Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby David Benton » Mon Jan 24, 2011 2:23 pm

in a "trains" article it was stated that the Hiwiatha cart service had the best revenue / cost ratio of all Amtrak food services . Even then i think it was something like 60 cents revenue for every $ 1 cost , so still a loss . but it would be ideal for other services with no food service now . It would be also interesting to see them working in addition to the cafe cars on the nec , to see what extra revenue they can generate , and wether it can come close to the costs of providing the service .
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gokeefe » Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:26 pm

$0.60 revenue to $1.00 cost??

You've got to be kidding me....ugh....

I was hoping for something much better.

Regardless, thanks for the information Dave.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby EricL » Tue Jan 25, 2011 12:28 am

David Benton wrote:in a "trains" article it was stated that the Hiwiatha cart service had the best revenue / cost ratio of all Amtrak food services . Even then i think it was something like 60 cents revenue for every $ 1 cost , so still a loss . but it would be ideal for other services with no food service now . It would be also interesting to see them working in addition to the cafe cars on the nec , to see what extra revenue they can generate , and wether it can come close to the costs of providing the service .


There is a certain fellow who does the Hiawatha cart service, who is very very good at it, and obviously is the main reason for the high sales. If it were possible to clone this fellow, to cover the other side of the job, I bet you the recovery ratio would be well near a hundred percent. If a second clone could be made to cover the trains that aren't currently covered (early morning and late evening), well, that's a toss-up, I guess. The 8:05p train out of Chicago could definitely do with a guy equipped with a stock of $6.00 beers.

Anyway, this fellow is so infamously good that he tends to get at least one newspaper blurb per year. Check the archives of the Milwaukee or Chicago papers and you'll see what I mean.

The cart service works well on the Hiawatha because the trip is only carded for an hour and a half. Probably one of the shortest scheduled runs in the whole Amtrak system. Basically, the trip is over before you know it. So the majority of the passengers appreciate the at-seat service, in lieu of walking to find a cafe car. On runs much longer than this, folks start to get restless, not to mention sore heinies, and so the walk to the cafe becomes a welcome diversion, just to be able to get up and move around.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Tue Jan 25, 2011 6:50 am

Here is more regarding Amtrak Service Attandant Marty Schall; in all likelihood the attendant noted immediately by Eric L:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/97779339.html

Brief passage:

    Some use it as a time to sleep. Others use it as a time to read the paper, catch up on e-mail or gaze out the window reflecting on a rather mundane day at the office.

    Passengers of the Hiawatha Amtrak train service from Milwaukee to Chicago expect little entertainment. A conductor alerting them to the next stop opens the show. A crying baby is the headliner of the 90-mile commute. A loud cell phone talker tees it up for the forgettable encore.

    But don't plan on zoning out if Marty Schall is on board. The popular lounge service attendant from Milwaukee quickly turns the hour and 40-minute commute into a lollapalooza of laughter.

    "That's all I do every day is come to work and sell snacks," explains Schall with a laugh. The 52-year-old's peddling of soda, candy and beer is a side note to the charismatic character he presents to his passengers
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gokeefe » Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:08 am

Nothing like great service and fond memories to make a one-time passenger into a loyal guest.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby jamesinclair » Wed Jan 26, 2011 1:45 am

I really dont understand how amtrak food service can be anything but profitable.

The prices are certainly higher than you would find off the train, basically airport-style prices.

Purchase a bottle of water for 22 cents, sell for $1.50. Purchase bagel and cream cheese for 17 cents, sell for $1.25.

How is that not profitable?
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gokeefe » Wed Jan 26, 2011 3:31 am

At least in my mind there are two primary reasons. First on most trains the service is provided by personnel who are covered by collective bargaining agreements (union labor) that have relatively high wage scales and generous benefits compared to their streetside brethren. You could compare this to wages of a flight attendant vs. wages of a fast-food chain worker. The fact of the matter is there are many good reasons for this including higher qualifications for these individuals and multiple roles, (must be qualified to serve alcoholic beverages, must be able to qualify for service in a railroad environment, must be sufficiently trustworthy to handle cash receipts with little or no supervision etc., must be healthy enough to assist train crew in the event of an evacuation/incident etc. etc.). Flight attendants of course serve many of these roles as well in addition to their more visible duties of serving refreshments to passengers. All of these requirements some of which are regulatory (safety) and some of which are at the discretion of the company (alcoholic beverage service) add up to a position with very high qualification levels which many people could not even begin to consider applying for.

