Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak dining car menus’

Menus on Full-Service Diners Changed

February 19, 2020

Amtrak has changed the menu on its full-service dining cars for the first time in nearly a year.

Although menu prices are largely unchanged the carrier has swapped out a few offerings while retaining others.

New to the menu are French Toast at breakfast in place of pancakes. At dinner, a cod entre has replaced Norwegian salmon while two vegetarian options are now available.

A baked three-cheese manicotti has replaced rigatoni and the vegan compliant selection is now a Cubana bowl. Also new at lunch and dinner are BBQ pork wings.

The full-service dining cars operate on the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

The new menus are dated January 2020 and Amtrak did not announce the changes.

The menu of flexible dining fare served on Eastern long-distance trains is dated November 2019 but remains unchanged from what was implemented last October.

This service is available to sleeping car passengers only aboard the Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Silver Meteor. It will be extended to Silver Star sleeping car passengers on May 1.

Coach passengers on those trains must buy food and drink from the cafe car.

In spring 2019 Amtrak dropped train specific images from dining car menus.

Although the dining car menu offerings had been standard for several years there had been some slight variations by route. That ended in spring 2019.

The latest change means there are now seven entrée selections at dinner.

Some tweaks also have been made to the full-service dining car lunch menu. Gone are baked chilaquiles and steamed mussles. New are BBQ pork wings.

The entrée salad at lunch has been replaced with a Caesar salad. Like the entrée salad, the Caesar salad offers the option of being served with chicken breast strips for an additional charge of $3.50.

The complete full-service dining car menu offerings and prices paid by coach passengers are as follows.

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs ($8.50), continental breakfast ($8.75), French toast ($10.50), three-egg omelet ($13.75), and Southwestern breakfast quesadillas ($13.50).

Lunch: Ceasar salad ($12.50), black bean and corn veggie burger ($12.50), Angus burger ($12.50), BBQ pork wings ($14), garden salad ($3.50).

Dinner: Land and sea combo of Black Angus flat iron steak and crab cake ($39), Amtrak signature flat iron steak ($25), garlic herb cod ($23), thyme roasted chicken breast ($18.50), BBQ pork wings ($21), baked manicotti ($18.50), Cubano bowl ($6.50).

A garden salad is available for $3.50 but comes standard with meals served to sleeping car passengers.

The manicotti is described as filled with mozzarella, Parmesean and ricotta cheeses and comes with a vegetable medley and Roma tomato sauce.

The Cubana bowl is described as black beans, quinoa, mango, onion, red and green peppers, and jalapenos.

Amtrak said the Cubana bowl is a healthy option for those seeking reduced calories, fat and sodium.

The BBQ pork wings are described as braised bone-in pork shanks in Stubs smoky BBQ sauce with red skinned garlic mashed potatoes.

The land and sea combo comes with a choice of baked or mashed potatoes. The flat iron steak comes with a baked potato, the cod entree comes with rice pilaf and the chicken selection comes with mashed potatoes. All entrees come with a vegetable or vegetable medley.

The children’s lunch and dinner menu are the same and priced at $7.50. The options are a Hebrew National all-beef hot dog or macaroni and cheese.

At dinner those both come with a vegetable medley. At lunch the hot dog comes with kettle chips while the mac and cheese comes with a roll.

The children’s breakfast menu includes a scrambled egg with roasted potatoes or grits, and a croissant ($4.25) or French Toast ($5.25)

Deserts range from $7.25 for the Amtrak seasonal desert to $2.75 for vanilla pudding. The Amtrak specialty deserts are priced at $6.50 and include a flourless chocolate torte, New York style cheesecake or a rotating selection.

The Auto Train sleeping car passenger dinner menu is a stripped-down version of what is offered in other long-distance trains full-service dining cars.

Dinner entrees include flat iron steak, garlic and herb cod, pan roasted chicken breast and baked three-cheese manicotti.

All entrees come with a vegetable medley. The steak comes with baked potato, while the cod and chicken come with rice pilaf. Each entrée is accompanied by a salad and dinner roll.

The children’s dinner is chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese, with both coming with a vegetable medley.

There is a signature desert item that rotates but otherwise the choices are New York style cheesecake, vanilla ice cream or sugar free jello. Optional toppings include chocolate syrup, fruit toppings and whipped cream.

