Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby jonmurr » Sat Jan 29, 2011 12:40 am

F&B will never make money if you charge the cost of the car to the service. You can't hit the sweet spot of pricing, patronage and cost. There isn't one. You lower costs to increase patronage, at some point you have to add a person to handle the additional workload. Then you have to increase the sales enough to cover that sixty an hour. Pullman couldn't figure it out when labor was damn close to free. The railroads couldn't figure it out. Amtrak sure hasn't figured it out. Let's forget the LDs for the sake of simplicity. I am of the Norman persuasion that they are a anachronism, allowed to persist to secure national funding for a regional railroad.
I'd be of the opinion that F&B is an unavoidable cost and a necessary evil. You would see revenue decline past the point where the cost savings of F&B discontinuance would be realized. How do you reduce cost while keeping service?
The issue is the car, the attendant and the commissary. You need rid of all three.
1. The car. It appears the new single level cars have tables, don't sell them as revenue space. Post a notice that they are to be used as common lounge space. Sort of along the lines of the lavatory lounges in coaches of old.
1a. The Viewliner was supposed to be modular. I'd make a coach-commissary. Twenty feet of commissary should be enough. The other sixty feet is revenue space. This would go much farther to recover the cost of operating the car.
2. This will never happen, but you negotiate that coach attendants sell F&B. Little Hiawatha cart, serviced out of the commissary. I know this is anecdotal, but the number of train hours I see coach attendants hanging out in cafes and the back end of diners would seem to me, to allow them an increase in workload with out undue burden. I may be way off base here, but this is the internet and baseless accusations are the order of the day ;-) And, as a Amtrak passenger, my perception.
2a.I would say the cafe menu, if anything, is too large. Five sodas, water, coffee, tea, 3 beers, two cold cut deli sandwiches, chips, pretzels, something for the veggies. Nobody will miss the gas station crud they nuke in the cafes if the cold sandwiches are good.
3. The commissaries. I'm sure everywhere Amtrak feeds and waters trains, there are caterers that would love some government largess. Not that it is directly comparable, but every railfan trip I have ever been on has had better food, normally a box lunch, done by a local business, that I've had in an AmCafe. Maybe more that one caterer at Boston and NYC and Washington. Contract that out. Need an inspector per region to keep up the quality. The 05 GAO report was fairly damning of the contractor that handles this for the railroad.

One of my favorite things is enjoying a refreshing Yuengling while crossing the Alleghenies on 42-3. But some semblance of fiscal responsibility in F&B expenditures would sure help free up monies for keeping the railroad in a good state of repair and expanding service.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby jamesinclair » Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:10 am

jonmurr wrote:2a.I would say the cafe menu, if anything, is too large. Five sodas, water, coffee, tea, 3 beers, two cold cut deli sandwiches, chips, pretzels, something for the veggies. Nobody will miss the gas station crud they nuke in the cafes if the cold sandwiches are good.
.


Why are you operating under the assumption that more choices = more cost?

I think it's the opposite.

Example:

Storage space for 100 beers, set in stone, can't be changed.
You stock 100 coors. Patron asks for Bud, is told only coors, says not thank you, walks away.
You stock 10 coors, 10 buds, 10 heinekens, 10 coronas, 10 blue moons, 10 x, 10 y, 10 z, 10 xy, 10 xz.

As long as none of them sell out, the variety is not costing you anything. The only loss is if coors sells out, someone asks for coors, and walks away when you have none.

Same for everything else. As long as you're not selling out your high margin, high demand items at the expense of others, there's absolutely no harm in carrying them.


As for me, I know when it comes to deciding between the $30 greyhound and the $35 amtrak, the simple fact that food is available is worth the premium for me. Im sure Im not alone.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby Railjunkie » Sat Jan 29, 2011 9:33 am

goodnightjohnwayne wrote:
gokeefe wrote:Barring any exceptions to policy or other rulemaking that I am not seeing at present there most certainly is a statutory requirement for onboard foodservice personnel to be trained in railroad safety procedures.


That's precisely what the union claimed, justifying the highly paid union jobs on the basis of the safety argument, even going so far as to claim that the primary role of food service attendants was to evacuate passengers in the event of an emergency. None of which was true, strictly speaking.

In the airline industry, flight attendants are present on every airplane solely because of statutory safety requirements. In contrast, there's no law mandating the presence of food service attendants on trains, and any safety training is perfunctory.



gokeefe wrote:There is no specific exclusion for foodservice personnel from the broadly inclusive direction for 'all on-board' personnel to be trained in safety procedures.


