Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

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

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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby JimBoylan » Wed Dec 27, 2017 6:08 pm

Actually, Amtrak and Via Rail Canada do offer that preorder meal choice feature for passengers with special dietary needs, like Kosher and vegetarian. And you still hear, "The commissary didn't load it on the train".
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby sullysullinburg » Wed Dec 27, 2017 8:12 pm

I know this statement is beyond clichè, but I feel it still holds true here, bad people will always do bad things. Someone could almost just as easily, steal credit/debit card info as they do cash now. All if would take is someone to buy a portable scanner (I think there is even apps for your phone now), scam the card and they would have anything they need. They could use the same method of marking goods as spoiled, selling them and pocketing the revenue except this time, the revenue is data. And I feel that This could be even worse as an employee getting away with a a few hundred dollar every trip (which would be very impressive and cause for alarm) is nothing compared to an employee stealing even one credit card. I just thought it would be helpful to put into context what the change would mean. Amtrak may not see much change in its bottom line, but customers could be in a world of trouble.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Wed Dec 27, 2017 8:45 pm

Pre-ordering your meal in first class on American Air has been around for several years. It's possible to do 30 days out from departure. I don't see how it's a problem for anyone to do that, unless indecisiveness is the dominant factor in one's personality. Decide what you want from the [only 2] choices, and put it into the computer. Fait accompli. Can't Amtrak be as savvy?
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Wed Dec 27, 2017 8:48 pm

I have my card set up so that I get an immediate alert for any transaction more than a dollar. It would be quite difficult for anyone to get very far trying to use my info. IOW, banks are getting very well set up to let credit card holders help them prevent fraud such as you describe.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby BandA » Wed Dec 27, 2017 9:54 pm

You could use satellites as a backup data link for the credit card processing - i believe some gas stations do or did in the past. If you want to add additional stuff to the credit card, you either need to store the card number or take a "hold" against credit, like hotels and gas stations sometimes do. I'm not sure the logistics of taking a "hold" and releasing the hold are.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Wed Dec 27, 2017 10:38 pm

Rockingham Racer wrote:I have my card set up so that I get an immediate alert for any transaction more than a dollar. It would be quite difficult for anyone to get very far trying to use my info. IOW, banks are getting very well set up to let credit card holders help them prevent fraud such as you describe.

Note to self: run a $0.99 transaction on Rockingham Racer’s credit card, then repeat 1,000,000 times :-D

None of this is an issue if Amtrak has a vigilant Loss Prevention section (the OIG) and a reasonable agreement with credit card servicers (which it presumably already does.)
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Wed Dec 27, 2017 10:51 pm

Tadman wrote:Perhaps we're missing the big picture -


Agreed. From everything I've seen they just wait for cellular signal to return and then charge at Point of Sale. I'm sure there are places where it can be a while at times but those are fewer and fewer every month.

If Amtrak really wanted to go cashless for foodservice they almost certainly could. We are having a hard enough time holding onto QuikTrak machines (which don't even handle cash!) let alone something that could handle dollars bills and coins.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby David Benton » Wed Dec 27, 2017 11:10 pm

From what I am aware of , running a retail shop in New Zealand, the pos machine, or the ticket/receipt are definetly not capable of storing the credit card number. Most companies have a strict policy against storing customers credit card numbers in any form, for obvious security reasons.It must be possible to organise a web based encryption storage system for services such as car hire which need to be able to charge a card after presentation. For s situation such as a dining car been out of cell range , there would be an agreement between Amtrak and its bank , covering the amount of offline transactions per card that can be allowed. This is known as a "floor limit", from the old days when a dept store would set limits on how much credit a "floor "salesperson could allow a customer, without checking up stairs. Probably varies with type of card , but would be more than enough to cover cafe /dining car purchases.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Thu Dec 28, 2017 7:50 am

mtuandrew wrote:
Rockingham Racer wrote:I have my card set up so that I get an immediate alert for any transaction more than a dollar. It would be quite difficult for anyone to get very far trying to use my info. IOW, banks are getting very well set up to let credit card holders help them prevent fraud such as you describe.

Note to self: run a $0.99 transaction on Rockingham Racer’s credit card, then repeat 1,000,000 times :-D

None of this is an issue if Amtrak has a vigilant Loss Prevention section (the OIG) and a reasonable agreement with credit card servicers (which it presumably already does.)