As is the case with on long-distance trains with flexible dining, the Auto Train offers sleeping car passengers at each meal a single complimentary beverage, including alcoholic beverages.

However, the cocktail, wine and beer selections on the Auto Train are more limited than what is available on full-service or flexible dining cars.

There is no breakfast offered in the dining car to sleeping car passengers aboard the Auto Train although an earlier Amtrak news release had said passengers receive a continental breakfast before arriving at their destination in Florida or Northern Virginia.

Dining Service Returns to Silver Star on May 1

January 8, 2020

Amtrak announced on Tuesday that sleeping car passengers traveling on the Silver Star will resume receiving meals as part of their fare on May 1.

The announcement was buried in a news release about a bring a companion for free fare program that the carrier launched this week.

Silver Star sleeping car passengers have not received meals since 2015 when a full-service dining car was removed from the train.

At the time fares for Silver Star sleeper class passengers were lowered in a pilot program of sorts.

The only meal service provided aboard the Silver Star was in the cafe car.

Amtrak provided few details about the change to the Silver Star other than to say it will involve the flexible dining program that was introduced to all overnight trains operating east of the Mississippi River last October.

The flexible dining initiative replaced full-service dining cars with a limited menu that is offered to passengers during longer serving hours in the dining car.

The meals served to sleeping car passengers are not available to coach passengers and the dining car itself doubles as a sleeping car lounge that is also off limits to coach passengers.

The flexible dining concept was introduced in June 2018 aboard the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited. At the time it called fresh and contemporary dining.

In announcing the flexible dining program last year, Amtrak had said it planned to extend it to the Silver Star once it worked out the logistical details.

That, presumably meant dedicating a pool of Viewliner dining cars for use aboard the Star.

Flexible Dining is About Consistent, Less Costly Dining

September 20, 2019

Amtrak held a preview of “flexible dining” last week at Washington Union Station and at least one reporter who was there said that the food to be introduced on Oct. 1 is an improvement over what is now being served aboard two eastern overnight trains.

Bob Johnston, the passenger rail correspondent for Trains magazine, wrote that after tasting the planned entrees that they are an improvement over the boxed meals that have been served since June 2018 aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited as part of Amtrak’s “fresh and contemporary model.”

Johnston said he agreed with Amtrak Executive Chef Gottlieb’s description of the new fare: “The pasta is al dente, the chicken is tender and the beef is really good and tasty.”

The press event was held aboard Viewliner II dining car Tallahassee and new meal offerings were presented buffet style.

The food is designed to be heated in a convection oven and mixed together.

That precludes offering individually served items such as steak, chicken, or fish with a separate side dish vegetable.

Johnston noted that Amtrak briefly tried “pre-plating” of individual meals as an economy move on the City of New Orleans in the mid-2000s but ended it after passengers complained about the lack of choice.

Once flexible dining begins sleeping car passengers will receive their meals on trays that will hold a bowl, a side salad and a brownie for dessert.

Flexible dining is Amtrak’s moniker for a more consist meal service model to be served to sleeper class passengers aboard the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, Crescent, Cardinal, Silver Meteor and City of New Orleans.

Amtrak officials said flexible dining will be extended to sleeper class passengers on the Silver Star next year, but they have not given a date for that.

Sleeper class passengers on the Silver Star currently do not receive meals as part of their fare as do passengers on all other Amtrak overnight trains with sleeping cars.

It remains to be seen, though, how long flexible dining will last and whether Amtrak will tweak it.

In an appearance this week at the Skift Global 2019 Travel Industry Conference, Amtrak President Richard Anderson said the carrier plans “to simplify to a single food car.”

It is not clear if that means that Amtrak plans to drop meals for sleeper class passengers as part of their fare and thus force all passengers to rely on a café car for food and beverage service.

Anderson has also spoken about having some long-distance trains provide experiential service and cited the example of VIA Rail Canada’s The Canadian.

That train had two full-service dining cars as well as café car service for coach passengers.

In his appearance at the Shift conference, Anderson said Amtrak has simplified food service to achieve cost cuts mandated by Congress.

The roll out of flexible dining is an extension of that. On that date full-service dining will end on the Silver Meteor and Crescent.

