Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

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bostontrainguy
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by bostontrainguy » Wed Jan 16, 2019 12:08 pm

Former menu:
https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/proj ... u-0518.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

CarterB
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by CarterB » Wed Jan 16, 2019 1:28 pm

Time to put a Wendy's franchise on diners!!
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Arlington
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Arlington » Wed Jan 16, 2019 4:26 pm

CarterB wrote:Time to put a Wendy's franchise on diners!!
They'd not do it. For Wendy's in particular, growth has come through extended drive-thru hours when the sit-down area is closed--it is all about maximizing the number of people you can serve from a single kitchen.

The problem on a train is that it has nowhere near the number of people who can present themselves at a drive-thru window when drawn from a cross a service area of perhaps 100,000 people.

100,000 people will eat out for 20,000 meals on a typical day (we eat out for 4.2 of our 21 weekly meals). Keeping the drive-thru open late at a Wendy's produces an unending line of cars, because it draws from such a vast reservoir of demand.

once a train pulls away from a platform the total number of stomachs on board is fixed and the total opportunity to sell meals is similarly limited.
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Mackensen
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Mackensen » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:13 pm

Let's break this down:
  • Beverages: no change
  • Bar selection: Woodbridge wine is back on the list, and at a significantly lower price point compared to the Kendall Jackson and Hahn Estate.
  • Breakfast: significantly expanded. Previously there was a box with yogurt parfait, sliced fruit, bread, and a Kashi bar. Now there's a breakfast sandwich, two types of oatmeal, two types of muffins, four kinds of cereal, the Kashi bar, hard-boiled eggs, two types of yogurt, and two types of fruit.
  • Children's meal: mandarin orange segments, string cheese stick, fruit snacks, and coloring book are gone; there's now a fruit cup.
  • Entrees: three hot entrees now: chicken penne alfredo, braised beef, and an Asian noodle bowl. Replaces the short rib (hot), the vegan wrap, and the chicken caesar salad. The antipasto plate remains.
This looks like a major upgrade over the previous menu, and bringing things closer to what's offered in First Class on the Acela Express.

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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by gokeefe » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:44 pm

Completely agree. A very welcome development.
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mtuandrew
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by mtuandrew » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:47 pm

The website isn’t letting me upload a picture, but I saw a full Augusta on 97 tonight at ALX. Seemed like the (largely old) people were enjoying their meals, or at least the company.

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STrRedWolf
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by STrRedWolf » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:55 pm

CarterB wrote:Time to put a Wendy's franchise on diners!!
The hell? A full burger et al joint on a train?

You got 85' by 10' 4" of train car, and that's outer dimensions. Inside it's more like 9' and change wide and maybe 80' if you do 2.5' wide vestubles on both ends. You may be able to shove the cook line, storage, and one register in half of that space, reserving the rest for an eating area and rest rooms, and still have a way to get from one end to the other. Oh, and resupplying is going to be a nightmare if that car isn't customized for it.

Now, I know of a "medium-sized" Walmart that shoe-horned in a McDonalds, where the cook line, storage, and two registers were in the size of a large walk-in closet, and the eating area was next to it. There's McDonalds in Tokyo that are just take-out stands. Hell, the McDonalds at the Air and Space Museum in DC is basically a roach coach!

That said, we do have to get into a quality of service question. Namely, do you really want to recreate the movie "Supersize Me" for your trip?
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Greg Moore
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Greg Moore » Thu Jan 17, 2019 12:08 am

The menu may still be better for the LSL, but the current food plan still makes me far less inclined to take it.

One of my continued complaints is that the diner is no longer open to coach passengers. This means that there's no reason for me to take it if I want to head to Buffalo to visit my son. It also, because of the reduced socialization, gives me less reason to take it as a sleeper passenger.

In my previous experiences on the LSL, it was routinely filled with sleeping AND coach passengers. Unlike on the Crescent where I've rarely had to wait for a seat, the LSL I routinely have.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Arborwayfan » Thu Jan 17, 2019 9:35 am

Agreed. I have bought many dining car meals for cash as a coach passenger, and I don't understand at all why Amtrak would haul a diner and allow only passengers who already have pretty substantial tables in their compartments to use it, and not take the opportunity to sell food for additional money. Can it really be true that the diners -- under the old menu or the new menu -- can't charge enough for a meal to cover the marginal cost of the meal (the cost of selling one more meal when you are going to have the car and the staff on the train anyway? That is, does a dining car that is on a train actually lose more money the more meals it sells? This is a different question from the average loss per meal. The average loss per meal is a good number to look at when considering eliminating the diner altogether. If they are going to have the car, the marginal cost of an additional meal is the one to look at.

