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

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by Devil's Advocate, Apr 19, 2018.

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  1. Apr 20, 2018 #176

    PVD

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    In the real world pricing is set by response to competition, and a desire to sell at the price that delivers the best overall yield. That may mean a higher price and a lower volume, it may mean a lower price and a higher volume, or a low price on one item that triggers the purchase of other highly profitable items. Effect on labor and handling costs are factored in. Also, food service can be used as a tool to attract passengers at a higher price point than if it wasn't there (DownEaster is a perfect example of that concept) Lots of people complain that the beer is expensive at MSG or CitiField, but they sure buy a boatload of it. Unless you are running a social action group or a charity, why would you price under what delivers the best points on a yield curve for the route (which factors in effect on passenger loads and price sensitivity of fare points)?
     
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  2. Apr 20, 2018 #177

    chrsjrcj

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    It would be one thing if these changes were a one time thing. Unfortunately, history tells us that service only gets worse and in very few cases does it actually improve.

    I had flashbacks to the Silver Palm when the Silver Star lost its diner a few years ago. On the Silver Palm, first they took the dining car and sleeping cars, then they truncated the service from Miami to Savannah.

    It's just a matter of time before the next ax falls on the long distance network.
     
  3. Apr 20, 2018 #178

    Lonestar648

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    On the issue of preparing food to order, remember that the most of the refrigerated/frozen food can NOT be taken back into stock because constant refrigerated temperatures can not be guaranteed, so all un served refrigerated food is trashed per USDA regulations. The hope is that with this new system there will be little or no waste.

    The other cost savings with this change is the labor savings. To bring back hot meals I think you would need to increase your labor costs with adding a Food Specialist, and that I do not see happening. Depending on the per meal budget Amtrak is allocating, the vendor could be creative, so any tweaking would be with the meal itself. Appears breakfast needs to be rethought, like a cereal option.

    People have been asking for a Sleeping Car lounge because the SSL gets so full at times.

    I am sure this is an experiment to see how to roll it out across the country. They will learn lots, make changes, then roll out to a couple more trains like the SM, CONO, and/or TE.
     
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  4. Apr 20, 2018 #179

    CAQuail

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    As I said before I am trying to take a wait and see attitude, though I am expecting it to be a major downgrade (sorry not a big fan of change and having worked in the airline/airport industry for the past 12-15 years I approach any "service enhancements" with suspicion). My biggest complaint is the lack of a hot breakfast or any hot options. On a recent flight to London I was served a "full" English breakfast (eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomato, fruit and roll) in economy on British Airways. On Aer Lingus in economy you can order a premium meal on transatlantic flights and they are rather good!

    https://www.aerlingus.com/experience-aer-lingus/dining/transatlantic-economy/#/tab-0-bia-pre-order
     
  5. Apr 20, 2018 #180

    PVD

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    Well, there is no SSL (or anything close) on the LSL, it is the single level trains that suffer most in the lounge department.
     
  6. Apr 20, 2018 #181

    Lonestar648

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    You are getting the VII diner that will be Sleeper passengers only.
     
  7. Apr 20, 2018 #182

    crescent-zephyr

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    Which IS a major upgrade from current lounge options on the SL fleet. Whenever I rode the LSL I always had bad luck and got a room on the non-River side. With no cafe on the nyc section that meant no option to see the scenery.
     
  8. Apr 20, 2018 #183

    Just-Thinking-51

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    Always find the statement about how the food must be throw out at the end to be just BS.

    Cant guarantee to keep food at a constant temperature, then you should not be handling food at all.

    Someday I will find a USDA inspector who can enlighten me to correct policy, as I am too lazy to be looking for it myself.

    Food Transporter for the last 20 years.
     
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  9. Apr 20, 2018 #184

    lordsigma

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    I'm ok with them trying this out if it is a genuine attempt to be sustainable and preserve the train (and not a deliberate sabotage attempt to kill the train.) At least they are going to deploy the VII diner to the LSL which gives them the flexibility to tweak this new program further down the line since the train would be fully equipped (for example lets say by allowing heat up of the food for an additional charge and adding some limited grill items such as breakfast or something else along those lines) and also would allow them to go back to full diner after the NYP summer work is done if this doesn't work out (or to vary the service seasonally such as offering full diner during the busier times of year and the limited program during less busy times.)
     
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  10. Apr 20, 2018 #185

    PVD

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    Actually, most (not all) food service regs that cover Amtrak are from the FDA, and are spelled out pretty clearly in the Service Standards Manuals.
     
  11. Apr 20, 2018 #186

    lordsigma

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    I WILL say though that a different approach would be needed for the western trains - and some eastern trains such as the Auto Train and Meteor in my opinion still justify a diner.
     
  12. Apr 20, 2018 #187

    jis

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    Yeah, I was scratching my head about why USDA would have anything to do directly with retail dispensing of food. FDA sounds right.
     
  13. Apr 20, 2018 #188

    PVD

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    That makes sense....One size does not fit all. AT and the Western runs are clearly different.
     
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  14. Apr 20, 2018 #189

    seat38a

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    Well the Auto Train I think would be high on the list of getting this change. Only two meals on the route (I think). The sleeping car lounge and the amenities like wine and cheese could probably be brought back using the dining car as the lounge. Coach passengers would still get a boxed meal but probably choose from 2 choices.