Also ending will be the individual menus unique to the Cardinal and City of New Orleans.

Although on-board food preparation ended aboard those trains years ago in favor of heating meals prepared off the train, both offer passengers more variety and offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner than passengers have had aboard the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited in the past year.

During the press event last week, Amtrak officials described how the food to be offered under the flexible dining model was developed and how it differs from that offered under the fresh and contemporary model.

Gottlieb and Amtrak Vice President, Product Development and Customer Experience Peter Wilander said main dishes will be prepared by a new vendor, New Horizon Foods, and flash frozen.

“There was a lot of back and forth in a competition with three or four vendors, and we tested everything in our test kitchens,” Gottlieb said in reference to  Amtrak’s Consolidated National Operation Center in Wilmington, Delaware.

The trays on which the food will be presented is another change. In the fresh and contemporary model Amtrak used balsawood boxes and green bags.

“The box itself had an unanticipated consequence of service degradation,” Wilander said.

He described the trays as an off-the-shelf design “that will allow us to progress to the next iteration (creating) our own molds to do something different.”

The trays can be washed and reused. The boxes and bags Amtrak has been using are billed as recyclable, but in practice generated a lot of trash.

The flexible dining name is rooted in the practice of passengers being able to eat their meals within a wide serving window rather than limited to coming to the diner at set times.

It also will result in consistent equipment assignments with all single-level equipment trains using a Viewliner II dining car that only sleeper class passengers will be able to access.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue officer, said a shortage of Viewliner sleepers has prevented the carrier from assigning a second sleeper to the Cardinal.

Harris said during the press event that Amtrak expects to save enough money from the changes in food service to be able to return meals to sleeper class passengers on the Silver Star.

When that happens, Silver Star sleeper passengers will pay higher fares because meals will be included.

“So we have the opportunity to have a [range] of fares from low to high according to demand, and we’re not going to have this orphan train,” Harris said in reference to the Silver Star.

Fares for Silver Star sleeper class passengers were lowered when the train’s dining car was removed in 2015.

Harris said assigning a sleeper class dining car to the Silver Star is in the works and Amtrak is working through the logistics to do it.

The implementation of flexible dining may be good news for passengers at lunch and dinner in that they will have more options to choose among compared with fresh and contemporary.

But breakfast is largely unchanged with just one hot entrée available.

Although Amtrak has yet to announce it, the carrier plans to add to café cars on long-distance trains some of the fresh sandwiches available for sale in café cars on corridor trains in the Midwest, Northeast, and California.

Take a Ride on the Amtrak Spin Train

September 16, 2019

Having breakfast on the Lake Shore Limited in March 2012 as Train 49 stopped in Bryan, Ohio. Note that the menu featured an image of a couple eating in the dining car while watching the scenery roll by.

In a news release posted last week, Amtrak described changes it was making to dining services aboard eastern overnight trains this way in the opening sentence: “Amtrak continues to evolve the travel experience on long-distance trains with the introduction of a new, flexible dining service for Sleeping Car customers traveling on the Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Silver Meteor starting on Oct. 1 and the Silver Star in 2020.”

The next paragraph had a quotation from Amtrak President Richard Anderson saying this “evolution” is being done to meet the needs of today’s customers.

“Traveling on one of our trains has never been just about the destination – the journey is part of the adventure,” Anderson said.

That is the same Richard Anderson who has been trashing his company’s long distance trains by talking about how much money they lose and how they fail to meet the travel needs of those who live along their routes.

But you wouldn’t know that from reading this news release, which used variations of the word “evolution” three times.

That suggests, as the Oxford dictionary defines “evolution,” a process of gradually moving from a simple to a more complex form.

It is notable for what Amtrak is not saying in this release.

It doesn’t say the Crescent and Silver Meteor will no longer offer meals freshly prepared on board the train or that “flexible dining” will offer fewer choices at meal time.

It says nothing about the Amtrak onboard service employees who are losing their jobs.

It says nothing about how these changes are part of an aggressive cost-cutting campaign that Anderson initiated.

Some of the touted “benefits” of flexible dining cited in the news release are already being offered  and are not upgrades in the traveling experience. This includes having meals delivered to your sleeping car room.

