Diner Discussion

Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Tue Dec 26, 2017 9:29 pm

hs3730 wrote:Amtrak dining (and cafe) cars, unlike fixed restaurants, have an issue to contend with: spotty cell network service. A restaurant PoS unit will instantly be able to return whether a card is valid. On board a train, if you're in a tunnel, mountains, or what seemed like the entire state of New Mexico, there might not be a way to connect to a network and immediately validate a card. Or worse, like Mr Norman's two beverages, legitimate charges that get lost in the shuffle.

And yet the airlines went no-cash/card-only long before they had reliable internet onboard. Card numbers themselves can be validated without a connection using a mathematical formula (Luhn Formula). This is separate from the question of whether there's an account behind the number that will ultimately make good, but apparently despite these constraints, handling cash was so painful that the airlines preferred to turn away cash and buffer card purchases in flight and batch-process them on the ground or at the end of the shift, just like Amtrak would/should.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Tue Dec 26, 2017 9:53 pm

I'm not sure that is allowed anymore.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Tue Dec 26, 2017 10:17 pm

gokeefe wrote:I'm not sure that is allowed anymore.

I think Amtrak would get an offline deal. Generally merchants pay higher fees or assume fraud liability for lesser-validated transactions (like swipe-and-stored vs live-chip-connection), and it varies by merchant type (gas stations can still do swipes-with-zip, but now assume fraud liability vs whereas groceries require chip)
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Greg Moore » Tue Dec 26, 2017 11:32 pm

I think we're overlooking a fairly simple solution available in most (not all cases):

"To charge your meal to the same credit card as your ticket, please simply let us scan your ticket. (and perhaps require passenger to re-enter the CCV number, though honestly I'd probably NOT do that for several reasons).

If the customer paid via CC or even Debit card, you've got a decent chance adding the cost of the meal to it will also work (as opposed to them perhaps using a different card you can't validate right away while they're paying for their dinner in the middle of the Moffat tunnel).
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby east point » Wed Dec 27, 2017 3:59 am

Always use a Cr card but what would happen if someone decided to invoke the legal tender clause ?
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby STrRedWolf » Wed Dec 27, 2017 6:25 am

Greg Moore wrote:I think we're overlooking a fairly simple solution available in most (not all cases):

"To charge your meal to the same credit card as your ticket, please simply let us scan your ticket. (and perhaps require passenger to re-enter the CCV number, though honestly I'd probably NOT do that for several reasons).

If the customer paid via CC or even Debit card, you've got a decent chance adding the cost of the meal to it will also work (as opposed to them perhaps using a different card you can't validate right away while they're paying for their dinner in the middle of the Moffat tunnel).


That would require Amtrak storing your credit card details (and would require compliance to PCI standards on credit card details). I highly doubt they would store those details when all they need is your ticket. They may strike a deal to have the credit card processor they contract with store it, but they also would need to disclose "We will store your CC info for the duration between time of purchase to the end of your trip."

Not easy.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Greg Moore » Wed Dec 27, 2017 7:09 am

east point wrote:Always use a Cr card but what would happen if someone decided to invoke the legal tender clause ?

They would be in most cases, "wrong."

As long as you're informed upfront that cash is not acceptable and then go ahead and order a meal, you've entered a valid contract to pay via a non-cash method.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Greg Moore » Wed Dec 27, 2017 7:13 am

STrRedWolf wrote:
Greg Moore wrote:I think we're overlooking a fairly simple solution available in most (not all cases):

"To charge your meal to the same credit card as your ticket, please simply let us scan your ticket. (and perhaps require passenger to re-enter the CCV number, though honestly I'd probably NOT do that for several reasons).

If the customer paid via CC or even Debit card, you've got a decent chance adding the cost of the meal to it will also work (as opposed to them perhaps using a different card you can't validate right away while they're paying for their dinner in the middle of the Moffat tunnel).


That would require Amtrak storing your credit card details (and would require compliance to PCI standards on credit card details). I highly doubt they would store those details when all they need is your ticket. They may strike a deal to have the credit card processor they contract with store it, but they also would need to disclose "We will store your CC info for the duration between time of purchase to the end of your trip."

Not easy.


Companies routinely store Credit Card numbers all the time. As you say, PCI compliance must be followed, but that's fairly common these days.
Keep in mind they don't need to store the CC# anywhere other than the servers in the datacenter. It doesn't need to store it on the machines in the dining/cafe car. The ticket number is all that's required and then this gets synched back later once they can send the paired CC#+charge to the servers in the datacenter.

This is very similar for example to what places like Walt Disney World does with their Magicbands. You can order your meals/purchase merchandise and more, simply by waving your MagicBand over the scanner. It's all about reducing the Friction.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Wed Dec 27, 2017 7:36 am

Just to say that not all airlines are CC only now. In fact, I fly one [a regional, of course] that accepts cash only.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby jp1822 » Wed Dec 27, 2017 1:57 pm

The idea of having a cashless diner on at least Amtrak has been discussed, and even on this forum, since nearly inception. But now technology has caught up - or nearly so. Many business examples have been made of Disney, and another innovation that they use appears to work quite well (charge it to my wristband).

