New dining options (flex dining) effective October 1

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by SanDiegan, Jul 13, 2019.

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  1. Sep 19, 2019 #701

    railiner

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    This discussion about the constant changes in meal service, is as old as Amtrak...
    Who wouldn't yearn for the days when Amtrak offered complete traditional dining car service, but was forced to downgrade to paper plates and table cloths, plastic cutlery, and silk rather than real flowers on the table...but still offered delicious full course meals, freshly prepared on board...?:)
     
  2. Sep 19, 2019 #702

    Manny T

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    Yes, and doesn't this prove that complaining works?

    The constant complaints about the cold boxed meals and limited "contemporary dining" options, here and from other sources that reached Amtrak management, must have had an impact to generate the waves of changes.
     
  3. Sep 19, 2019 #703

    jiml

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    Thinking of this discussion and the parallel one about lounge cars, does it make sense to retain the Superliner dining cars with full kitchens on trains going to flexible dining? I realize this has already effectively happened with the Capitol Limited, but now they're adding the CONL. Presuming Superliner dining cars are in short supply elsewhere and that they carry a lot of additional weight, would it make sense to do "flexible" dining on the table side of a lounge car? In an even longer view, would these routes be better served by single-level consists with modified Viewliner "diners"?
     
  4. Sep 19, 2019 #704

    crescent-zephyr

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    The capitol and the city both use ccc cars, which are actually well designed for this type of use, unlike the viewliner diners.
     
  5. Sep 19, 2019 #705

    jis

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    Both CONO and Cap have CCCs not full Dining Cars. They still need the kitchen area to process the flexible food. They just do not need the full staff to do so.

    Also, CONO's food service was significantly downgraded to a level that is considered to be worse than the new Flexible Dining, long before the Cap got Contemporary Dining.

    There is a school of opinion that there should be no Superliner III and the entire fleet should be reverted back to single level too, naturally with the addition of real Dome Lounges like the days of yore. ;)
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2019
  6. Sep 19, 2019 #706

    lordsigma

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    I am not criticizing the fact that this is the fourth change - merely keeping score of the changes. I frankly am also glad they have been receptive to changes. To me, this new presentation is a big improvement over the boxes and if the meals are of similar quality to the Acela First Class meals with this presentation, and they make further improvements to deal with meal stock shortages, I can live with it on the eastern trains - I feel bad for the affected employees on the two trains where there are position cuts and hope that some were able to move into other positions (and hope that the additional LSA jobs associated with the Silver Star getting this format will provide a place for some affected employees from the Crescent and Meteor to move), but as far as myself riding the train I can live with it if the quality is acceptable.

    I do hope they will keep the traditional diner on trains like the Zephyr, Builder, etc which for now they are and that some things being talked about for flex dining will also be offered for traditional dining, such as the meal pre-selection to help reduce spoilage and "oh sorry we are out of that."
     
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  7. Sep 19, 2019 #707

    jiml

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    Thanks, I didn't realize there was a physical difference in the cars as opposed to describing the quite different service provided. The Texas Eagle also has a CCC diner, correct?
     
  8. Sep 19, 2019 #708

    crescent-zephyr

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    It’s quite confusing. The CCC cars haven’t operated as CCC cars in about 10 years. It didn’t last long. The all day menu / service model was actually quite a good concept.

    The Texas Eagle operates a full dining car service in a ccc car.
     
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  9. Sep 21, 2019 #709

    bretton88

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    So per the RPA in the reauthorization the Senate has just passed, they're doubling down on Amtrak getting rid of food service losses by 2020. They even require Amtrak to give them a full financial report of the savings that Amtrak is making by the end of the next fiscal year. I doubt we'll ever see traditional dining return or worse we might see further cuts to meet the congressional mandate.


    https://www.railpassengers.org/happ...d-funding-for-amtrak-passenger-rail-programs/
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
  10. Sep 21, 2019 #710

    Dakota 400

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    Well, I don't like this news. And, if I see any indication that proper dining car service will be eliminated on the Auto Train this Winter, Amtrak will have lost this customer for that service.
     
  11. Sep 21, 2019 #711

    bretton88

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    With the way the RPA is reporting it, it sounds like they are being really narrow about it too. They want to see what financial cuts in the food service budget Amtrak is making. Doesn't matter if it causes massive revenue losses in the other line items. This a classic example of congressional micromanaging at its worst.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
  12. Sep 21, 2019 #712

    Dakota 400

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    Our Congress is unable to macro-manage the larger issues let alone Amtrak's issues!
     
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  13. Sep 21, 2019 #713

    lordsigma

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    I don’t think the auto train sleeper dining car is going to be a casualty. From a “Trying to break even” stand point, the Auto Train is the golden child of the entire long distance service line. It is closer than ever to break even, and with these upcoming changes they could eventually push it into break even or possibly even a slight profit. Auto train likely has a future regardless of what happens to the rest of the network as it really is a unique offering distinct from the rest of Amtrak. A single LSA serving contemporary meals is likely not practical on the Auto Train given the much larger amount of passengers to feed than just about every other train out there. It should also be noted the auto train diner is not the same as the traditional dining on the western trains. While it does have a chef, there is a small limited choice of meals with not much customization allowed, similar to contemporary dining.