If flexible dining service is an improvement it is only because it represents an incremental increase in the number of meal options being offered compared with the “fresh and contemporary” service model introduced last year on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak, like any other company, is seeking to portray what customers might see as a negative as actually being a positive.

So rather than speak about cost cutting and reducing labor expenses, it instead frames the changes as serving the needs of its passengers without saying what those are.

The news release follows standard public relations practice of focusing on something that is, arguably, of value to a customer while avoiding calling attention to changes that take away something else of value.

It is a standard public relations marketing strategy if you are taking something away to instead focus on something of value you are offering instead.

Therefore sleeper class passengers get one free alcoholic beverage per meal whereas they used to pay out of pocket for any drinks they ordered with lunch or dinner.

And they also get the exclusive use of the dining car as a lounge.

I would not undervalue that “benefit” because on most eastern overnight trains the lounge is an Amfleet car that doubles as the café car for coach passengers. It can get quite crowded and has limited seating.

Many railfans have complained bitterly about the loss of full-service dining on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

No longer can you order an omelet with bacon, potatoes and a croissant when traveling from, say, Cleveland or Pittsburgh to Chicago.

Gone is the end of the communal seating and in is having to make do with less variety on the menu.

Yet, even the Rail Passengers Association in writing about what has been lacking about “fresh and contemporary” has acknowledged that some of its members have applauded some aspects of it including lighter fare and being able to choose your own company while eating.

Some passengers dislike being beholden to the time shown on their meal reservation and not everyone wants to eat with strangers or is looking for a heavy meal for breakfast or dinner.

The changes that Amtrak has made in food service on its eastern overnight trains are not necessarily what the carrier says they are yet are not necessarily a nefarious plot to kill long-distance passenger trains.

It appears that way because these changes are being made at the same time that high-ranking Amtrak managers are trying to portray these trains as relics of bygone era.

The dining service changes also bear a striking resemblance to what freight railroads did in the 1960s when they downgraded service on intercity passenger trains and discontinued dozens of them.

Whatever the future may hold for overnight passenger trains, there is little to no reason to believe that full-service dining cars are going to return to the eastern long-distance trains or that those Amtrak workers who are losing their jobs are going to get them back.

The omelet you had hoped to enjoy for breakfast has been replaced by a Kind bar.

The steak and baked potato you wanted for dinner has been replaced with red wine braised beef and a side salad.

Amtrak Announces Details About ‘Flexible Dining’

September 16, 2019

Amtrak released this image of one of roasted chicken and fettuccine, one of four hot entrees that will be offered to sleeping car passengers on eastern overnight trains starting Oct. 1.

Amtrak has made official what has been discussed for weeks. Effective Oct. 1 it will remove full-service dining cars from two eastern long-distance trains and convert its eastern long-distance trains that offer sleeping car service to the same dining model it implemented in June 2018 aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

In the process, Amtrak is rebranding the service and billing is as an improvement. Gone is the “fresh and contemporary” label. The passenger carrier is now describing its food service as “flexible dining.”

In a news release, Amtrak touted flexible dining as offering additional hot entrees at lunch and dinner.

One of the four entrees will be vegan while another will be gluten free.

For the most part, “flexible dining” will be the same as the “fresh and contemporary” model that it is replacing.

It will be offered on the Cardinal, Crescent, Silver Meteor, Lake Shore Limited, Capital Limited and City of New Orleans.

Amtrak’s news release said “flexible dining” will be launched on the Silver Star (New York-Miami) in 2020.

In a post on Friday afternnoon on its website, the Rail Passengers Association said that Amtrak also plans to provide coach passengers on eastern long-distance overnight trains the opportunity to purchase one of the entrees provided to sleeping car passengers.

However, the Amtrak news release made no mention of coach passengers being able to purchase the meals served to sleeping car passengers.

RPA did note in its post that dining service on eastern long-distance trains will continue to evolve following the Oct. 1 implementation of “flexible dining.”

The Crescent (New York-New Orleans) and Silver Meteor (New York-Miami) currently have full-service dining car service with meals freshly prepared onboard.

The Cardinal (Chicago-New York) and City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans) currently have something in between with a wider number of meal options compared with the Capitol (Chicago-Washington) and Lake Shore (Chicago-New York/Boston), but with all food prepared off the train and heated onboard.

