Diner Discussion

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

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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby STrRedWolf » Fri Dec 29, 2017 9:27 am

Greg Moore wrote: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.


Lets see about removing it then. The ticketing system stays as is for it's intended purpose. The dining car though...

Pre-ordering would be a good idea, as shown above, if Amtrak can get the logistics right 99% of the time. That would cut down on movement so that passengers can just relax and eat at their seat. It would cut down on the cash or credit cards handled as well.

For dinettes and diners alike, you could have a set amount of cash put on the ticket, so that the attendants taking the order or ringing you up can scan the ticket. No separate paper/card/etc. Any excess could be put into Amtrak Guest Rewards points or refunded after a certain amount (credit refund/check/Paypal to email given). The QuickTrak system could be extended to say "This train has food service. Would you like to add X for food purchases? (Unused cash will be sent to your Guest Rewards or can be refunded if over Y)". (This could even be AGR points, simplifying implementations)

That boils the problem down to those who just got a ticket (any means) and didn't realize they were hungry (or paid the conductor to board). Out of that group, it's cash or credit... and there's certain groups that don't do credit cards. (I can probably safely assume that the Amish who come to Anthrocon in Pittsburg from Lancaster by the Pennsylvanian are one of them, but in this day in age, they may be using VISA backed debit cards.) I can boil it further down by building a small terminal to load up your ticket with diner cash or AGR points (depending on implementations) in the diner/dinette.

Ether way, you're going to have a small group of folks who are hungry and want food, but angry at themselves for not pre-paying. The best you can do is take their money and get 'em fed.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Fri Dec 29, 2017 2:20 pm

STrRedWolf wrote:
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)

Oh well - I get my cut, Visa gets theirs. Thanks, Rock. :P

STrRedWolf wrote:Ether way, you're going to have a small group of folks who are hungry and want food, but angry at themselves for not pre-paying. The best you can do is take their money and get 'em fed.


Your last sentence is the truth. You’re not going to convert all users to cashless, especially off the Corridor, so the simplest solution is to make sure you have consistent, independently-verified cash-handling procedures. Policies like “no more than $19.99 in change” ($20 bills and above go directly into a drop safe), “we check all cash for counterfeit”, “no returns without receipts”, “refunds only in original tender” (no cash from credit), and “no cash back from credit/debit transactions” are common in the retail world; any retailer who chooses more liberal policies does so strictly for the convenience of their customers.

If anything, I’d think a railroad would be good at cash-handling procedures, given the decades of practice they’ve had with selling tickets, berths, and the like on the spot. Do we have proof that they aren’t, because of fraud, ineptitude, or some other factor?
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Fri Dec 29, 2017 4:07 pm

Andrew, you're getting a lot of mileage out of my credit card.......... :-D
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Sat Jan 06, 2018 7:09 pm

A comment in the Palmetto thread has me curious: when Amtrak still operated grill cars, how did they work? Walk-up orders or reserved, how much seating, what hours were they open, what kind of menu (incl whether they served alcohol where legally permitted?) I haven’t made a secret of wanting a modern grill car in Amtrak service, but my concept of what a grill car actually is may not match reality.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sat Jan 06, 2018 7:34 pm

Lest we forget, Mr. Stephens, the Grill Car, or the Pullman name, the Broiler Buffet, was the Snack Bar in the pre-microwave, pre-reliable refrigeration, pre-freezer, pre-FDA age.

Preparing "short order" items such as burgers, hot dogs, and small steaks, and lest we forget the ham sandwich that so many of us pre-Amtrak riders remember as the rip-off, is simply too labor intensive. The productivity of one Snack Bar Attendant will far exceed that of one having to prepare food to order.

Finally, the Economy Diner-Lounge (Travelers Rest, Holiday Lounge, GN Bar Ranch, Chuck Wagon, Cable Car) that was part of the East-West premier trains had a staff of three and not less than two.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby oamundsen » Sun Jan 07, 2018 8:47 am

Mr. Norman: In the 55+ years since I had a club sandwich in a Pennsylvania RR Grill Car heading home from WDC, I have never had a better one. Yes, the productivity was likely far less than today's Amtrak lounge service but, to me, what makes quality of life peaks is measured by a different ruler. Striving for the best ever service and always trying with great time management, superb training and exact accountability could be better food service guides resulting in customer satisfaction and improved business volume then bare bones service, quality, price and attitude. But, then again, I am not running Amtrak.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Tadman » Sun Jan 07, 2018 11:57 am

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.


You make a good point, but wave some money at someone and they might change their mind. If you were offered a 30% discount on dinner a few weeks (or months) out, and you only have four options anyway, would you choose one, save the 30%, and waive your at-seat desires? I sure would. More importantly, I know there are 1-2 items I like on that menu and 1-2 I usually avoid. I value certainty of availability of my favorites far more than last minute decision making.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Sun Jan 07, 2018 6:00 pm

Messrs. Norman and Amundsen: I’ve never had the pleasure of eating at a grill (or Broiler Buffet); even Amtrak’s versions were before my time. I have eaten at plenty of delis and quick-service sandwich restaurants though, and know that they need a minimum of two people to function, three to operate moderately well. Guessing Amtrak doesn’t have the budget for even two full-time Cafe Attendants to operate a grill though.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Jan 07, 2018 7:17 pm

If one flight attendant can serve a very good multi-course dinner in first class on American Airlines, I am not seeing why Amtrak can't offer the same, whether in the cafe car or dining car, with a similar staffing level.

Maybe shift as much ordering and payment to mobile/online, ideally in advance.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Tue Jan 09, 2018 4:12 pm

Just to throw some proverbial water on the grease fire ...

The Downeaster Cafe "by NexDine" serves an excellent hamburger which is fully pre-cooked and then reheated using the convection oven for the bun and the microwave for the cheeseburger.

They also serve a variety of additional menu items which are a full hot meal in addition to a wide variety of sandwiches. I might also add that cost recovery right now is about 97%.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby east point » Tue Jan 09, 2018 7:41 pm

convection ovens are much better for reheating entrees Airlines learned that long ago. However the problem with them is the longer time to get entrees to proper temperature.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:04 am

Longer than what? Are you saying convection reheat takes longer than cooking from scratch or longer than microwave?

Airlines do have the advantage of limited menu and they get to set the mealtimes--they tell you when they are ready to offer food rather than you walking in and having the choice to order. I think the airline system is a good system, particularly delivery to the passenger's seat.

It is also really nice to have the experience of the Downeaster in using particular cooking Technologies and in having great economics of food that is reportedly very popular.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:10 am

Worth remembering ... The convection ovens are a built in feature of the Amfleet I cafe cars. You could easily replicate the full menu from the "Downeaster Cafe" anywhere else those cars run.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby andegold » Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:17 am

Airlines can serve food on their schedule because they are serving endpoint to endpoint markets. Why should the passenger who gets on in NY have to wait until Philly and DC passengers have boarded before they can eat? Why should DC passengers have to eat immediately upon boarding? Pre-assigned seats is something that should be adopted from the airlines. Perhaps pre-selected meals and meal times as well. Fixed and pre-determined (not voluntarily chosen) not so much.
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Re: Diner Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:16 am

All of this sounds to me like amenities for BusinessClass.
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