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Possible improvements to LSL/CL Dining

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Just came back from Chicago on #48 in a sleeper, and the Sleeper Lounge LSA, which is now a Chicago based job, was telling another passenger of pending improvements based on a test run she did a few weeks ago. The tentative rollout is Jan. 16. It will include 4 or 5 hot entrees for (presumably) Dinner. Also Breakfast will be served as an ALA Carte buffet style set up on one of the tables for passengers to help themselves. It will include hard boiled eggs, and a Hot Breakfast sandwich will also be offered...This is all I know (overheard)...... 

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A recent NARP newsletter contained mention of a meeting with the "senior team at Amtrak working on customer-facing improvements," which said that there are "many initiatives in the pipeline to address [NARP's] concerns, some of which may begin to roll out as soon as next month" and that "better food, and more hot options, are on the way."

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This is, tentatively, correct per my understanding.  A whole lot of (understandable) FUD got going around, but basically right now the convection ovens used for the (one) hot entree can only do one item at a time.  This causes things to get backed up.  The new equipment (which triggered the "gutting" rumors) is supposed to be able to handle heating 24 items at a go (!), which will give them a lot more flexibility...but the yards can only do so much updating at a time (between their own capacity and the need for equipment to be in use) so it's gonna be slow...

 

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They also need room. It's not like the interior space is the roomiest of places.  As things are added, some things will have to go.  The contemporary dining plan was supposed to be reevaluated after the roll out and it will take time to adapt.

 

Of course, there is still that Amtrak request for proposal-Nationwide Food & Beverage Service process that is winding down.

 That may spur some chances as well.

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11 hours ago, OBS said:

Just came back from Chicago on #48 in a sleeper, and the Sleeper Lounge LSA, which is now a Chicago based job, was telling another passenger of pending improvements based on a test run she did a few weeks ago. The tentative rollout is Jan. 16. It will include 4 or 5 hot entrees for (presumably) Dinner. Also Breakfast will be served as an ALA Carte buffet style set up on one of the tables for passengers to help themselves. It will include hard boiled eggs, and a Hot Breakfast sandwich will also be offered...This is all I know (overheard)...... 

Would be great.  I'm currently buying hard-boiled eggs from the cafe car.

Unfortunately, my next trip is Jan. 12-13.

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One thought I had: I cannot speak to the cost of the "inputs" (i.e. the food itself), but I do wonder...could a breakfast buffet (sleeper pax included in fare, coach pax pay a set price for adults and for kids with the division based on paid fares) along the lines of what they did on the last run of the PPC be run cheaper (with a single employee) than a "full diner" at that time?  I'm presuming that you'd have bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, and one or two other items on the "hot" side; perhaps some cereal and fruit on the "cold" side; and...well, pouring coffee seems to be the one "tough spot".  Most trains' layouts would, FWIW, seem to be set up to have coach pax pay in the cafe en route.

(Really, I am trying to think of how to produce a decent breakfast without needing 4-5 employees...)

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Look forward to seeing these improvements roll out. Hopefully coach passengers can regain access to the dining car soon, or maybe an upgraded cafe car. 

 

I am booked on 51 in March, but pending reviews I might change to 29 (also pending how I feel about taking the points hit).

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Last time I had a breakfast buffet on a train.  I point to what I want and it was place on a plate. Then a different employee carried it to the table for me.

 

I wonder how they are going to physical get this done.  Especially if they don’t add a cook to the crew.  Still waiting to see if they will let the coach passenger back in.

 

Glad someone is still working on the food issues.  It does need some TLC.

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Yes, when you consider the health issues and the regulatory agencies involved (FDA), much less "portion control", I think it highly unlikely that the true self-service buffet will ever make a reappearance on an Amtrak train.