Most of the amenities that Amtrak listed in its news release for “flexible dining” have been fixtures of “fresh and contemporary” since it was launched.

This includes unlimited soft drinks and one complementary alcoholic beverage at lunch and dinner, room service provided by a sleeping car attendant, and exclusive use of a dining car as a lounge for sleeper class passengers for eating and socializing.

The flexible dining moniker apparently stems from the fact that breakfast, lunch and dinner will be available during broad serving hours with no reservation needed.

Breakfast will be available between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., lunch will be available between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., and dinner will be available between 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Some changes have been made in the menu offerings. There will still be just one hot entrée available at breakfast, a sausage, egg and cheese muffin.

Also available will be oatmeal (two varieties), cold cereal (four varieties), muffins (two varieties), a breakfast bar (Kind bar), yogurt (two varieties), fruit (bananas and seasonal fruit cup), and various beverages.

On the lunch and dinner menu all entrees come with a side salad and dessert although the menu posted online does not indicate what the dessert is.

The Amtrak news release described the deserts as blondies and brownies.

The entrees include red wine braised beef served with pearl onions, carrots, mushrooms, polenta and Haricot vert; Asian noodle bowl (vegan) served with Yaki Soba noodles, carrots, edamane, red peppers, baby corn, scallions and Shittake mushrooms in a garlic-chili sauce; chicken fettuccine served with roasted chicken, broccoli, carrots, red peppers, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses in a garlic cream sauce); and Creole shrimp and Andouille sausage (gluten free) served with yellow rice, peppers, onions, and green onions in a Creole sauce). All dinners come with side salad and dessert.

The children’s meal is pasta and meatballs served with penne pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs and mozzarella cheese.

Also changing is how these meals are presented. Boxes, bags and excessive wrapping materials are being discarded in favor of small trays that will be used to serve the meals.

Amtrak said that traditional dining cars will continue to operate on western long-distance overnight trains, including the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

In the east, the Auto Train will continue to have traditional dining car service although Amtrak has announced plans to end providing meals other than a continental breakfast to coach passengers starting in January 2020.

Amtrak is seeking to frame “flexible dining” as part of a larger evolutionary strategy to upgrade long-distance trains in the coming months.

Other improvements that the news release said are coming include “refreshed” Amfleet II cars, which will receive new seat cushions, carpets, curtains and LED reading lights.

These changes are expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Amtrak said sleepers will receive upgraded bedding, towels and linens, starting with the Auto Train.

New Viewliner II sleeping cars will be assigned to eastern long-distance trains in the coming months as well.

In its posting, RPA hailed Amtrak’s plans, describing them as “important improvements” while acknowledging that it will not be a return to the traditional dining car experience.

RPA said restoration of dining service to the Silver Star is being made possible by “efficiencies gained from the new food-service model on Eastern trains.”

As for coach passengers being able to buy food served to sleeping car passengers, RPA said Amtrak plans to implement an order-ahead system so that passengers have the option to make selections at booking

RPA said Amtrak will offer two hot entrees at breakfast, but the menu posted on the Amtrak website showed just one. RPA suggested that the current ham-egg-cheese on a ciabatta roll breakfast sandwich will continue.

Amtrak has told RPA that it will use a combination of processes and technology to ensure that there is enough food on board for service and enough variety so that passengers’ first choice is more likely to be available.

However, Amtrak is still working on solutions for the problems of special meals, including Kosher, vegan, vegetarian, allergies and food sensitivities.

RPA cited a letter that it received from an Amtrak executive to say that menus for traditional dining cars will change in the first half of 2020.

That letter also said that new mattresses, linens, sheets, blankets and towels along with upgraded soap and amenities will be implemented during the coming year.

Amtrak continues to work to overcome mechanical issues that have prevented it from installing convection ovens on food-service cars, but hopes to have that issue resolved by the end of this year.

Amtrak Rebrands ‘Fresh and Contemporary’ Dining as ‘Flexible Dining,’ on Eastern Long-distance Trains

September 13, 2019

What dining aboard the Lake Shore Limited used to look like in the days of the full-service heritage diner. The date is March 11, 2012.

There’s a new name for dining aboard Amtrak on eastern long-distance trains, but it’s largely the same service.