The second problem is the overhead required to operate these services. For cart based services, such as we've been discussing with the Hiawatha, the overhead is substantially lower because the service uses existing revenue space inside passenger coaches with little or no impact whatsoever on passenger revenues and direct costs to maintenance. For 'car' based services such as full dining service on the Empire Builder all the way down to 'cafe car' service on the Downeaster there are far higher overhead costs related to the maintenance and operation of the car itself (which has numerous specialized systems related to foodservice) along with additional personnel as needed depending on the level of service. These personnel of course are subject to the conditions described above.

One of the aspects of this equation that has been discussed before is the apparent self-sufficiency of Amtrak foodservice when combined with sleeping car services. In these cases it appears that the fares paid by sleeping car passengers do in fact cover all overhead and direct costs associated with the services. This is at least in part true because sleeping car fares always include the cost of meals (excluding alcoholic beverages) in the diner.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby goodnightjohnwayne » Wed Jan 26, 2011 4:39 pm

gokeefe wrote:At least in my mind there are two primary reasons. First on most trains the service is provided by personnel who are covered by collective bargaining agreements (union labor) that have relatively high wage scales and generous benefits compared to their streetside brethren. You could compare this to wages of a flight attendant vs. wages of a fast-food chain worker. The fact of the matter is there are many good reasons for this including higher qualifications for these individuals and multiple roles, (must be qualified to serve alcoholic beverages, must be able to qualify for service in a railroad environment, must be sufficiently trustworthy to handle cash receipts with little or no supervision etc., must be healthy enough to assist train crew in the event of an evacuation/incident etc. etc.). Flight attendants of course serve many of these roles as well in addition to their more visible duties of serving refreshments to passengers. All of these requirements some of which are regulatory (safety) and some of which are at the discretion of the company (alcoholic beverage service) add up to a position with very high qualification levels which many people could not even begin to consider applying for.


It really comes down to collective bargaining. The "safety" role of food service attendants is just a union talking point. There's no statutory requirement in this regard, unlike flight attendants. If you look at the end of the food service in Albany, it basically came down to a union picket line scaring away the Subway sandwich employees. Guess what, there's still no food service on trains that terminate in Albany. No jobs for anyone, union or non-union and no food service.

To be fair, I doubt that Amtrak could ever break even on food service, even without the crushing burden of high wage scales and high benefit costs. Food service wasn't profitable at any point in railroad history. George Pullman invented the dining car and then gave the dining car business to the railroads because he couldn't figure out how to make it profitable.

gokeefe wrote:One of the aspects of this equation that has been discussed before is the apparent self-sufficiency of Amtrak foodservice when combined with sleeping car services. In these cases it appears that the fares paid by sleeping car passengers do in fact cover all overhead and direct costs associated with the services. This is at least in part true because sleeping car fares always include the cost of meals (excluding alcoholic beverages) in the diner.


Traditionally, food service wasn't included in a sleeping car fare. This is an innovation on the part of Amtrak. I suspect that many sleeper passengers weren't using the dining cars, and as we all know, only 15% of coach passengers eat in a dining cars. In other words, making sleeper passengers automatically pay for meals in the dining car helps support dining car operations.

However, it's clear that carrying dining car expenses on the backs of sleeper passengers still isn't a break even concept. It also is quite clear that long distance trains without the overhead of dining cars lose less money. It has been said that the coach only Palmetto actually makes money in an era when most ever other long distance train loses money.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gokeefe » Thu Jan 27, 2011 6:47 am

Barring any exceptions to policy or other rulemaking that I am not seeing at present there most certainly is a statutory requirement for onboard foodservice personnel to be trained in railroad safety procedures:

49 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Subtitle B "Other Regulations Relating to Transportation", Chapter 2 Federal Railroad Administration, Department of Transportation, § 239.101-Emergency preparedness plan.