    I would be more worried about outsourcing. To get to zero losses in F&B, some sort of outsourcing may be the only way. Amtrak, even the current administration, likely realizes that if you dumb down the service too much it negatively affects ridership hence these alterations to contemporary dining. If, however, Amtrak can get to breakeven operationally overall in the next couple years as Anderson keeps hinting (so that no tax payer dollars are needed for F&B) the pressure on this front will likely ebb.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
  14. Sep 21, 2019 #714

    lordsigma

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    This isn’t a reauthorization bill it is a spending bill and the senate hasn’t passed it - it’s a draft sub committee bill that could undergo more changes before it passes the full committee, let alone the full senate and reconciliation with the house bill.
     
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  15. Sep 21, 2019 #715

    jebr

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    There's still a few changes that could be made within the "flexible dining" system that I'd like to see made:
    • The charcuterie plate should still be on offer, perhaps as a welcome aboard option for those boarding between meal times (or, in the case of the Lake Shore Limited, boarding in Chicago!) That plus a beverage (hard or soft) would be a way to make people feel more welcomed aboard.
    • A hard beverage should be included with each meal. It would seem easier to track and keep accounted for (how well will the attendant remember if someone's had their free drink already if it was two or three meal periods ago?) and it would seem a bit less cheap/chintzy. I can understand not offering an open bar or unlimited drinks, but comp-ing the first drink of each meal shouldn't have issues with people drinking too much (at least without other drinks taking place and either being paid for or already brought on board.)
    • Some simpler options and cold options would be welcome. A burger with chips would be nice if I'm wanting something a bit more "boring" for a meal, along with maybe an offering of deli sandwiches (similar to what's sold in the cafe car.) I know it's not terribly exciting, but there's times where a heavy meal just won't sit well, but a ham sandwich would be fine.
    • I'd also like to see some munchies between meal times. It could be something as simple as the bags of Goldfish and other random stuff that's served in the Metropolitan lounges, though ideally having a fruit basket as well and a couple of other healthy options would be nice.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
  16. Sep 21, 2019 #716

    Just-Thinking-51

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    On board the LSL today, my SCA gave out tickets for the comp drink. Per her it was good both in the dinner-lounge, and cafe car.

    Charcuterie plate even small as the one I got on AA would be appreciated, maybe handed out in room, or the cafe car next door.
     
  17. Sep 21, 2019 #717

    jis

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    Yes. This is an Appropriation bill. Not the five year Authorization bill. And this is a better draft Appropriation bill than we have had in years. And also it has a long way to go before it is actually passed. Currently the plan is to have a CR covering all the way to Thanksgiving.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
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  18. Sep 21, 2019 #718

    Qapla

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    And what equal/comparable offering do you give those who do not drink "hard" beverages?

    Pizza would be nice - but, not that tasteless cardboard they sell in the cafe car.
     
  19. Sep 21, 2019 #719

    jebr

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    They'd still have the option of soft beverages at each meal - that wouldn't be eliminated. Acela First already offers something similar, and if the drink selection for all is similar or better to that, I'd be fine with that.
     
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  20. Sep 21, 2019 #720

    crescent-zephyr

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    The same that you currently get for the 1 drink on Amtrak... or when flying first class. No one has to accept the drink, but they can order it if they like.
     
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  21. Sep 21, 2019 #721

    Rasputin

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    If I recall the procedure during our trip in May, I think it was the sleeping car attendant who gave out the drink tickets so the dining car attendant had no need to try to memorize who had, and who had not, received their free drink.
     
  22. Sep 21, 2019 #722

    crescent-zephyr

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    I was once scolded by an LSA for not ordering my free drink correctly in business class on a Michigan train. I can’t wait to see all the inconsistencies of this service. :)

    On the flip side, once on an Illinois train I asked for a bottled water thinking I got multiple drinks for free. The lsa was super nice and said “technically you only get one free drink, but I’ve got some extra crew waters I can give you” and he gave me a couple of the little waters.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
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  23. Sep 22, 2019 #723

    Thirdrail7

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    It seems like it will still work the same as contemporary dining. You have slots for each meal but you won't need reservations. You may show up at any time during the slot for the appropriate meal since a seat at a table is no longer guaranteed.
     
  24. Sep 22, 2019 #724

    Qapla

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    If I'm not mistaken, I think the new dining arrangement is supposed to include "A selection wine, beer and spirits (the first one is on us), plus unlimited soft drinks throughout the journey."

    Since the soft drinks are part of the perks all sleepers will get - the free "hard" drink is an "extra" perk that those who do not imbibe are not going to get. Doesn't it seem logical that something comparable to a free hard drink should be offered to those who don't/can't drink the hard stuff? Perhaps something like Hot Chocolate ...
     
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  25. Sep 22, 2019 #725

    Maverickstation

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    Good article in the Washington Post about the changes to Amtrak's eastern Dining Cars.

    One point that I take issue with is the idea that Millennials don't like the communal tables.
    In many new city developments, common spaces are ever larger as that what the Millennial renters, or owners want, and utilize.
    In my development in Boston, common areas like the Roof Deck, Community Rooms, and Demonstration Kitchen are all popular.
    Further if you look at the Time Out Food Halls that have opened in a number of key cities, all the tables are communal as that's what
    the infamous millennials take to, and even older people like myself.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/loca...3cca3a-d888-11e9-bfb1-849887369476_story.html
     
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