in those brands will have an extra staff at the breakfast).

 

I think alot of options are probably on the table. Remember when "Simplified Dining" happened a few years ago and all the steaks and cooked to order food was taken off the menu? After some time, amtrak realized the 1 chef in the kitchen could still handle a few cooked to order items and steaks came back.

Oh wow what year was that?

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The amtrak eggs in your photo look like fresh scrambled eggs to me. The last time I rode in a single level diner you could see the fresh eggs and hear them being scrambled. I can't say for certain how they are cooked on other trains but you can usually tell powdered eggs from fresh eggs pretty easily. (The powdered eggs at a hampton inn are a great example! ha.)

The eggs were still in the sous vide bag that they were cooked in. Not sure if they cracked fresh eggs and cooked it sous vide or if the eggs came ready to cook sous vide.

 

But I would not mind one of these either if they plopped it in front of me for breakfast. Had it on ViaRail Business Class last year between Toronto and Montreal. The main course was surprisingly good for airline style reheat. Now if they plopped that Acela style garbage at me, then I would be a bit annoyed.

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My issue, and Im sure most people who dont like these cuts would agree, is that there are no hot meals. Amtrak couldve turned the dining car into a private sleeper lounge and forced coach passengers to eat from the amcafe only (not a good way to generate revenue, but anyway) while still at least serving some hot meals.

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After thinking about it, when I had the breakfast buffet in the PPC last December, the scrambled eggs were in a plastic bag and put in the chaffing dish. I'm guessing that Amtrak makes their scrambled eggs by cooking the bag of processed eggs in a water bath. With the dining car still in place, I think it would not be impossible for one LSA to prep a batch of scrambled eggs for the the sleeping car passengers. If you look closely, you can tell that its not griddle cooked scrambled eggs.

 

Or serve hardboiled eggs for protein during breakfast. At many hotels that offer free breakfast, its usually scrambled, hardboiled or none.

 

Who does the "cooking" on the CONO?

 

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Bigger picture here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/115569327@N08/39121703934/in/album-72157689661494002/

 

Just maybe setup something like this one chaffing dish setup for breakfast along with the breads and jams. many of the budget hotels/motels that offer free breakfast I'm pretty sure do not cook but just reheat.

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Amtrak actually did try something like this, on the Broadway, in late 70’s. They didn’t remove or replace dining car, but offered ‘cafeteria style’ food offerings in a lounge car. Was staffed by LSA and one assistant. EVERYthing was simply heated up, placed in steam table, put out for patrons to select. Problems I remember:

 

1) Pax had BIG trouble carrying food on cafeteria-style tray, back to lounge seating area.

2) Keeping lounge clean, it was a HUGE effort.

3) Next to impossible to work food line, AND offer table service for cocktails (tips) in lounge

4) A lot of wasted food.

5) Even though I made every attempt to make the presentation and appearance of the food as good as possible, it was still “food in a

chafeing dish....”

 

We basically “competed” with the dining car... An Amtrak VP at the time, (Bill Norman??) while relaxing in the lounge car, complimented me on my service, and highly recommended that I return to college, to finish my degree. I took his advice.

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Here's the thing. Hot meals, juice, bottled water, etc. were what made me love take Amtrak long distance. Flying is much, much, faster. A car or bus is much, much cheaper. It was that Amtrak was just much, much nicer. But with all these cuts to service and amenities, it gets difficult to justify the train at all. At a certain point, you might as well take a bus, if that's the level of service you'd be getting anyway.

 

 

Exactly my thoughts. This just might be the tipping point for some people. I also thought his was handled poorly sort of sprung on us. People already purchased their tickets for this year so it is likely too late for them. This decision should have either been made last year or have been made to be implemented next year.

 

Was anyone informed of this change by Amtrak? I know I wasn't and I have a roomette reservation this summer. Amtrak could have at least notified people so they can make other arrangements for dinner id they chose. With a 6:40PM departure east bound from CHI there are certainly opportunities for an early dinner in the city.