In addition to buying some meals on many long trips I took in coach because it was cheaper, from what I remember breakfast on the City of New Orleans northbound always seemed to attract many people who got on at Champaign-Urbana.

Mackensen
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Mackensen » Thu Jan 17, 2019 4:59 pm

I think there are a few factors in play:
  • Throughput. This was always an issue in the traditional dining cars as well, particularly if you're a coach passenger waiting for your check. Here, the issue was time to serve hot meals. I witnessed this first-hand in July. According to NARP (via Craig Sanders) the expanded choice in hot entrees is in part possible because of new convection ovens in the dining cars which can handle a couple dozen meals at a time.
  • Pricing. If you allow coach passengers to buy meals then you need to price them above cost. There are marketing ramifications associated with that number. This may not be a major issue.
  • Logistics. As part of the service refactoring Amtrak created a sleeper passenger-only lounge out of the dining car. Letting coach passengers in to buy meals diminishes that perk. You could sell the meals in the cafe...but they can probably only be heated up in the dining car.
  • Capacity. I recall hearing that in the existing dining cars the boxes took up a not inconsiderable amount of space given the existing car design. Amtrak has to feed the sleeper passengers in the dining car. Coach passengers? That's optional. I've had the experience of being turned away for lack of space, or sitting in the very last seating and asking, with trepidation, what was left. Perhaps that's also been addressed.
I don't think there's much mystery here. Amtrak lost money on traditional dining on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited. It's not hard to see why. They're the shortest of the overnight trains, with only two meals in each direction, but with the same fixed costs of other trains. Congress has ordered Amtrak to not lose money on dining, or else. There are three choices available:
  • Keep raising prices on rooms and dining car fare and hope things somehow break even.
  • Discontinue dining altogether, as was done on the Silver Star.
  • Find some other different way of delivering meals that is financially sustainable.
Amtrak has chosen door 3 (doors 1 and 2 seem even less palatable). I've had the contemporary meal options and, like the First Class offerings on the Acela Express, they're just fine. Whether Amtrak will try applying this model to the western trains is another matter. For the one night out trains it makes sense.

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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by mtuandrew » Thu Jan 17, 2019 7:01 pm

Mackensen wrote:I don't think there's much mystery here. Amtrak lost money on traditional dining on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited. It's not hard to see why. They're the shortest of the overnight trains, with only two meals in each direction, but with the same fixed costs of other trains. Congress has ordered Amtrak to not lose money on dining, or else. There are three choices available:
  • Keep raising prices on rooms and dining car fare and hope things somehow break even.
  • Discontinue dining altogether, as was done on the Silver Star.
  • Find some other different way of delivering meals that is financially sustainable.
Amtrak has chosen door 3 (doors 1 and 2 seem even less palatable). I've had the contemporary meal options and, like the First Class offerings on the Acela Express, they're just fine. Whether Amtrak will try applying this model to the western trains is another matter. For the one night out trains it makes sense.
I don’t think I’ve ever considered “only three meal services” as a reason before. Makes some sense on a per-train basis.

To what extent are the fixed costs per train though, versus per train-mile or crew-mile? Do those diners clock fewer miles/day than the western LDs, and how quickly can they turn a trainset versus the western LDs? I suspect the turn/clean/restock time is also largely fixed or dependent on the number of cars, and only a little time would be saved by only restocking in Chicago for a round-trip.

Matt Johnson
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by Matt Johnson » Thu Jan 17, 2019 8:31 pm

Mackensen wrote:
Amtrak has chosen door 3 (doors 1 and 2 seem even less palatable). I've had the contemporary meal options and, like the First Class offerings on the Acela Express, they're just fine. Whether Amtrak will try applying this model to the western trains is another matter. For the one night out trains it makes sense.
I will respectfully disagree with the just fine opinion but I guess if your standard is, say, Delta Airlines economy class... :) A plate might have made it seem a little less like a flashback of eating microwave dinners in my apartment or college dorm because I was too lazy to cook a proper meal!

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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by ryanov » Sat Jan 19, 2019 1:25 am

I’ve eaten Acela first class and the old “contemporary” menu. I don’t really see a comparison, and the new one does not seem to be significantly improved, especially if you’re vegetarian as they can’t modify orders.
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bostontrainguy
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by bostontrainguy » Sat Jan 19, 2019 8:58 am

Only cold meals to three hot meals and greatly expanded breakfast options is a significant improvement.

pateljones
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Post by pateljones » Sat Jan 19, 2019 9:23 am

I agree and I am willing to pay higher prices to get better meals. By higher, I mean $20-$25 for breakfast entrees and $50-$75 for dinner entrees. I don’t see Amtrak breaking even let along making a small profit by offering a steak dinner for under $75. How do you feel about this?

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