It's worth noting that Amtrak didn't have any legal issues as far as utilizing Subway submarine sandwich employees for onboard food service issues, so the "safety" issue was a moot point.

gokeefe wrote:In regards to the changes that were proposed for cafe cars on the Empire service I'm quite confident that if Amtrak had proposed the change to their own employees and had them do the work instead of others (under the same CBA) they would have gone right along with it.


Nonsense. Even with heavy patronage, there was no way that Amtrak was going to come close to breaking even with the existing union workforce. This is even after commissary functions had been contracted out. So there really wasn't a way diminishing the food service loses on Albany trains without changing the entire business model.

gokeefe wrote: The foodservice employees stood up for their jobs and didn't just walk away from them. They fought as best they could to keep working under the same conditions and pay.


The problem was that food service operations couldn't break even with "the same conditions and pay." The "conditions and pay" were the reasons why food service ceased on trains terminating in Albany.


gokeefe wrote: Frankly, either way they were probably going to lose their jobs so at that point they had nothing to lose. They showed a great deal of pride and dignity to at least try to maintain what they had worked so hard for.


I don't see where "pride and dignity" feature prominently in scaring away Subway sandwich employees?

In the end, the picketers made sure there was no food service out of Albany and no jobs for anyone, union or non-union. Everyone lost.



The loss of food service on trains between ALB NYP ALB was caused by a pissing match between NYS and Amtrak over the turbo trains, not the wages of the employees. NY wanted them and Amtrak didnt a law suit followed and one day all the train numbers changed and food service was gone.

One other thing about the food service program at Amtrak, unless there accounting practices have changed in the past 13 years everything that is not sold and returned to inventory is counted as a loss to that train. Despite the fact the same products will be back on another train later that day or the next.

The Code of Federal Regulations 49 or CFR 49 for short is not a fairytail, as its name states its a book of regulations that govern how things are to be done, in this case railroad employees. You dont * with this book, it will get you fired or jail time quicker than a cat on a hot tin roof . On board service must be trained in emergency proceedures because the book says so, this isnt a union thing.

Lets have a little role play, you are a passenger on train xyz there is a derailment do to a side swipe. The engineers is trapped in the cab of the locomotive and the conductor and brakeman are out cold and badly injured. Who would you like to evacuate the coach your in? There is smoke and you think there may be a fire. Are you just yanking an emergency window and bailing out, waiting for local first responders to show up (personal expeirence says this could be anywere from a couple of minutes to a half an hour) or follow the direction of an on board service employee who has been trained how to handle this situation.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby TomNelligan » Sat Jan 29, 2011 11:40 am

For the Keystone service, I often wonder how effective vending machines would be. A small vending lounge with a few soda machines, coffee machine and maybe even one of those sandwich machines could work well.


The Southern Pacific tried that vending machine approach on some its remaining intercity trains in the 1960s... the Sunset was one. The general passenger reaction at the time was that the food quality was awful. But it's not a crazy idea for a few short-distance trains as long as the vendings are decent.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby Station Aficionado » Sat Jan 29, 2011 12:01 pm

jamesinclair wrote:Why are you operating under the assumption that more choices = more cost?

I think it's the opposite.

Example:

Storage space for 100 beers, set in stone, can't be changed.
You stock 100 coors. Patron asks for Bud, is told only coors, says not thank you, walks away.
You stock 10 coors, 10 buds, 10 heinekens, 10 coronas, 10 blue moons, 10 x, 10 y, 10 z, 10 xy, 10 xz.

As long as none of them sell out, the variety is not costing you anything. The only loss is if coors sells out, someone asks for coors, and walks away when you have none.

Same for everything else. As long as you're not selling out your high margin, high demand items at the expense of others, there's absolutely no harm in carrying them.


As for me, I know when it comes to deciding between the $30 greyhound and the $35 amtrak, the simple fact that food is available is worth the premium for me. Im sure Im not alone.

I think the cost of buying 100 beers of one brand will be significantly lower than buying 10 each of 10 different brands, since you would get a bulk discount on the former. That, of course, has to be balanced against the situation you posit where the passenger won't buy the one type of beer you serve. I think it's hard to get the right balance--just one of the myriad problems for food and beverage managers.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby jamesinclair » Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:24 pm

Station Aficionado wrote:
jamesinclair wrote:Why are you operating under the assumption that more choices = more cost?

I think it's the opposite.

Example:

Storage space for 100 beers, set in stone, can't be changed.
You stock 100 coors. Patron asks for Bud, is told only coors, says not thank you, walks away.
You stock 10 coors, 10 buds, 10 heinekens, 10 coronas, 10 blue moons, 10 x, 10 y, 10 z, 10 xy, 10 xz.

