Amtrak's Marketing Pitch & Degenerating Food Service

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by tommylicious, Jul 27, 2016.

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  1. Jul 27, 2016 #1

    tommylicious

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    We don't have many friends who take the train, but when we tell them about the diner, they typically get quite interested. "Better than airplane" food is, for us, a key leg of the whole reason to take a LD train in the first place vs flying. The others being scenery, sleeper accomodations, etc.

    If Amtrak destroy their food service as one of their precious few advantages over flying, it may have very bad consequences for LD sleeper ridership.

    We deliberately booked The Canadian instead of the CZ for our next trip after seeing how much better the onboard services are on VIA.

    Thots?
     
  2. Jul 27, 2016 #2

    jebr

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    If someone's making a choice between The Canadian and the California Zephyr, they're probably more worried about the train trip for the sake of a train trip than looking for the best option to get from point A to point B. I think very few passengers will go from Amtrak to VIA overall.

    As for Amtrak vs. airlines, it may make a difference depending on how bad food service gets, and if Amtrak keeps going in the "cost savings by cutting quality" route instead of trying to rethink the on-board food experience. Good food can be served seatside and may be less labor-intensive. An expanded cafe car could also put out better food than it currently does, and could offer a quality dining experience. Even going to a "fast casual" setup in the diner could allow more meals to be served with the same labor (order at a counter or specific table, allow customers to refill their own beverages that can be refilled, and maybe even have areas for customers to bring their plates and such when they are done) could allow faster turnover or require less labor to operate the dining car. There are some elements from a fast casual setting that may not work in Amtrak's case (it'll probably still be easier to bring food to the customer instead of having the customer bring it from a counter to their table, and even waste may be better being bussed for the customer.) That being said, I do think the VIA model is unsustainable for Amtrak; it's too labor-intensive and probably requires more money that Amtrak would be better off using to improve or expand service than to try and emulate a land cruise experience.

    However, I do think that if decent food is not available on long distance routes, Amtrak will start seeing some issues with sleeper ridership (and maybe even coach ridership.) I don't think it will kill them off completely, but I do think it'll be harder to sustain them if there isn't decent food onboard for those taking longer trips.
     
  3. Jul 27, 2016 #3

    KmH

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    Is this heaven? No. It's Iowa.
    For me the scenery and the ambiance of being on the train is way more important than the food service.

    In an airplane it's hard to watch the scenery while you eat a meal if you aren't in a window seat.

    On the train we can look out of several windows, on both sides of the train.

    But, I agree that in general continued decline in Amtrak's food service on LD trains could cause others to forgo traveling on Amtrak LD trains.
     
  4. Jul 27, 2016 #4

    Bob Dylan

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    Especially when they charge Several Hundred or even Thousands of Dollars! I too, as a retiree, choose to give my travel money to VIA over Amtrak for LD Trips since I don't use Amtrak for Transportation!
    AGR2.0.and the Boardman/Mica/Beancounter cuts were the final straw!
     
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  5. Jul 27, 2016 #5

    Paul CHI

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    I've been cutting back on Amtrak travel if I can get decent air service out of Midway Airport, which is simpler than OHare. The reasons are that roomette fares seem sky high lately (often double the air fare) and the food service declining. When I pay a premium price, I expect all elements of the trip to be at a premium level. Sometimes even business class by air is cheaper than the roomette.
     
  6. Jul 27, 2016 #6

    zephyr17

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    I just took a major trip in March, New York to Seattle via the NE Regional, Capitol Limited, Southwest Chief, and Coast Starlight. So I had 10 dining car meals over the course of the journey (I skipped the breakfast coming into LA on the Southwest Chief, which I usually do). I have to say, the food has actually improved from the year before, they appear to be getting the pre-preped/sous vide thing down and the entrees are better. I am not a "I'll just order the steak" person and I went through most of it. The only real stinker on the menu was the "strawberry cheesecake" which was a lot more like thick strawberry yogurt in a crust than cheesecake.

    The downgrading of the service to "Diner Lite" on the City of New Orleans and Lake Shore Limited are the real problems, the dining car service that remains is all right.

    That is not to say there are not problems, but they are problems that have been with us for awhile. Running out of items, wildly varying service, very limited menu that doesn't change (which really begins to get to you on a 5 day/4 night trip, thank God the Coast Starlight still has a different Parlour Car menu). VIA's Canadian is orders of magnitude better, but that has been true essentially forever, and the Iowa Pacific Hoosier State is lots better, too.

    But the world is not coming to an end and the dining car is still fairly decent for the time being.
     
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  7. Jul 27, 2016 #7

    acelafan

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    I agree - when you pay for a first class accommodation and only have the microwaved meals or the option to buy something from the lounge car, one of the perks of train travel disappears for me. You certainly won't starve with either the micro or lounge food, but it really is a downgrade in my view. At least offer better food options in the LD lounges, like the California trains.

    Maybe my cooking at home stinks so the dining car food seems extra tasty to me. :giggle:
     
  8. Jul 27, 2016 #8

    jis

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    Amtrak has cleverly and honestly perhaps, removed the First Class monicker from Sleeper Service quite a while back. It is just a Sleeping Compartment and Some Food Service now, unfortunately. If you don't set your expectations accordingly while deciding what fare to pay and what to expect during the ride you may be disappointed, specially if you expect to receive First Class service.
     
  9. Jul 27, 2016 #9

    tommylicious

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    Good point-- it ain't first class product, but at a first class price.