With rising prices, you can't buy much for $0.99! :P :wink:
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Thu Dec 28, 2017 8:29 am

"I've heard", but never actually seen, on flights where a cardless passenger desires to make an in-flight purchase, Attendants will simply ask a cardholding passenger to make the purchase for the cardless, who will simply give the cash to the "Good Samaritan".

Maybe someone who has been on a "few more" than my eight flights this year, has witnessed such.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby jp1822 » Thu Dec 28, 2017 12:10 pm

OrangeGrove wrote:
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.


It's long been suggested - and I think this could work at least as a pilot program - that a pre-seletected level of dining service be selected at the time of reservation be done - indicated on the boarding pass/reservation. It's an add-on or upsell that Amtrak has yet to master. It adds the needed revenue, guarantees revenue, and speeds up the cashflow process (cash in advance - non-refundable etc.). Sleeper passengers have meals included, but this option would try to get more coach passengers in the diner, which is the main audience Amtrak has to win back to the diner.

Back in 2007 or so I had to buy coach tickets for a group of folks that belonged to an organization I was Treasurer of. It was a non-profit group so there were some rules and regulations as to what could be purchased with treasury funds etc. I would have welcomed the option to include a "meal plan" on the ticket purchase. I even called Amtrak to see if I could arrange anything (they were just under the group rate). They'd be spending overnight in coach and I couldn't forward them any "spending money" for the trip even though I know they would have lunch, dinner and at least next day breakfast onboard. Those travelling did not really want to be inconvenienced with submitting to me a receipt for reimbursement (of who knows what they would have purchased as well). So Amtrak lost out on what could have been guaranteed revenue. The agent I spoke to on the phone said I wasn't the only one who had a request like this. It's still an open item on Amtrak's bucket list.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby SouthernRailway » Thu Dec 28, 2017 12:44 pm

Rockingham Racer wrote:Pre-ordering your meal in first class on American Air has been around for several years. It's possible to do 30 days out from departure. I don't see how it's a problem for anyone to do that, unless indecisiveness is the dominant factor in one's personality. Decide what you want from the [only 2] choices, and put it into the computer. Fait accompli. Can't Amtrak be as savvy?


Correct. AA also sometimes offers an "online-only" additional entree. I agree with you. I always pre-order on AA.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Greg Moore » Thu Dec 28, 2017 1:58 pm

Let's be clear. As others have pointed out, there's multiple ways to solve the technical issues (yes, generally you can't store CC's offline, but there's ways to get around that that work).

While avoiding employee theft may be a goal (the real goal is to get employees who don't steal, but that's another story), the real goal ultimately has to be about friction.

The concept is to make things as easy and transparent to the customer. There's multiple reasons for this, but near the top are happier customers AND customers who often spend more money. (Disney has this down to a science!)

Here's an example of customer friction and what happens when it's removed: The $300M button.

This is one reason why the current scanned "ticket" system works well. Yes, it can safe Amtrak money (less printing costs, fewer QuikTracks, etc.) But it also simply makes it simpler. You have your ticket in almost any form you want and they can check you in. Heck, in sleepers, generally I'm not even asked for my ticket 1/2 the time. The car attendant checks my name off their list of passengers boarding and tells the conductor.

It's all about making transactions and the process as transparent as possible to the customer. The less they have to do, the more likely they are to do it. This is one reason why I suggest working out a system of letting the cafe car or dining car attendant scan the ticket. They already have it, and it's easy to do. Yes, they probably have their CC with them. But what if it's a work trip. This can help make it more frictionless if its charged to the work account paying for the trip.

It's all about removing the friction.

And to anyone from Amtrak reading, let's talk my consulting rates on this!
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby STrRedWolf » Fri Dec 29, 2017 8:31 am

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


Ick. Do they not have the source code to their internal revenue systems? If they don't, they're in a much worse shape than anything else!
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby STrRedWolf » Fri Dec 29, 2017 8:33 am

mtuandrew wrote:Note to self: run a $0.99 transaction on Rockingham Racer’s credit card, then repeat 1,000,000 times :-D


(Notes that transaction fees hover around 3% plus 30 cents, thus requiring that smiley at the end)
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