The carrier has dropped the “fresh and contemporary” label for “flexible dining.”

Although Amtrak has not said when this service will become effective, various reports have said the changeover date is Oct. 1.

The service will be offered on Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent, Lake Shore Limited and Silver Meteor.

The Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited received the “fresh and contemporary” dining in June 2018.

The Crescent and Silver Meteor currently have full-service dining car service with meals freshly prepared onboard.

The Cardinal and City of New Orleans currently have something in between with a wider number of meal options compared with the Capitol and Lake Shore, but with all food prepared off the train and heated onboard.

On its website, Amtrak touted flexible dining as providing a menu with hot, ready-to-serve choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner; a wide selection wine, beer and spirits with the first alcoholic beverage complimentary at each meal plus unlimited soft drinks throughout the journey; complimentary room service provided by the sleeping car attendant; exclusive onboard lounge space for sleeping car customers to dine and socialize 24/7; and flexible dining times without the need for reservations.

Virtually all of these features were components of the existing “fresh and contemporary” service.

Breakfast will be available between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., lunch will be available between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. and dinner will be available between 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Some changes have been made in the menu offerings. There will still be just one hot entrée available at breakfast, a sausage, egg and cheese muffin.

Also available will be oatmeal (two varieties), cold cereal (four varieties), muffins (two varieties), a breakfast bar (Kind bar), yogurt (two varieties), fruit (bananas and seasonal fruit cup), and various beverages.

On the lunch and dinner menu are four options, one of which is billed as vegan and another as gluten free.

All entrees come with a side salad and dessert although the menu posted online does not indicate what the dessert is.

The entrees include red wine braised beef served with pearl onions, carrots, mushrooms, polenta and Haricot vert; Asian noodle bowl (vegan) served with Yaki Soba noodles, carrots, edamane, red peppers, baby corn, scallions and Shittake mushrooms in a garlic-chili sauce; chicken fettuccine served with roasted chicken, broccoli, carrots, red peppers, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses in a garlic cream sauce); and Creole shrimp and Andouille sausage (gluten free) served with yellow rice, peppers, onions, and green onions in a Creole sauce). All dinners come with side salad and dessert.

The children’s meal is pasta and meatballs served with penne pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs and mozzarella cheese.

Neither the sample menu or the “flexible dining” page on the Amtrak website indicates that these meals available for purchased by coach passengers.

The website also shows the meals being served on small trays, suggesting that the current serving in a box method, which was criticized by some for generating a lot of waste, is being dropped.

As for the one complimentary alcoholic beverage per meal, there are five types of beer, two types of wine, one type each of gin, rum, vodka and whiskey.

Additional servings of these can be purchased at prices ranging from $6.50 to $9.

Amtrak Eastern Long-Distance Trains to Get ‘Contemporary Dining” Service Effective Oct. 1

August 12, 2019

An internal Amtrak memo that was posted on Train Orders.com had confirmed that all eastern long-distance trains except the Silver Star will adopt the “contemporary dining” model effective Oct. 1.

Full-service dining will be removed from the New York-New Orleans Crescent and New York-Miami Silver Meteor.

The Silver Star is an exception because it does not provide meal service to sleeping car passengers as part of their fare.

The Chicago-New York Cardinal will gain a Viewliner dining car that will serve as a sleeper class lounge car in the same manner as is done on the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited.

Although the Cardinal has not had meals prepared on board for several years, it did have a more expansive menu than the Lake Shore or Capitol Limited had after both switched to the contemporary dining model last year.

The net effect of the changes is to standardize food and beverage service on eastern long distance trains while reducing the number of on-board employees assigned to the Crescent and Silver Meteor.

The Cardinal and the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans will not have a net loss of on-board jobs, but two of the positions will be reclassified as lead service attendants.

The Crescent will see a reduction of 16 positions while the Silver Meteor will lose 14 positions.

The Amtrak memo said onboard meal preparation will be replaced by a small variety of ready to serve meals that will be included in the sleeper class fare and delivered to the train just prior to origination.

All eastern long-distance trains will have two food service cars, one of which is reserved for the exclusive use of sleeper class passengers. The other is a café car open to all passengers.

Sleeping car attendants will, upon request, continue to deliver meals to passengers in their rooms.