(2) Employee training and qualification. (i) On-board personnel. The railroad's emergency preparedness plan shall address individual employee responsibilities and provide for initial training, as well as periodic training at least once every two calendar years thereafter, on the applicable plan provisions. As a minimum, the initial and periodic training shall include:
(A) Rail equipment familiarization;

(B) Situational awareness;

(C) Passenger evacuation;

(D) Coordination of functions; and

(E) “Hands-on” instruction concerning the location, function, and operation of on-board emergency equipment.


There are several passages that follow which make it abundantly clear that 'on-board' includes foodservice personnel none more so than this one:

(vi) On-board staffing. (A) Except as provided in paragraph (a)(2)(vi)(B), all crewmembers on board a passenger train shall be qualified to perform the functions for which they are responsible under the provisions of the applicable emergency preparedness plan.

(B) A freight train crew relieving an expired passenger train crew en route is not required to be qualified under the emergency preparedness plan, provided that at least one member of the expired passenger train crew remains on board and is available to perform excess service under the Federal hours of service laws in the event of an emergency.


http://law.justia.com/us/cfr/title49/49cfr239_main_02.html

There is no specific exclusion for foodservice personnel from the broadly inclusive direction for 'all on-board' personnel to be trained in safety procedures.

In regards to the changes that were proposed for cafe cars on the Empire service I'm quite confident that if Amtrak had proposed the change to their own employees and had them do the work instead of others (under the same CBA) they would have gone right along with it. The foodservice employees stood up for their jobs and didn't just walk away from them. They fought as best they could to keep working under the same conditions and pay. There are plenty of people who can't even be bothered to work. Frankly, either way they were probably going to lose their jobs so at that point they had nothing to lose. They showed a great deal of pride and dignity to at least try to maintain what they had worked so hard for.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gokeefe » Thu Jan 27, 2011 6:48 am

I am still wondering if anyone can provide some definitive statistics (preferably with a referenced official document) that can show whether or not the Hiawatha cart foodservice covers its expenses.

Thanks in advance.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby goodnightjohnwayne » Thu Jan 27, 2011 3:49 pm

gokeefe wrote:Barring any exceptions to policy or other rulemaking that I am not seeing at present there most certainly is a statutory requirement for onboard foodservice personnel to be trained in railroad safety procedures.


That's precisely what the union claimed, justifying the highly paid union jobs on the basis of the safety argument, even going so far as to claim that the primary role of food service attendants was to evacuate passengers in the event of an emergency. None of which was true, strictly speaking.

In the airline industry, flight attendants are present on every airplane solely because of statutory safety requirements. In contrast, there's no law mandating the presence of food service attendants on trains, and any safety training is perfunctory.



gokeefe wrote:There is no specific exclusion for foodservice personnel from the broadly inclusive direction for 'all on-board' personnel to be trained in safety procedures.


It's worth noting that Amtrak didn't have any legal issues as far as utilizing Subway submarine sandwich employees for onboard food service issues, so the "safety" issue was a moot point.

gokeefe wrote:In regards to the changes that were proposed for cafe cars on the Empire service I'm quite confident that if Amtrak had proposed the change to their own employees and had them do the work instead of others (under the same CBA) they would have gone right along with it.


Nonsense. Even with heavy patronage, there was no way that Amtrak was going to come close to breaking even with the existing union workforce. This is even after commissary functions had been contracted out. So there really wasn't a way diminishing the food service loses on Albany trains without changing the entire business model.

gokeefe wrote: The foodservice employees stood up for their jobs and didn't just walk away from them. They fought as best they could to keep working under the same conditions and pay.


The problem was that food service operations couldn't break even with "the same conditions and pay." The "conditions and pay" were the reasons why food service ceased on trains terminating in Albany.


gokeefe wrote: Frankly, either way they were probably going to lose their jobs so at that point they had nothing to lose. They showed a great deal of pride and dignity to at least try to maintain what they had worked so hard for.