     
  10. Jul 27, 2016 #10

    niemi24s

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    I'll let others get into how much better or worse things are on Amtrak and VIA Rail - the kind of opinionated clap-trap that's rife on this forum. I'll just stick to the facts that are quantifiable - the fares. About the only two kinds of accommodations that are equivalent between the two rail systems are Amtrak Coach ≈ VIA Economy and Amtrak Bedroom ≈ VIA Cabin For Two. I compared the fares on the Empire Builder (2205 total miles) with VIA Rail from Hornepayne, ON to Vancouver, BC (2203 total miles) and used today's exchange rate of 0.76 to convert the VIA fares to US$.

    Coach: Amtrak $284 to $928, for an average fare of $606

    VIA $563 to $1497 for and average fare of $985

    Bedroom: Amtrak $918 to $2632 for an average of $1775

    VIA $2228 to 2652 for an average of $2440

    Carry on. :)
     
  11. Jul 27, 2016 #11

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    If you are afraid of or don't like flying, that leaves your choices to train, bus, or car. Driving is tiring and uses up a ton of gas and wear and tear on your car and buses are more cramped and food is wherever they stop. So LD train travel will always be the most desirable travel for those who don't want to fly regardless of quality of food.
     
  12. Jul 27, 2016 #12

    City of Miami

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    As I recall that was a Congressional mandate from reps concerned about public subsidies for 1st class for those who could presumably afford to pay for it. So Amtrak changed nomenclature becoming the classless service so desired by those who appropriate necessary funding. Makes sense to me :)
     
  13. Jul 27, 2016 #13

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    I shudder when I hear the words Amtrak and "Congressional Mandate" in the same sentence.
     
  14. Jul 27, 2016 #14

    zephyr17

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    As do I. But Amtrak for good or bad is a political creature and so subject to the whims of Congress. Amtrak makes an exceedingly convenient whipping boy, and to hear the rhetoric, the budget deficit would disappear if only Amtrak was defunded.
     
  15. Jul 27, 2016 #15

    tommylicious

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    You're skewing up the statistics to better support your diatribe by linearly averaging in the low Amtrak buckets. We booked the Canadian bedroom 2 nights for same as CZ bedroom and the food ain't gas station microwave.


     
  16. Jul 27, 2016 #16

    jebr

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    Which gas station has food as good as the dining car? Amtrak's diner isn't great, but it's better than any of the gas stations here.
     
  17. Jul 27, 2016 #17

    niemi24s

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    Linear averaging? My goodness, what a terribly technical sounding term! I suppose if I do it too much it'll numbnitize my sensory strunodes? :)
     
  18. Jul 27, 2016 #18

    CCC1007

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    It might be better to average each of the individual cost changes instead of the two outliers.
     
  19. Jul 28, 2016 #19

    me_little_me

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    Actually, using the current exchange rate is not a good way to do it. Two years ago, it was about $.90 yet VIA didn't increase prices based on foreign (i.e. American) exchange rates just like Amtrak's prices don't depend on the value of the dollar.. Americans get a bargain on VIA because of the current exchange but Canadians on Amtrak get screwed because of the value of the Loonie.
     
  20. Jul 28, 2016 #20

    niemi24s

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    What a simply splendid assortment of suggestions. Tell you what. Why don't each of you dig up some fares and come up with your own comparisons. Maybe some non-linear averaging of the individual cost changes (cost changes?) using some fanciful exchange rate. Then convert the final results to Italian Lira. Yeah, that just about ought to do it. :blink:
     
  21. Jul 28, 2016 #21

    crescent-zephyr

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    Sheetz has better food than the city of New Orleans and Lake Shore. They can at least assemble a custom sandwich and "cook" it on a panini press. This is much too complex for Amtrak "chefs."
     
  22. Jul 28, 2016 #22

    niemi24s

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    This kind of cheap shot at hundreds of Amtrak employees has no place on this or any other forum. :angry:
     
  23. Jul 28, 2016 #23

    Devil's Advocate

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    I'm not happy with Amtrak food but riding VIA requires going through Canadian customs, which is the only border experience that has ever annoyed me enough to make me think twice about returning. I wonder how hard it is to parlay GE into Nexus.

    I believe the sous-vide cooking process was retired back when the chef inspired meals went away. The food today is far too dry and flavorless to be sous-vide. The only exception I can think of is the Acela first class dining service, but that's it.

    Ever heard of Buc-ee's? I pass one every time I travel to Austin/Houston/Dallas. We're talking about Texas so naturally they're enormous. Even though it's essentially just a really big gas station I honestly think Buc-ee's food is better than Amtrak dining car food at this point. Plus the restrooms are much cleaner than anything I've seen on Amtrak. Even the AT&T Center has better food now, and that's a generic sports stadium.
     
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  24. Jul 28, 2016 #24

    Bob Dylan

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    The only thing worse is "Unfunded Congressional Mandate"!
     
  25. Jul 28, 2016 #25

    zephyr17

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    Devil's Advocate, it might be kind of hard to get a Nexus card living in SAS. You have to go be interviewed successively by Canadian and US border agents and those interviews are only offered at some border stations and some Customs and Immigration offices near the Canadian border. I did my interviews at Boeing Field in Seattle.

    Nexus is a great deal if you can do it. It costs 1/2 as much as Global Entry ($50, price set by treaty so it is hard to change), includes Global Entry, TSA Pre-Chek, dedicated priority lanes at highway border crossings and ability to cross the Canadian border without a passport either direction. Including by air, although you have to go to a Canadian station to get iris scanned for that as the iris scan is required for Canadian entry by air with the Nexus. Apparently the US didn't buy/license the machines.

    Back to Amtrak: The food is improved over last year, it still isn't wonderful, but it is better. I bet those pork shanks were sous vide, though.

    PS - Secretly glad that someone else has had the same great experiences with CBSA that I have had. Nobody believes it, "Canadians are always so polite". Those experiences were the final straw in pushing me to get my Nexus card, and it has been easier with CBSA since I've had it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 28, 2016

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