Amtrak also plans to continue the practice of the sleeping car attendant asking passengers shortly after boarding their preferred dining times and giving reservations in 15-minute increments.

The lunch and dinner offerings on all trains will include Asian noodle bowl, red wine braised beef, chicken fettuccini with broccoli, and Creole shrimp and andouille. Dessert is available upon request.

Breakfast is described as a deluxe continental breakfast that includes muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, cereal, oatmeal and breakfast sandwich.

Sleeper class passengers and business class passengers will each receive one complimentary alcoholic beverage and unlimited soft drinks.

Business class, which is available only on the Cardinal, does not include meals.

The consist of the Cardinal will be one Viewliner baggage car, three Amfleet II coaches, one Viewliner sleeper , one Viewliner sleeper-lounge,  and an Amfleet I café-lounge with 18 business class seats, Amfleet café module and 24 booth seats.

The A end of the café car pointed toward the coaches to reduce foot traffic through the business class section.

The Cardinal onboard crew will continue to be based in New York.

The City of New Orleans will have consist of Superliner equipment, including  two coaches, a baggage-coach, a Cross Country Café that will serve as the sleeper class lounge, a Sightseer lounge that will serve as the café car for the entire train and a transition sleeper.

The Crescent and Silver Meteor will have similar consists of three Amfleet II coaches, one Amfleet diner lite car that will serve as the café car, a Viewliner dining car that will serve as the sleeper class lounge and a Viewliner baggage car. The Crescent will have two sleeping cars while the Silver Meteor will have three.

The assignments mean that Amtrak will have in revenue service at any given time 13 Viewliner dining cars of the 25 that is owns.

The memo also detailed the plans for changes in Auto Train food and beverage service in January 2020.

Complimentary breakfast and dinner for coach passengers will be eliminated in favor of an expanded café car menu sold through a Cross Country Café.

The Amtrak memo said the café car will provide “a festive environment during the trip,” although it is not clear what this is supposed to mean.

Food trucks will be selling meals at the stations in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

Effective Oct. 1, one coach will be replaced by a sleeping car with additional sleeping cars being assigned during peak travel periods.

Food service for sleeper class will be provided by seasonal menus with variety of entrée selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

There will be a selection of cocktails, beer and wine to go with coffee and soft drinks. Amtrak said that a wine service is also being introduced for sleeper class passengers aboard the Auto Train.

The changes in onboard service aboard the Auto Train will result in 25 onboard service positions being eliminated.

One Menu Cover Being Used in Amtrak Dining Cars

May 9, 2019

While looking around on the Amtrak website recently I noticed that the carrier is now using the same menu cover for all of its full-service dining cars on long-distance trains.

Until recently, menu covers featured an image specific to each of those trains.

That practice, though, has been dropped. Train-specific images still are being used on menus for dining cars on the City of New Orleans and Cardinal.

Specific menus are also shown on the Amtrak website for the Auto Train, Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited but no train-special images accompany those menus.

The Auto Train has two menus, one for coach passengers and one for sleeping car passengers. If you were wondering, the entrees available in coach include flat iron steak, panko-crusted pollock, roasted chicken breast and lasagna.

The sleeping car menu on the Auto Train features beef petite tender filet, lemon pepper cod, thyme roasted chicken and mushroom bolognese lasagna.

Each menu has the same children’s menu of chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese. The desert fare is mostly the same in coach and sleeper except that sleeping car passengers are advised to ask their server about that day’s Amtrak signature dessert.

The menus for the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited are identical and there is no mention of the train names.

Amtrak has used a largely standardized dining car menu for its long-distance trains for a few years now although there were a few slight variations for some routes.

Also gone from the dining car menus are entrees created by chefs who were members of an Amtrak culinary advisory committee.

One thing that hasn’t changed are the high prices for entrees. The priciest is the land and sea combo, which features a Black Angus flat iron steak and a lump crab cake for $39.

If you just want the steak it will cost $25 if you are paying for your meal as opposed to it being included in your sleeping car room fare.

The crab cake is only available in the land and sea combo. The seafood entrees is Norwegian salmon. The chicken entree is thyme-roasted chicken breast while the pasta entree is a rigatoni pasta that is billed as being vegan compliant.