As long as none of them sell out, the variety is not costing you anything. The only loss is if coors sells out, someone asks for coors, and walks away when you have none.

Same for everything else. As long as you're not selling out your high margin, high demand items at the expense of others, there's absolutely no harm in carrying them.


As for me, I know when it comes to deciding between the $30 greyhound and the $35 amtrak, the simple fact that food is available is worth the premium for me. Im sure Im not alone.

I think the cost of buying 100 beers of one brand will be significantly lower than buying 10 each of 10 different brands, since you would get a bulk discount on the former. That, of course, has to be balanced against the situation you posit where the passenger won't buy the one type of beer you serve. I think it's hard to get the right balance--just one of the myriad problems for food and beverage managers.


Most packaged goods last a very long time, even beer. You can still buy in bulk and store off-train.

The only items that could cause potential losses are those that need to be thrown out after a day or two because they're no longer fresh enough to be sold. Sandwiches and such.

But amtrak has been running this food stuff for long enough that Im sure they have a very good idea about how much to order. Stuff like beer and chip orders are probably automated and a truck shows up with new stock every few weeks without having to be asked
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby Cadet57 » Sat Jan 29, 2011 7:53 pm

Station Aficionado wrote:
jamesinclair wrote:Why are you operating under the assumption that more choices = more cost?

I think it's the opposite.

Example:

Storage space for 100 beers, set in stone, can't be changed.
You stock 100 coors. Patron asks for Bud, is told only coors, says not thank you, walks away.
You stock 10 coors, 10 buds, 10 heinekens, 10 coronas, 10 blue moons, 10 x, 10 y, 10 z, 10 xy, 10 xz.

As long as none of them sell out, the variety is not costing you anything. The only loss is if coors sells out, someone asks for coors, and walks away when you have none.

Same for everything else. As long as you're not selling out your high margin, high demand items at the expense of others, there's absolutely no harm in carrying them.


As for me, I know when it comes to deciding between the $30 greyhound and the $35 amtrak, the simple fact that food is available is worth the premium for me. Im sure Im not alone.

I think the cost of buying 100 beers of one brand will be significantly lower than buying 10 each of 10 different brands, since you would get a bulk discount on the former. That, of course, has to be balanced against the situation you posit where the passenger won't buy the one type of beer you serve. I think it's hard to get the right balance--just one of the myriad problems for food and beverage managers.


Not to mention the fact that all those beers cost different prices, even at a wholesale level. Blue Moon would probably be the most expensive, and least purchased out of the group, Bud, more than likely the most popular, and cheapest.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby jamesinclair » Sat Jan 29, 2011 11:10 pm

Cadet57 wrote:
Station Aficionado wrote:
jamesinclair wrote:Why are you operating under the assumption that more choices = more cost?

I think it's the opposite.

Example:

Storage space for 100 beers, set in stone, can't be changed.
You stock 100 coors. Patron asks for Bud, is told only coors, says not thank you, walks away.
You stock 10 coors, 10 buds, 10 heinekens, 10 coronas, 10 blue moons, 10 x, 10 y, 10 z, 10 xy, 10 xz.

As long as none of them sell out, the variety is not costing you anything. The only loss is if coors sells out, someone asks for coors, and walks away when you have none.

Same for everything else. As long as you're not selling out your high margin, high demand items at the expense of others, there's absolutely no harm in carrying them.


As for me, I know when it comes to deciding between the $30 greyhound and the $35 amtrak, the simple fact that food is available is worth the premium for me. Im sure Im not alone.

I think the cost of buying 100 beers of one brand will be significantly lower than buying 10 each of 10 different brands, since you would get a bulk discount on the former. That, of course, has to be balanced against the situation you posit where the passenger won't buy the one type of beer you serve. I think it's hard to get the right balance--just one of the myriad problems for food and beverage managers.


Not to mention the fact that all those beers cost different prices, even at a wholesale level. Blue Moon would probably be the most expensive, and least purchased out of the group, Bud, more than likely the most popular, and cheapest.


Blue moon is a coors product. An institutional buyer like amtrak can get good pricing directly from coors or imbev.

