• Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

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

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

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  by Dcell
 
I’m just thinking out loud, to see what other Amtrak patrons think. Personally, I’d like to see better food options for premium fare passengers like myself (biz class on Acela and sleeping car on non NEC corridor trains) while providing something to coach passengers who do not pack their own food And eat it onboard. I do think Mr. Anderson is taking a hard look at Amtrak food services and hopefully will come up with a plan that is good for patrons and the bottom line. If Starbucks can put outlets in Target stores, why not in cafe cars? Let’s not let antiquated work rules stifle innovation on our trains.
  by STrRedWolf
 
I think we're all settling down to the points I've made earlier here and in another thread:
  • Better food means pre-make diner meals for the trip, a la airplanes, and serving them on board in a similar fashion.
  • You can also have a small stock of pre-mades for those last-minute people.
  • The dinettes will always have fast food fare that can be quickly tossed in and heated up.
  • Anything custom will need to be ordered outside the train up to an hour before the arrival of the train to a station capable of handling the meals.
That last one is going to be a MAJOR infrastructure and logistics push. I can see how it can be done but only where the infrastructure to secure the food and transfer it is already there... which means where personnel are at already. Plus, it needs to be "reactive," aka on the fly. Whoever's taking the orders in advance has to cut it off like an hour before so that the restaurant involved can cook it, package it, and get it to the station to be loaded on the train. It's going to need a LOT of restaurants in the case where trains are running almost 24 hours late because they hit delays upon delays...

...which means (if you connect them like Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon) if you want better food from local restaurants along the trip, you got to fix the railroad tracks so that you keep delays to a minimum. And we all know how much time that is going to take.
  by gokeefe
 
Regardless of new options and technology there are two major changes which are having an effect ...

1. Emphasis on daytime only corridor services

2. Vastly improved station dining (with take on board options)

Both of these trends have sidelined dining cars in a way that few other changes could have. Amtrak is a far cry from the day when they were the sole tenant in largely vacant urban terminals. If you were lucky they might have had a vending machine for snacks.
  by gokeefe
 
All of the above is to say that in many respects we're discussing an aspect of service that becomes less relevant for Amtrak every team a renovated and improved station opens with better dining.

Remember ... At one time the railroads had to compete with the Harvey Houses ... What we are seeing is the modern day equivalent with au bon pain, Shake Shack and Tracks to name a few examples from WAS and NYP.
  by Dcell
 
[quote="STrRedWolf"]I think we're all settling down to the points I've made earlier here and in another thread:
  • Better food means pre-make diner meals for the trip, a la airplanes, and serving them on board in a similar fashion.
  • You can also have a small stock of pre-mades for those last-minute people.
  • The dinettes will always have fast food fare that can be quickly tossed in and heated up.
  • Anything custom will need to be ordered outside the train up to an hour before the arrival of the train to a station capable of handling the meals.
great points you’ve made and I am in full support. In rereading all the posts about Amtrak food services, it becomes clear that riders want change for the better and the interest level on achieving such change is very high. the ball is in your court, Mr. Anderson.
  by gokeefe
 
Dcell wrote:In rereading all the posts about Amtrak food services, it becomes clear that riders want change for the better and the interest level on achieving such change is very high.
Although the above may be true at railroad.net I'm not so sure it holds in the rest of the world.

Onboard dining is most relevant for long distance travelers who make up less than 20% of Amtrak's total ridership. Of that 20% an even smaller proportion is riding in the sleeper cars and regularly partaking of dining car service.

If only 1% - 2% of all of Amtrak's total riders use a dining car are they really worth the extensive efforts being made to provide dining onboard?

I would argue they aren't and that the cafe car along with reintroduction of snack cart service in certain routes would be both more meaningful and also better for the bottom line.

I know there are certain trains that will always have diners however their relevance to the rest of Amtrak is limited.
  by leviramsey
 
gokeefe wrote:All of the above is to say that in many respects we're discussing an aspect of service that becomes less relevant for Amtrak every team a renovated and improved station opens with better dining.
It's also very likely the only aspect of Amtrak's trains that financially gets worse as service speeds up (losing meal seatings if there's enough of a speedup, increasing cost to pull the diner as speed increases, and passengers on shorter trips timewise being less inclined to buy a meal; altogether, these factors may more than cancel out the staff savings).
  by eolesen
 
gokeefe wrote: Onboard dining is most relevant for long distance travelers who make up less than 20% of Amtrak's total ridership. Of that 20% an even smaller proportion is riding in the sleeper cars and regularly partaking of dining car service.

If only 1% - 2% of all of Amtrak's total riders use a dining car are they really worth the extensive efforts being made to provide dining onboard?

Good point, but I think the 2% is a bit low.

Looking at some stats, 10-14% of the passengers on overnight-only trains are sleeper passengers, with the exception of Autotrain, which is closer to 45%.

On the long-distance trains, that jumps up to about 18-20%.

