Food in general typically has descent margins; its "plating" and serving it that drives the margins down.mtuandrew wrote:Food service has lousy margins, lousier when on a moving train with Unionized employees, but prepared beverages like espresso drinks, blended stuff, and alcohol can make up a lot of the difference. Also, microwave-convection ovens are a wonderful labor-saving device that will perfectly heat parcooked/sous vide items like a sandwich, bowl of soup, side of veggies, or even a steak, breast, or chop. Amtrak is overthinking its meal offerings something fierce, and ignoring choices that would be really popular.
Absolutely correct on beverages. Alcoholic mixed drinks, beer, and coffee/tea varieties have great margins and this DID makeup a lot of the loss from general food service. Not that I am trying to promote alcohol, but fact remains it's a small portion overall of Amtrak's current sales when compared to other players in travel/service organization. Rocky and VIA both keep the bar tab! VIA rail capitalizes the best on this within their Park Dome Car - days and night! It's the party place to be in the off-season! I think the same could be said back in the day on any private railroad's "lounge car." They needed and wanted the bar tab to make the profit. It's VIA's Ocean train that really has the best of both worlds - no chefs, prepared food is loaded on so it can be re-heated only in the adjacent Service Cars (the Westin Nova Scotian next to the Halifax Train Station works out REALLY well), the diner is all decked out with linens and china to offer some ambiance, and alcohol/mixed drinks flow very regularly from the Service Cars and Park Car. Amtrak can't compare. I am willing to bet VIA's doing better with total F&B net income/loss on the Ocean than any LD Amtrak train.
Food and Beverage is also a hot commodity right now for the experiential travel experience. The train has a changing landscape as an advantage.
I've done the Empire Builder and its late arrival into Chicago MANY times. Sometimes the lateness is added or compounded between Milwaukee and Chicago. If the Empire Builder will get in before 9 pm at night, they will not serve dinner and most of the time the food courts at Chicago Union Station are closed by then. Saturday or Sunday - forget it!!! And then board the Lake Shore and the line in the cafe till it closes is usually ridiculous. This has been a problem for decades!!! The staff is already onboard, as is the food, why not try to serve it leaving Chicago and even inbound to NYC eastbound when the LSL is running late! Dinner along the Hudson? Yes, you can grab a better dinner in NYC perhaps, but here too - connecting passengers often lose out.
If Amtrak is to continue with F&B service on long distance trains, an overhaul is needed from loading the food, the offering of food, preparation and staff, paying for the food, inventory control, and the technology used (or lack thereof) in the whole process. Try to gain efficiencies and get the sale; often this requires more flexibility than the rigidness that Amtrak currently exhibits. Often times it's one large lunch seating with limited options for those arriving into Chicago on the EB or the Bay Area on the CZ and the trains have the greatest number of people onboard at this point. Lost sales.......