    How many staff members are there on each train related to food service for both coach and sleeper? Also, sleeper passengers only get a continental breakfast correct?
     
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  15. Apr 20, 2018 #190

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    The Auto Train however is unique in that it is a 100% long distance train and caters exclusively to those going overnight. Northeast to Florida is one of if not the most popular overnight pairing in the Amtrak system. Offering the meal on it, in my opinion, is an important in keeping the service as a competitive option. Given the AT's high revenue, they should be delicate with the changes made to try to reduce losses - maybe tweak the free meals given to coach - but outright elimination of the diner on the AT I think would be a major mistake. This is a long distance trip that IS quite popular. This isn't like the other LD trains where the majority of the pax are short range corridor riders.
     
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  16. Apr 20, 2018 #191

    jis

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    OTOH, AT at least notionally, has zero wastage, since all the numbers are known exactly. It is also 100% LD end to end passengers. It is also pretty much at break even or slightly cash positive anyway as it is. I think it will have to wait its turn for many other trains get some additional "treatment". Financially F&B on the Western trains are the worst off, so watch out what you wish for.
     
  17. Apr 20, 2018 #192

    seat38a

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    Didn't think about it that way. Everyone gets a meal so no need to estimate to come up short or over. [​IMG]

    Well it will probably be the worst performing western train first. I'm guessing the Sunset Limited. Logistically, I think it would be easier on the Coast Starlight assuming they plan to replenish and pickup the meals along the route.

    On Train 14:

    Day 1:

    Lunch loaded at LAUS

    Dinner picked up SB/SLO

    Day 2:

    Breakfast picked up in SAC/Oakland

    Lunch SAC or Eugene

    Dinner PDX

    Coach attendants could possibly take orders ahead of time and the LSA could email/call whatever before the train arrived. For major delays, they already carry the snack packs aboard the train which they could hand out.
     
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  18. Apr 20, 2018 #193

    TiBike

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    Cold, boxed meals that you can eat when and where you choose would be an upgrade for many west coast passengers. If the meals were healthier – more greens, less fat and carbs – than what you can get in the diners now, that would be even better. But just eliminating the dining car "experience" – bossy announcements, regimented eating times, forced socialisation – would be a huge improvement.
     
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  19. Apr 20, 2018 #194

    lordsigma

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    Clearly something will have to be done about the western trains to bring costs under control - but I just think that it needs to be different than what is being proposed for LSL/CL. I think some type of hot meals should be an option on those trains. Amtrak should also examine other options for F&B (And Im sure they are) such as outsourcing F&B operations, removing the connection between dining and sleeper tickets and simply making the diner and lounges a la carte. A la carte diners would not address labor costs but would certainly address food costs and wastage as it could be run more similarly to a restaurant - could have some type of cooler in the underutilized baggage cars for freezing and refrigerating of food items reducing waste. Overtime you'd be able to figure out appropriate stock of different food items.
     
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  20. Apr 20, 2018 #195

    seat38a

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    I think wastage is like .0001% of the problem, the big issue is labor. On my last trip on the CS, it had 2 chefs, 4 servers, 1 LSA in the dining car 1 attendant in the PPC. That is 8 FB people tied up just in the dining car.

    If you decoupled the food from the sleepers, and now assuming a big chunk of the sleeping car passengers decide not to eat in the dining car, your loses look even worse.
     
  21. Apr 20, 2018 #196

    zephyr17

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    Just one historical note, the meals were included in the sleeper fares (which were increased to cover the costs of the meals when that was implemented) in order to provide the diners with a guaranteed revenue stream (my fare includes costs for 2 meals per room per meal period, but I only get one).

    That portion of the sleeper tickets is still counted as diner revenue, whether the meals are consumed or not.

    It is actually to the benefit of food services' bottom line to have the meals included in the sleeper fare.
     
  22. Apr 20, 2018 #197

    lordsigma

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    I think it could work coupled with outsourcing operations.
     
  23. Apr 20, 2018 #198

    bretton88

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    https://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/prria_2015_packet.pdf

    To note, here is the relevant legislation Amtrak has to follow. Notice major tenants are "run like a business" and "eliminate food and beverage losses" within 5 years (2019). The legislation even explicitly addresses Amtrak ignoring F&B losses. This is how we got to today.
     
  24. Apr 20, 2018 #199

    jis

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    Even for Labor AT is the only train that has the more efficient Labor Contract making its Labor costs more competitive than any other LD train on Amtrak, due to the sharing of job roles that is permitted in the contract.

    I am glad people are slowly discovering this fact. I have been trying to educate them about this. Throwing a hissy-fit about Anderson and calling him names is not going to fix anything .
     
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  25. Apr 20, 2018 #200

    lordsigma

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    I don't think its impossible to make the diners work if run as a for-profit business outsourced to an operator. You let the operator decide how to run it - sit down style, take out style with the option of eating food at a table or to go (in your seat or sleeper) sort of like a cafe car but with more (and fresher) options. Maybe it isn't the traditional "dining car experience" but you have a captive audience of riders on the train and if you make it contemporary and desirable thing that people want to come to then they will come - they will have no where else to eat. When I say decouple from sleeper tickets I do not mean that it has to be the dining car experience of today, they do need to be creative, but I don't think cold box meals are necessarily the only thing that can work.)
     
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