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Farewell, Capitol Limited. Farewell, Lake Shore Limited. I'm not riding these trains anymore. Some cold, crappy meat for lunch and a stale roll for breakfast? Go to hell. I'm flying.

Edited by tommylicious

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Farewell, Capitol Limited. Farewell, Lake Shore Limited. I'm not riding these trains anymore.

Understandable, but once "the Genie is out of the bottle" it's impossible to put back, so perhaps it's time to ride other LD Routes before this virus spreads to all of them.

 

Book it Danno!

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Was anyone informed of this change by Amtrak? I know I wasn't and I have a roomette reservation this summer. Amtrak could have at least notified people so they can make other arrangements for dinner id they chose. With a 6:40PM departure east bound from CHI there are certainly opportunities for an early dinner in the city.

 

 

Not me. I'm riding the CL July 31 and haven't received any word on the change.

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This may be a trade I can deal with if all of the whiners that eternally claim that they are going to stop riding actually do so, and stop posting here in the process.

Might as well support dismantling the whole national system and shut this side down, then youd never have to read any whining again.

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Amtrak is missing an opportunity in a place like Union Station. Why not just partner with a couple local restaurants. Either bring in your ticket to one of the existing restaurants or better yet open a couple of restaurants (maybe they are already there I don't recall) inside the station. I would much rather have a nice hot piece of Chicago style pizza than a cold prepackaged sandwich.

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This may be a trade I can deal with if all of the whiners that eternally claim that they are going to stop riding actually do so, and stop posting here in the process.

Might as well support dismantling the whole national system and shut this side down, then youd never have to read any whining again.

Nope.

 

We literally have no idea what this food is like, and we have chicken little running around like the world is ending.

 

God forbid we wait and see how this plays out before passing judgement. The litany is things that turn out better than the torches and pitchforks crowd makes them out to be is nearly endless.

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This may be a trade I can deal with if all of the whiners that eternally claim that they are going to stop riding actually do so, and stop posting here in the process.

Might as well support dismantling the whole national system and shut this side down, then youd never have to read any whining again.

Nope.

 

We literally have no idea what this food is like, and we have chicken little running around like the world is ending.

 

God forbid we wait and see how this plays out before passing judgement. The litany is things that turn out better than the torches and pitchforks crowd makes them out to be is nearly endless.

 

 

It is a cold pre-packaged meal. That is all we need to know. Yes a good pre-packaged meal is better than a lousy hot meal but I thought dinner on the CL was very good considering the challenges that come with preparing a meal on a train, in limited space for a large number of people.

Edited by spinnaker

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Warm food is easier to do right than cold food. Amtrak meals don't have much going for them, and when you take heat out of the equation...

 

It definitely is possible that the new food is good. But I just can't say that a more limited menu only served cold is a good sign. I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but I just don't think...

Edited by cpotisch

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Well, I’ll have a chance to compare this summer. Riding both the CONO and the CL.

 

It’ll be interesting to be see how they each do.

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This may be a trade I can deal with if all of the whiners that eternally claim that they are going to stop riding actually do so, and stop posting here in the process.

😂😂😂!!

The only thing I refuse to do is let Anderson's moves dictate whether I ride Amtrak or not. I'm the one that makes that decision, not him!!!!!

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Maybe I am naive but aren't the meals with diner cars made to order? If so, how can there be any waste there? Just keep the raw food refrigerated for the next run. With pre-prepared meals I see a lot of potential for waste.

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It is a cold pre-packaged meal. That is all we need to know. Yes a good pre-packaged meal is better than a lousy hot meal but I thought dinner on the CL was very good considering the challenges that come with preparing a meal on a train, in limited space for a large number of people.

It's been a cold pre-packaged meal on the dinerless section of the Empire Builder for years. While I haven't had the pleasure yet of riding that train, I've heard many times that the cold box meals are actually quite good. And Amtrak hasn't yet in those years taken the opportunity from passengers "settling" for cold meals on the EB to cut back even farther, as some here* have [del]leapt wildly[/del] posited.