The point wasnt to pick any specific brand, I dont know what train riders drink, the point was simply that having more brands isn't necessarily a hassle...especially when you consider that most mainstream beers are coming from 3 major companies. Same deal with chips....they're all frito-lays...which is pepsi.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby markhb » Sun Jan 30, 2011 12:40 am

I have to wonder (although I'm not ambitious enough to make a FOIA request to get it) how the contract works between NNEPRA and Epicurean Feast for the Downeaster; does NNEPRA directly subsidize EF, or does EF pay for the rights to run the food service, or do they treat that part as a wash and EF makes whatever they make selling food? Apparently compared to regular Amtrak cafe service we're lucky, though... Shipyard and Sam Adams in the beer cooler (and they move a lot a both from my observation), Amato's Italian sandwiches from Portland, the nukable clam chowder is from Legal Sea Foods, and the industrial cheeseburgers aren't bad either! Not to mention Coke instead of Pepsi....
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby neroden » Sun Jan 30, 2011 5:10 am

goodnightjohnwayne wrote:Traditionally, food service wasn't included in a sleeping car fare. This is an innovation on the part of Amtrak. I suspect that many sleeper passengers weren't using the dining cars, and as we all know, only 15% of coach passengers eat in a dining cars. In other words, making sleeper passengers automatically pay for meals in the dining car helps support dining car operations.

This was actually very clever on the part of Amtrak. It seems to make the sleeper passengers happier as they have less thinking to do and it feels more luxurious, and it doesn't seem to drive anyone away due to price as the sleepers still fill up....

However, it's clear that carrying dining car expenses on the backs of sleeper passengers still isn't a break even concept.

I think it's the only plausible concept, however, for most of the trains with runs long enough to need sleeping cars. Not having the dining car would drive away passengers. If you can get the run short enough so that you leave well after dinner and arrive before breakfast, you might not need the dining car; but on longer runs, it's essential to keep the passengers coming. What's the alternative, dinner stops like they had before dining cars? They effectively do that at Albany on the Lake Shore Limited, and it's not popular. It's senseless to park the train for an hour, timing matters even for sleeper-class passengers. Heck, most tourist trains have dining cars, period.

It also is quite clear that long distance trains without the overhead of dining cars lose less money.

No, it's really not clear at all, because there are no like-for-like comparisons available. What is clear is that you don't want a dining car unless the run is long enough to *require* one in order to attract passengers -- and it appears to be mainly the sleeper-class passengers who require it. I perhaps have a slightly biased view as I most frequently take the LSL, with three sleepers, sold at quite-high prices, and an ever-full dining car. I have no doubt that the sleeper fares cover the cost of running the dining car, and it's even more clear with the Empire Builder's three Superliner sleepers; more sleeper passengers and they might need another diner!

The one-sleeper trains are another matter, because the dining car costs are spread over fewer sleeper passengers. I wonder how the fare allocation works; do the sleeper fares for the City of New Orleans really cover the sleeper and the diner operations? Or on the Cardinal? They seem to have cheaper sleepers than the Lake Shore Limited, so I have my doubts... I presume this was the motivation behind "Diner-Lite" and "Cross Country Cafe". I don't really know about the two-sleeper trains either, they seem to be not-quite-full.

It has been said that the coach only Palmetto actually makes money in an era when most ever other long distance train loses money.

Last I checked the Amtrak figures, it doesn't.

As for food on the shorter-distance trains? It's a loss-leader just like the food on the long-distance trains. How much do you need to offer to keep the passengers coming in? Definitely free water, but that's not at issue. :-) I'm not sure about the rest, and it may genuinely depend on route -- it certainly depends on route length, with NYC-Albany's 2:30 being short enough no food service is needed, and NYC-Buffalo's 9:00 definitely needing its cafe / lounge.

The obvious conclusion from this is that the best way to reduce food & beverage service costs is to make the trains run faster, and fill them up more. :-) (I won't argue with proposals for better and different food in the cafes, though -- the current selection is not that attractive.)
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby goodnightjohnwayne » Sun Jan 30, 2011 12:36 pm

neroden wrote:
goodnightjohnwayne wrote:Traditionally, food service wasn't included in a sleeping car fare. This is an innovation on the part of Amtrak. I suspect that many sleeper passengers weren't using the dining cars, and as we all know, only 15% of coach passengers eat in a dining cars. In other words, making sleeper passengers automatically pay for meals in the dining car helps support dining car operations.

This was actually very clever on the part of Amtrak. It seems to make the sleeper passengers happier as they have less thinking to do and it feels more luxurious, and it doesn't seem to drive anyone away due to price as the sleepers still fill up....


The sleepers fill up because there aren't enough sleepers and so much revenue space is used for the dining car crews.

neroden wrote:
goodnightjohnwayne wrote:However, it's clear that carrying dining car expenses on the backs of sleeper passengers still isn't a break even concept.