I don't see where "pride and dignity" feature prominently in scaring away Subway sandwich employees?

In the end, the picketers made sure there was no food service out of Albany and no jobs for anyone, union or non-union. Everyone lost.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gokeefe » Thu Jan 27, 2011 10:07 pm

The problem was that food service operations couldn't break even with "the same conditions and pay." The "conditions and pay" were the reasons why food service ceased on trains terminating in Albany.


If that's the case then why hasn't it been terminated everywhere? The alternative is that Amtrak was attempting to introduce non-union labor into their foodservice operations in order to 'bust' the union on all their trains nationwide. In that case putting up a picket line was a matter of survival not just for the Albany employees but for CBA covered Amtrak foodservice employees nationally. Given that Amtrak had already decided to attempt to use non-union labor I would still claim that the former foodservice employees on the Empire Service had in effect already lost their jobs and were holding out in hope that they might be able to keep them if they successfully picketed the service.

Why negotiate with an employer that wants to take away your bargained rights and cut your pay and benefits by some large amount (25-50% or more)?

In regards to the picket line the right to freedom of assembly is protected under the First Amendment. How exactly would you suggest that these picketers be 'prohibited' from exercising their right to free speech and assembly? Free speech isn't always nice speech.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby goodnightjohnwayne » Fri Jan 28, 2011 1:26 pm

gokeefe wrote:
The problem was that food service operations couldn't break even with "the same conditions and pay." The "conditions and pay" were the reasons why food service ceased on trains terminating in Albany.


If that's the case then why hasn't it been terminated everywhere?


Albany was the biggest money loser, proportionately, and the Albany to New York run was short enough to dispense with food service altogether. It would also appear that Albany is a very, very tough town.


gokeefe wrote:The alternative is that Amtrak was attempting to introduce non-union labor into their foodservice operations in order to 'bust' the union on all their trains nationwide.


Highly doubtful. Amtrak had tried a number of solutions, such as outsourcing the commissary, then attempting to negotiate. The food service attendents were only laid off after the union failed to offer concessions.

gokeefe wrote: In that case putting up a picket line was a matter of survival not just for the Albany employees but for CBA covered Amtrak foodservice employees nationally.


No, the picket line was not supported by other unions. The operating crews gladly crossed the picket. Other New York and Chicago members of the same union continued to offer food service. The issues were entirely local.

gokeefe wrote: Given that Amtrak had already decided to attempt to use non-union labor I would still claim that the former foodservice employees on the Empire Service had in effect already lost their jobs and were holding out in hope that they might be able to keep them if they successfully picketed the service.


The entire union food service operation in Albany had folded before Amtrak embarked on the Subway sandwich experiment. There was even a reasonable lapse between the end of unionized food service and the non-union Subway sandwich experiment.

gokeefe wrote:Why negotiate with an employer that wants to take away your bargained rights and cut your pay and benefits by some large amount (25-50% or more)?


In the real world, there is always a direct relationship between how much value you produce for an employer and your ultimate compensation. Any system where a worker receive more in wages and benefits than the value of the labor performed is an unsustainable system.

gokeefe wrote:In regards to the picket line the right to freedom of assembly is protected under the First Amendment. How exactly would you suggest that these picketers be 'prohibited' from exercising their right to free speech and assembly? Free speech isn't always nice speech.


Harassment is not protected as free speech. If Amtrak or the Subway sandwich franchisee had provided proper security to protect the Subway sandwich employees from the picketers, the experiment most likely would have continued.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby David Benton » Fri Jan 28, 2011 9:50 pm

has the keystone service ever had food service , and if not does this qualify it as a new start , and so food vendors could be used aka downeaster service ??? . i think it would be ideal trial for food cart service .
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gprimr1 » Fri Jan 28, 2011 10:33 pm

For the Keystone service, I often wonder how effective vending machines would be. A small vending lounge with a few soda machines, coffee machine and maybe even one of those sandwich machines could work well.
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