 

Of course it depends on the vendor Amtrak picks for the CL and LSL. The cold meals could indeed be inferior. But we know a quality cold meal on Amtrak is possible because it's being done right now.

 

IMHO, the people who've set their jaw beforehand -- meal unseen much less uneaten -- that this WILL suck, it IS merely a nose under the tent for further food-service downgrades, and they WILL stop riding the trains* sound more than a little alarmist.

 

*Not necessarily including spinnaker; this was just a convenient post to reply to.

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Looking at the pictures of the boxed meals, I think I am going to have to bring a lot of extra snacks when I ride the CL in late summer. There is no way the breakfast someone took a picture of will keep my bottomless pit of a 12 year-old from going hungry before 1 in the afternoon. Fortunately I have a few months to think about what to pack.

 

 

Do the diner cars have convection ovens? If so, it wouldn't be hard to do hot entrees the way that airlines do on long-haul flights. Have the entrees in single-serving foil containers in a convection oven, heat them up and put them on a tray with cold sides. If the city where the train departs has an airport with long-haul flights, there is also at least one airline caterer nearby that is used to that set-up.

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Here's the thing. Hot meals, juice, bottled water, etc. were what made me love take Amtrak long distance. Flying is much, much, faster. A car or bus is much, much cheaper. It was that Amtrak was just much, much nicer. But with all these cuts to service and amenities, it gets difficult to justify the train at all. At a certain point, you might as well take a bus, if that's the level of service you'd be getting anyway.

 

 

Exactly my thoughts. This just might be the tipping point for some people.

 

MIGHT? Damned sure is over here. For the price we pay for the train to visit family each year, we can fly four of us round trip in first class. What the train sold was a chance to decompress and disconnect, in a civilized environment. No more value, no more financing from us. Far as I'm concerned, turn out the lights.

 

I especially like the part in the Q&A that says anyone who cancels over this is subject to the normal cancellation fees... which they conveniently changed right before they rolled out the hot poker and asked people to drop their shorts.

 

SOOOOO glad we made that "bucket list" Zephyr/Starlight as a last minute reservation under Guest Rewards 1.0, as one could already see the writing on the wall...

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This may be a trade I can deal with if all of the whiners that eternally claim that they are going to stop riding actually do so, and stop posting here in the process.

Might as well support dismantling the whole national system and shut this side down, then youd never have to read any whining again.

 

 

Exactly. This is exactly the attitude that will get the whole system shut down.

 

The above quote could be summarized as "The last thing we need is more people supporting funding for this network. It's not like it's in any danger or anything".

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If every experiment is going to be slapped down and chicken-littled to death before it even begins, the message sent to Amtrak is that anything other than preserving the exact status quo in a specimen jar or amber is unacceptable.

The message announcing this makes it clear that this plan is not set in stone. We all know of experiments that Amtrak has tried and then withdrawn when they didn't work. Feeding back that an experiment once tried is a failure for particular reasons is right and proper. Feeding back that experiments should never be tried and have failed before they even begin is easily and rightly discounted as unhelpful.

IMHO, Amtrak leadership is not sitting Simon Legree-like cackling at the prospect of making the passenger experience as uncomfortable as possible, as if that's their goal. They are trying to balance what attracts passengers to ride and keep riding against very real financial and political constraints. Exploring where that balance lies by putting an ounce weight on one side, always able to pick it up again OR add another depending on what happens, is good management. But some people seem to equate it with blunderingly and maliciously tipping over the scale altogether.

Edited by John Bredin

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To be honest, Anderson has the right ideas. these are concepts seen in other train systems around the world. Execution and PR has been clumsy though. Just remember this it's like a beta test. They'll make refinements and changes based on customer feedback and not all the features (I.e. hot meals) are present yet. They want to make sure the program functions first.

Edited by bretton88

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