Really, if you want to be able to use your infrastructure advantage to provide fresh food as a service to patrons...and you want to be able to give them flexibility to order as they eat...and you want to have the ability to charge them individually according to what they choose to order...and you want to run a dining venue which is efficiently managed and not a free-for-all of diners "saving" single tables all to themselves or leaving messes which no one wants to clean up...then I really don't see a solution better than the traditional full-service, fully crewed dining car. And, personally, I'd rather hire an extra person in the kitchen to use that dishwasher than dispose of a mountain of plastic plates and paper cups after each run.

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This is good news.... but I would add this..if this was the plan all along why not implement the equipment changes before making the service cuts? Would be less bad PR if they transitioned to this instead of cold meals first. Or is this a result of reviews of the cold meals program.

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33 minutes ago, lordsigma said:

This is good news.... but I would add this..if this was the plan all along why not implement the equipment changes before making the service cuts? Would be less bad PR if they transitioned to this instead of cold meals first. Or is this a result of reviews of the cold meals program.

Is there any evidence that this was the plan all along? All evidence so far suggests that they are winging it to see what might be barely acceptable.

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I like the idea of more items for dinner but trying to envision breakfast items set up on a table and self service? People putting food on their plates and heading for a table while others going back for seconds in opposite direction? Hmm. Buffets are notorious for health issues mostly because of people handling the same serving utensils, etc. Ill certainly be interested to hear comments after this pays out for a bit.

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I wonder how a strict Hindu vegetarian or practicing Muslim would feel about serving himself scrambled eggs and realizing that a passenger ahead of him just used that utensil to pick up a big helping of pork sausage....

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No worries. A strict Hindu Vegetarian will probably pass on the egg too :) About Muslims and Jews, I dunno. But as it turns out, everyone seem to manage at the hotel buffets. They just pick breads, fruits and such and avoid the egg and meat part of it, at least among Hindu vegetarians.

It may be hard to believe, but for a lot of people eggs and meat is not an essential part of Breakfast.

BTW, did you know that only between 20% and 35% of Indians are Vegetarians. A relatively larger proportion of higher cast Indians are Vegetarians, but higher castes are a minority of Indian population, and even there only a little over half of them are Vegetarian.

Edited by jis

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If I recall, Auto Train at one time had buffet type service; you pushed a tray down the rail and servers slung chow.  Now whether this was before Amtrak took over, I don't know.  But it sounds labor intensive which is likely something Anderson does not want to see.

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Is there any evidence that this was the plan all along? All evidence so far suggests that they are winging it to see what might be barely acceptable.

Not that I know of probably should have worded that different. Just brain storming.

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41 minutes ago, OlympianHiawatha said:

If I recall, Auto Train at one time had buffet type service; you pushed a tray down the rail and servers slung chow.  Now whether this was before Amtrak took over, I don't know.  But it sounds labor intensive which is likely something Anderson does not want to see.

According to this fictional and pretty creepy OBS Chief, the Silvers ran with that kind of buffet diner:

 

Edited by cpotisch

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Having just been served a "breakfast" box on the CL with nothing edible inside, I would welcome any and all improvements.

The buffet concept is interesting but will depend on the items made available for selection. If all they offer is multiples of the junk they are serving now,  it won't make any difference. How many cloyingly sweet muffins or candy bars does anyone want for breakfast?

Amtrak struck out with the current "breakfast" box and must up its game. Think croissants, bagels, pastry, cream cheese, jams, hard cheese, hard-boiled eggs, good yogurt, a selection of boxed cereals, bananas, fresh fruit, berries, dried fruit (apricots, cranberries), nuts, now we're talking imho.

Maybe even pop-up waffles in a toaster. But I'm dreaming.

 

Edited by Manny T

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I don't know what the current box has, but in the one I got, the yogurt and fruit plate were both very good. Back then it was 2 types of granola/breakfast bars, not candy bars.

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The Pacific Parlour Car had a breakfast buffet and it worked fine, so long as the attendant paid attention to it. I didn't find the food appealing – scrambled eggs and such – but if they're going to add a few pre-packaged items to what they're offering now, that might end most of the complaining.

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