Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

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Rockingham Racer
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Rockingham Racer » Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:19 pm

bostontrainguy wrote:Apparently there are new menus out there for LD trains:

https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/proj ... u-1118.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Interesting. Here's what I'd like to know, though: if only sleeping car passengers are allowed into the dining car, why are they showing prices for food items? As we all know, sleeping car passengers don't pay for meals while traveling.

leviramsey
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by leviramsey » Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:21 pm

As far as I know, the only trains barring coach passengers from the dining car are the LSL and Capitol Ltd (for which these menus are not applicable).

Arborwayfan
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Arborwayfan » Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:50 pm

A page or so back leviramsey posted a link to a Wikipedia page with a picture of a Swedish buffet car. I bought food in a similar car in Sweden a few months ago. There was a set of refrigerated cases with various sandwiches and some reheateable entrees, plus some shelves with snack stuff. You walked along the line, grabbed what you wanted, paid at the end of the counter, and could heat the relevant food yourself. The sandwiches were attractive, fresh, and varied (fresh as in with crisp lettuce) and the heatable food we had was decent. We ate at our seats, but there was a place to stand and eat if you preferred.

We also ate in Norwegian cafe cars, which have a counter with 1-3 attendants who do the heating and assembling but let you choose your own chips etc. The Norwegian menu runs a little more to hot food: hotdogs over mashed potatoes, a decent vegetable curry (well, I liked it and my wife didn't), moose Salisbury steak, several kinds of pizza. Again, all decent reheated food. Some sandwiches and salads, too. The Norwegian cars have more seating than the Swedish one (unless I missed a seating section beyond the sales section on hte SJ train), with small tables (cocktail style, kind of) but with a variety of comfy chairs and benches; in the Norwegian tradition they charge about 15% less for takeout because takeout is taxed around 15% while restaurant meals are taxed around 30%.

Both the Swedish and the Norwegian cars had windows opposite the counters and quite attractive seating areas. Their prices did not seem especially high compared to the general high price of eating out in those two countries. They were similar to the prices of similar food right in the stations, a bit higher than similar takeout from a few blocks away. The food was not trying to be fancy dining car fare but it was good for what it was. (Kind of like if all of Amtrak's snack car food was as good as the Angus burger they were doing the last time I rode the Illini.

These cars were on 6-10 hour daytime routes. They are open more or less continously. Night trains have a different menu but also serve continuously. I love dining cars; second best, I love just going to the cafe car and actually eating there, for the change of scene. But that's not necessary all the time.
Either Scandinavian car -- layout, furnishings, windows, food offerings -- would be a big improvement over Amfleet cafe cars and a satisfactory replacement for dining cars except for the ambiance of being served on the train and the comfort of having a big solid table to lean on. The ambiance on Amtrak took a hit when they went to all disposable dishes; a plastic plate is not much better than a box. Why, maybe a buffet like the ones I'm describing could even use metal utensils and real plates -- lots of walk-up service restaurants on "land" do, and the train cafe hold a small packaged desert or a money deposit to be sure to get the stuff back? (And the ambiance is a bit reduced when a dining car has four tables take up with stacks of condiments and whatnot, a situation that I have often seen and which makes me wonder "don't they want to sell as many meals as they can? Does management know the crew is doing that? Is the kitchen not able to work fast enough to keep all the tables in teh car filled with diners?)

mtuandrew
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by mtuandrew » Thu Jan 31, 2019 6:54 pm

bostontrainguy wrote:Apparently there are new menus out there for LD trains:

https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/proj ... u-1118.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Chilaquiles for lunch and quesadillas for breakfast? Don’t they have that reversed?

I’d consider buying many of these menu items, if they’re prepared well. Not sure about the mussels though, seems a bold choice for an on-board entree considering the inconsistent reputation of Amtrak dining cars.

bostontrainguy
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by bostontrainguy » Thu Jan 31, 2019 7:32 pm

mtuandrew wrote:
bostontrainguy wrote:Apparently there are new menus out there for LD trains:

https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/proj ... u-1118.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Chilaquiles for lunch and quesadillas for breakfast? Don’t they have that reversed?