I think it's the only plausible concept, however, for most of the trains with runs long enough to need sleeping cars. Not having the dining car would drive away passengers. If you can get the run short enough so that you leave well after dinner and arrive before breakfast, you might not need the dining car; but on longer runs, it's essential to keep the passengers coming. What's the alternative, dinner stops like they had before dining cars? They effectively do that at Albany on the Lake Shore Limited, and it's not popular. It's senseless to park the train for an hour, timing matters even for sleeper-class passengers. Heck, most tourist trains have dining cars, period.


The Lake Shore Limited stops in Albany, and is frequently delayed, due to the power change and the combination of Boston and New York sections. That is an entirely separate topic and has nothing to do with food service.

You also can't compare the costs of food service aboard a "diner train" to that of Amtrak.

neroden wrote:
goodnightjohnwayne wrote:It also is quite clear that long distance trains without the overhead of dining cars lose less money.

No, it's really not clear at all, because there are no like-for-like comparisons available. What is clear is that you don't want a dining car unless the run is long enough to *require* one in order to attract passengers -- and it appears to be mainly the sleeper-class passengers who require it. I perhaps have a slightly biased view as I most frequently take the LSL, with three sleepers, sold at quite-high prices, and an ever-full dining car. I have no doubt that the sleeper fares cover the cost of running the dining car, and it's even more clear with the Empire Builder's three Superliner sleepers; more sleeper passengers and they might need another diner!

The one-sleeper trains are another matter, because the dining car costs are spread over fewer sleeper passengers. I wonder how the fare allocation works; do the sleeper fares for the City of New Orleans really cover the sleeper and the diner operations? Or on the Cardinal? They seem to have cheaper sleepers than the Lake Shore Limited, so I have my doubts... I presume this was the motivation behind "Diner-Lite" and "Cross Country Cafe". I don't really know about the two-sleeper trains either, they seem to be not-quite-full.
ke the trains run faster, and fill them up more. :-) (I won't argue with proposals for better and different food in the cafes, though -- the current selection is not that attractive.)[/quote]

Some trains are pricier than others. The City of New Orleans seems to be rather cheap, although it has always been a rather marginal route, unlike the Crescent, which has very heavy patronage due to Atlanta. I've seen fares aboard the City of New Orleans that are unbelievably cheap, while the Crescent is sold out.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gokeefe » Fri Feb 04, 2011 3:05 am

jonmurr wrote:F&B will never make money if you charge the cost of the car to the service.


Although we haven't been able to prove this using primary source documents (Amtrak financial reports or in depth data), all anecdotal and historical evidence suggests exactly this. Given that the Hiawatha already runs with a cart based service I don't see why this couldn't be done with other trains. What are the limitations or restrictions on Amtrak making this type of change? I'm under the impression that Amtrak is more or less free to reconfigure services (just not employee sourcing) within F&B as they please.

Nobody has been able to definitively state that cart-based service on the Hiawatha does or does not support itself (or at least come a lot closer than a traditional café car service). Even the anecdotal evidence is pretty weak. However, everyone does seem to have a strong impression that the service does far better than a regular café for the obvious reason of lower overhead. Are there other short distance corridors with café cars that could be converted to cart service?
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby David Benton » Sat Feb 05, 2011 5:32 pm

The trains article definetly said the cart service did not cover its costs , but covered a greater prtion of them than all other food services . i just cant remembr if it was around 60 % or around 80 % of the costs .
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby gokeefe » Mon Sep 25, 2017 7:55 pm

Per information released to the public today the Downeaster came within 3% of breaking even on cafe car sales in July and August. (Cost recovery of 97%+)

Extremely heavy ridership (more to come on that later in the Downeaster thread) was a big part of this as was the very successful special late night departure schedule to accommodate Red Sox games and concerts at the TD Garden.

In the long and troubled history of foodservice provision aboard American passenger trains this is a pretty big accomplishment.
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Re: Food & Beverage Service aboard Amtrak

Postby electricron » Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:22 pm

gokeefe wrote:Per information released to the public today the Downeaster came within 3% of breaking even on cafe car sales in July and August. (Cost recovery of 97%+)

Extremely heavy ridership (more to come on that later in the Downeaster thread) was a big part of this as was the very successful special late night departure schedule to accommodate Red Sox games and concerts at the TD Garden.

In the long and troubled history of foodservice provision aboard American passenger trains this is a pretty big accomplishment.

Can’t comment on the truth of the data. But not surprisingly, it is the one food service not being ran by Amtrak...
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