How can, and will Amtrak embrace new technology and try to tighten up and streamline some of its operations?

I see folks use a credit card onboard Amtrak in the cafe car when most can not get wireless service.... So it appears that's much of an issue - they get batched and processed when the train is able to get a wireless connection??? That's been mentioned....

I've seen some retailers (who have been in existence for over 50 years or in second/third generation of ownership) transition in the past 18 years from processing 95% cash sales to 40% cash sales; the remainder being on credit card and their sales continue to increase. Note that there is still a mix, but the credit card transition has been more dominant recently. Some are not all the way there, but if they were going to survive into the 21st Century, they had to change their POS options.

Reconciling end of day sales (right on down to the bank settlement) became a lot easier - with the right system and with the right process.

Legal tender isn't always accepted - signs of "no $50 or $100 bills will be accepted." It could be challenged though if someone really wants to push the issue.

A cashless system should not impede or slow down sales (there's now a line cause someone used their credit card....)

There's inherent risks (and temptations) associated with a cash transaction.

And again: How can, and will Amtrak embrace new technology and try to tighten up and streamline its operations? In the long run, technology and new improved systems should be able to help not only the POS operation but also inventory control so that it doesn't take long to open and close the diner operation, especially for the end of trip reconciliation....

Charge it to my train ticket - sounds good in theory. How can it be made into reality....
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby JimBoylan » Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:07 pm

TAN: The cost of handling cash may depend on who's doing the counting and auditing. Some diner and store owners think that their own time is free, and the 2.7% Cost of Business for processing a credit card is something to be avoided before it affects the bottom line. Now, if you have to pay Union wages to the cash counter, the decision can be different.
Some restaurants offer me a free food item with my meal if I use a particular credit card. The waitress complains, "I wish you'd use cash, I don't get paid extra for operating the credit card machine!"
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:31 pm

https://youtu.be/4i_7lOaqygg

This video explains Legal Tender. It points out that a restaurant following the full service protocol of order eat, then pay and accept that payment only by "plastic" could be in violation of Legal Tender laws. Come to think of it, the incident reported by The Times was a cafeteria style restaurant. In the case of an in-flight purchase, the Attendant gives the passenger the food or drink, and the passenger simultaneously gives her the card. The same scenario plays at an Amtrak "Café".

But a full service restaurant, be it on land or on the rails, desiring to accept only "transfer" cards, a sharp lawyer could find a way around any potential (term I heard in Service) "latrine lawyer" customer.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby oamundsen » Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:38 pm

When I traveled on the NYNH&H RR back in the 1960's, I had a charge card issued by that railroad on which I charged not only tickets but also in the dining car. Low tech but it worked. The lounge car must handle lots of cash from what I have seen aboard the Amtrak trains I ride, and perhaps there is something parallel here with what happened when a number of years ago I asked the dining car attendant why they did not have toast for the breakfast menu and his reply was, "because the toasters were always getting stolen in the yards." Sort of: don't fix the theft problem, just don't even try to be giving customers what they are asking for, it is easier that way. Just a long slow slouch toward ever declining responsibility, pride in work, and job satisfaction. Doing what the airlines do is not necessarily the answer, since large numbers of the train travelers I have spoken with in the past few years are using Amtrak because they can't stand traveling by plane anymore. But, I know that I will be thought to be simply against progress and "efficiency" so ever onward toward the cashless society so sought for by banks and accountants.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Tadman » Wed Dec 27, 2017 5:27 pm

Perhaps we're missing the big picture - If we could order and pay for meals at the time the ticket is bought (and set up diner reservation times), especially online, does it change the fundamental financial model of the dining car? Right now they stock trains roughly based on historic food usage data (I would assume, perhaps they just take a wild-a** guess). But if the railroad knew exactly what everybody wants and when they want it, there is very little waste. Further, guys like me on expense account would pay for a $50+ steak or lobster while guys like my former self, in college and on a strict budget, could get a better deal on a cheeseburger or even a "just for you" meal (is that what the at-seat chicken wraps are called?). If the waste is lower and the head count is lower, the cheaper meals stand a better chance of breaking even. The expensive meals could be added and make a more significant constribution to diner finances.

From what I understand, however, Amtrak is loathe to mess with the internal revenue system and make it do anything other than sell tickets.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby OrangeGrove » Wed Dec 27, 2017 5:55 pm

Tadman wrote:Perhaps we're missing the big picture - If we could order and pay for meals at the time the ticket is bought (and set up diner reservation times), especially online, does it change the fundamental financial model of the dining car? Right now they stock trains roughly based on historic food usage data (I would assume, perhaps they just take a wild-a** guess). But if the railroad knew exactly what everybody wants and when they want it, there is very little waste.


But who knows exactly what they're going to want for dinner weeks or even months ahead of time (I couldn't tell you for sure what I'll have tonight after church, let alone next May 17th or whatever)? Ordering some sort of "meal plan" or pre-selected level of dining service (dining car, lounge, at-seat, etc.) at the time of reservation would certainly be fine, but not having to specify precisely what you'll have. This could still help reduce waste somewhat, but far more importantly, add needed revenue and increased business to the dining car.
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