I’d consider buying many of these menu items, if they’re prepared well. Not sure about the mussels though, seems a bold choice for an on-board entree considering the inconsistent reputation of Amtrak dining cars.
Have heard many say the mussels are great and their favorite. Never tried them myself.

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Rockingham Racer
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Rockingham Racer » Fri Feb 01, 2019 9:14 am

leviramsey wrote:As far as I know, the only trains barring coach passengers from the dining car are the LSL and Capitol Ltd (for which these menus are not applicable).
Yes, thanks. I realized that after I walked away from the computer. My question still stands, though.

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Tadman
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Tadman » Fri Feb 01, 2019 2:57 pm

mtuandrew wrote:Wonder if that’s what they’re going for, Tad, or to move all food prep to the cafe.

Does the City of New Orleans have both a diner and a cafe-lounge (Sightseer?), or just a Cross-Country Cafe?

It had a Sightseer and a Cross Country. And I've been thinking about it, the fare in the Cross Country was equal or lower than the snack counter found in most lounge cars. Certainly there was less variety. Usually a snack counter offers quite a few options, while there was literally two options for each meal in the Cross Country. At that point, why bother? I'm not arguing with the need to streamline food service, but don't drag around a diner that is a less-desirable option than than lounge snack counter. At that point, the system employed on the Cascade (hand out vouchers for business class) makes far more sense.

(And if yall really want some fun, try my world-exclusive tadman snack wherein one purchases the cheese-and-cracker tray AND the buffalo chicken nuggets track from the snack counter. Combine them in mini-sandwiches. You're welcome.)
Dig the new rr.net Instagram account: @railroad_dot_net

ExCon90
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by ExCon90 » Fri Feb 01, 2019 3:13 pm

mtuandrew wrote:
ExCon90 wrote:As late as 1961 I would often take the day train from North Philadelphia to Buffalo--I would have a bacon-and-egg breakfast in the station restaurant (North Philadelphia!), which would pack a few sandwiches to take out, since #571 had lost its parlor-buffet-coach by that time. I assume that any station restaurant at the time would do that, but I don't think there were many takeout facilities not run by Union News or Fred Harvey (and what was the one in New England?), or whoever had the food concession at that station.
(bolding mine)

Can you or one of your contemporaries explain a buffet car to the younger crowd? I’m picturing a cafeteria buffet with premade food in warming trays and a drink dispenser of some type, but that can’t be right. (Still trying to understand the different types of food service available in the Golden Days and how they could be made relevant today.)
The term buffet back in those days meant table service in a section of a parlor car with a small galley capable of serving food cooked on board, including steaks and chops, as well as full breakfasts. From what I could tell, they were intended for trips where ridership was insufficient to justify a full diner. A good example was the Montrealer, Washington-Montreal Gare Centrale via NH, B&M, CV, and CN. It left Washington at about 4.10 pm with a full diner and a 6-double bedroom-buffet lounge, which I believe served only drinks until New York, where the diner was dropped. After New York (about 8.30 or so) the car served full meals, and breakfast into Montreal the next morning. The difference between a buffet and a diner seemed to be primarily in the seating capacity of the car rather than prices, although a full diner would have more menu items. If you get a chance to see DOVER HARBOR, owned by the Washington Chapter of NRHS (http://www.doverharbor.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; gives a good idea of what those cars mostly looked like), it is a perfectly restored car (actually used on the Montrealer-Washingtonian at one time) as it was in the mid- to late 30's, and representative of cars that operated widely on trains that wouldn't support a full diner and a full lounge. The car that had been removed from the Buffalo Day Express (Washington-Buffalo) was sort of a weird combination of a parlor section, a small buffet section, and a coach section with maybe 12 rows of walkover seats. You could get an omelet made on board, and pie (I assume from a commissary) for dessert. They may have done it with a crew of two, but I never really noted at the time.
Last edited by ExCon90 on Fri Feb 01, 2019 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

ExCon90
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by ExCon90 » Fri Feb 01, 2019 3:21 pm