20% of 20% is only 4%... and to your point, a very small number to be hyper-focused on, but there are some very vocal people in that 4%......
  by Suburban Station
 
Does the auto trains food and beverage service perform better than other services? If it does, then the other services would do well to scale up. The question is whether the auto trains better performance is related solely to autos (freight like revenue) or whether maximizing train length improves the bottom line
  by Jeff Smith
 
gokeefe wrote:Regardless of new options and technology there are two major changes which are having an effect ...

1. Emphasis on daytime only corridor services

2. Vastly improved station dining (with take on board options)

Both of these trends have sidelined dining cars in a way that few other changes could have. Amtrak is a far cry from the day when they were the sole tenant in largely vacant urban terminals. If you were lucky they might have had a vending machine for snacks.
That’s the present condition of Savannah, with nothing anywhere near the station, which is in an industrial area.
  by eolesen
 
Autotrain is somewhat unique --
* it's a captive audience in a pure point-to-point market with no midpoint on/off traffic
* it's entirely leisure oriented and the train is part of their vacation experience, as opposed to simply being just transportation from A to B

You really can't expect the same result on other LD routes.
  by gokeefe
 
Jeff Smith wrote:That’s the present condition of Savannah, with nothing anywhere near the station, which is in an industrial area.
Understood. Point being there was a time when all of Amtrak's stations had this problem. They have slowly whittled the list down over the years through station projects and restorations that have brought in other tenants.

A recent example would be moving from Midway to St. Paul Union Depot.

Obviously stations that have always been small will remain or become unstaffed and won't have dining.

Another recent example of these improvements would be Springfield, MA and (I believe), Alton, IL. Both now have, at a minimum, a place that sells prepared sandwiches.
Last edited by gokeefe on Mon Jan 28, 2019 10:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by mtuandrew
 
gokeefe wrote:Onboard dining is most relevant for long distance travelers who make up less than 20% of Amtrak's total ridership. Of that 20% an even smaller proportion is riding in the sleeper cars and regularly partaking of dining car service.

If only 1% - 2% of all of Amtrak's total riders use a dining car are they really worth the extensive efforts being made to provide dining onboard?

I would argue they aren't and that the cafe car along with reintroduction of snack cart service in certain routes would be both more meaningful and also better for the bottom line.
The fact that coach passengers rarely eat in the diner, and choose the cafe because of preference, price, or lack of access to the diner, is part of the problem too! Post-WWII we had snack bars and/or grill cars as well as diners on the famous overnight streamliners, but prewar during the Pullman Co era were there multiple food options as well?

Also - these premade meals Amtrak now serves in some overnight trains. Remind me again why they aren’t available for sale to coach passengers too? That’s the airline model (free for first, charge for coach) and it works well.

—————

As for MSP Midway Station, you’re mostly right about that Mr. O’Keefe - save for The Dubliner Pub three or four blocks away. Perfect place to have a meal and a few before that 11pm westward departure. (For breakfast you would have needed a short cab or bus ride west to either Keys Restaurant or The Egg And I.)
  by David Benton
 
gokeefe wrote:
Jeff Smith wrote:That’s the present condition of Savannah, with nothing anywhere near the station, which is in an industrial area.
Understood. Point being there was a time when all of Amtrak's stations had this problem. They have slowly whittled the list down over the years through station projects and restorations that have brought in other tenants.

A recent example would be moving from Midway to St. Paul Union Depot.

Obviously stations that have always been small will remain or become unstaffed and won't have dining.

Another recent example of these improvements would be Springfield, MA and (I believe), Alton, IL. Both now have, at a minimum, a places that sells prepared sandwiches.
If a station cafe was given the contract to supply the trains , then it may become viable to have a station cafe in somewhere like Savannah.
Savannah could supply fresh sandwiches for the Palmetto, and passenger ordered breakfast items for the other Silver trains.
  by gokeefe
 
mtuandrew wrote:Post-WWII we had snack bars and/or grill cars as well as diners on the famous overnight streamliners, but prewar during the Pullman Co era were there multiple food options as well?
Based on other reading my impression is that these changes coincided with the decline of station amenities. The grill/snack cars were not strictly an "innovation" as they were a sign of contracting service that the railroads attempted to meet with on board improvements.

It is interesting to consider the possibility that an inability to meaningfully renovate or redevelop stations helped to spur the mid-century crisis in passenger train service.
mtuandrew wrote:Also - these premade meals Amtrak now serves in some overnight trains. Remind me again why they aren’t available for sale to coach passengers too? That’s the airline model (free for first, charge for coach) and it works well.
I don't know "Why?" but I do agree with your thought.
mtuandrew wrote:As for MSP Midway Station, you’re mostly right about that Mr. O’Keefe - save for The Dubliner Pub three or four blocks away. Perfect place to have a meal and a few before that 11pm westward departure. (For breakfast you would have needed a short cab or bus ride west to either Keys Restaurant or The Egg And I.)
Appreciate the confirmation. Pretty astonishing to consider, "How things were" ... before St. Paul Union Depot was renovated.
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