Safetee wrote:On the new haven on most of their new york non commuter trains between new york and new haven, union news used to have a guy with a large metal basket and a strong brooklyn accent going through the train announcing sandwiches, candy, drinks etc.
Union News had a butcher who shuttled between North Philadelphia and 30th St. all day on NY-Wash trains, announcing "ham sandwich, cheese sandwich, combination ham and cheese sandwich" and managed to get through a few coaches in the 10 minutes available. I will always remember a vendor who worked trains in Grand Central prior to departure; in 1961 I rode No. 15 to Buffalo every so often--he was a real performer who loudly announced "fresh orange juice that will fill you, chill you, and thrrrrrrrill you."

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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by gokeefe » Fri Feb 01, 2019 6:06 pm

And once upon a time there was Marty Schall, OBS ... Possibly the most entertaining OBS in company history ... Absolutely the best. Saw him on board in person once. Unbelievably charming act. Great with everyone.

He is the prime example of why a snack cart can be such a good deal.
gokeefe

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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by mtuandrew » Fri Feb 01, 2019 7:20 pm

ExCon90: wow that buffet is, for lack of a better term, cute. Definitely couldn’t prep a full train’s worth of meals, but it would be large enough to be a coffee & snack bar in a modern Amtrak setting.

(Picture from the Dover Harbor site)
9A82CE3C-49C0-470F-8654-A8E095D85E9D.gif
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gokeefe
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by gokeefe » Fri Feb 01, 2019 8:41 pm

Here's a good example from the new Moynihan Station.

With spaces and dining options like these Amtrak will have all kinds of new competition with onboard options. They win either way due to leasing/concessions but it's worth noting that the "essential" argument of Amtrak's onboard food service is not gaining ground.
gokeefe

JimBoylan
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by JimBoylan » Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:29 am

I have a reprint of the Pullman Co.'s "Commissary Instructions Broiler - Buffet - Club and Lounge Car Service" Revised November, 1939, by Old Line Publishers; Box 123; Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201. Despite the title, it seems to be preparation and serving instructions for the on board employees in these various types of cars. There must have been other books for Dining, Parlor, and Sleeping cars.
I don't know if Broiler, Buffet, Club, and Lounge were 4 different types of Cars. Club might have been part of a Parlor Car, PennCentral had "Parlor Club" Cars, with "meals, beverages, and snacks served at your seat". They had a small galley at one end.

eolesen
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by eolesen » Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:45 pm

gokeefe wrote:With spaces and dining options like these Amtrak will have all kinds of new competition with onboard options.
I sure hope all the new cars everyone is buying have larger trash bins. Takeout containers do take up added room onboard.

Again, with an airline/airport comparison, it's amazing the increases in quality and options available at airports in the 10-15 years after airlines stopped providing meals. And it's not just the hubs. Smaller airports are also providing a lot more than the cheap hotdog/pizza/pretzel/soda concessions or McDonald's which used to be the most common options during in the 80's and 90's.

At IAH, you can do something quick and simple like takeaway from Wendy's or Subway, mid-scale options like a Chili's (including to-go), or sit down for some upscale service at Landry's or Pappadeaux. Concessionaires like ATG are sweeping into new construction and renovation projects with even more options, as well as upscale convenience stores with a wide range of options ranging from fresh fruits, drinks, and pre-packaged shelf-stable snack boxes. More than enough to hold most people over on a 2-5 hour flight, and I've been known to hit them up before getting on a 14 hour flight to Asia so that I've always got something at my seat or with me for the hotel room when I arrive.

Anyone who has traveled with small kids already does this. I know, it's not white linen service, but at the end of the day, I'm onboard to get from A to B more than I am to enjoy how I'm getting there.

gokeefe
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by gokeefe » Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:01 pm

eolesen wrote:Anyone who has traveled with small kids already does this. I know, it's not white linen service, but at the end of the day, I'm onboard to get from A to B more than I am to enjoy how I'm getting there.
Exactly. Amtrak knows this and that's why they continue to pursue strategies that make the overall travel experience better.

Who cares about dinner in the diner if your arrival in Springfield feels like you just time traveled to 1972?
gokeefe

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