At $16.50 the rigatoni pasta is the least expensive dinner entree. As has been the practice for several years now, a side salad costs extra, although it is complimentary for sleeping car passengers.

Lunch entrees include an entree salad with chicken breast for an additional charge, black bean and corn veggie burger, Angus burger, baked chilaquiles, and steamed mussels.

Prices of the lunch entrees range from $14.50 to $12.50. At lunch and dinner there are four desert items available, including sugar free vanilla pudding, a flourless chocolate tart, New York-style cheesecake and a seasonal desert.

The breakfast fare seems rather pricey for what you get. Three pancakes cost $10.50, which doesn’t include a breakfast meat.

Scrambled eggs with roasted potatoes or grits and a croissant cost $8.50.

The continental breakfast of cereal or hot oatmeal accompanied with fresh seasonal fruit, Greek yogurt and a croissant is $8.75.

Other breakfast entrees include a made to order three-egg omelette, and cheese quesadillas with eggs and tomatillo sauce. Both of these come with a croissant and omelette also has potatoes or grits.

Breakfast meats include pork sausage, chicken sausage and bacon, but must be ordered separately. You will also pay extra for such toppings as cheese or guacamole.

Expanded Menu Was Launched Earlier Than Planned

January 19, 2019

The changes that Amtrak made this week in dining service to two eastern long-distance trains occurred earlier than that carrier had expected to make them.

Amtrak also has indicated to the Rail Passengers Association that its long-term vision for its national network is improved service “with more traditional dining options.”

Last year Amtrak ceased offering full-service dining aboard the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston) and Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington).

Instead, sleeping car passengers were offered prepackaged meals.

This past week Amtrak expanded the number of hot menu items for lunch and dinner and added a limited hot breakfast option.

In a blog posting on the RPA website, it was disclosed that Amtrak’s original plan was to institute the expanded menu when new high-capacity convection ovens were installed in food service cars that would enable cooking those hot meals in volume.

The ovens have yet to be installed, but Amtrak said is it “remains confident” that the new ovens will installed before the peak summer travel season.

The RPA posting indicated that the more traditional dining options is apparently intended for trains that travel for two nights.

It is unclear what is meant by more traditional options given that those long-distance trains currently have full-service dining cars with table service.

Upon Further Review, it’s Incremental Change

January 18, 2019

Upon learning the details of Amtrak’s recent change in food service aboard two eastern long-distance trains I was disappointed at what I read but upon further review I was not surprised.

I had thought that the carrier might bring back some semblance of full dining car service to the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited with a contractor using its own employees. In short Amtrak would outsource its food and beverage service.

Instead, Amtrak will increase the selection of prepared meals made available to sleeping car passengers and include a hot breakfast offering.

It also will now provide one complimentary alcoholic beverage to passengers holding business class tickets aboard the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited as well as unlimited complimentary soft drinks. But business car travelers will not receive any meals in the price of their ticket.

In a statement, Amtrak described the changes as an evolution, but I’d describe them as incremental. They are an improvement, but only a slight one.

As expected, Amtrak continues to try to spin the food service operation on the Lake Shore and Capitol with terminology that doesn’t quite fit.

These include “deluxe breakfast choices” and “contemporary dining improvements.”

The carrier also used the term “their private dining car,” which turns out to mean that the new menu offerings are available only to sleeping car passengers. Coach passengers are unable to purchase these items from the café car.

The hot breakfast offering turns out to be a ham and cheese sandwich along with a few other miscellaneous offerings, including hard-boiled eggs. With advance notice, Amtrak will provide a Kosher meal.

Amtrak also framed the changes as being in response to passengers saying they wanted “high-quality food with good variety.”

There probably is some truth to that. At least in the railfan and railroad trade industry press, the contemporary dining” service has been widely criticized.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Railway Age that the carrier is considering making for sale to coach passengers the items provided to sleeping car passengers.

Magliari also acknowledged that all of the food items on the expanded menu items are prepared off the train “with some heating, some plating and presenting taking place on these trains.”

The latest changes are at least the second time Amtrak has tweaked its contemporary dining service on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

An earlier change involved adding a hot entrée – a beef short rib – to the dinner and lunch menu.

In its report on the latest food service changes, Trains magazine said it  obtained an internal Amtrak company memo outlining the changes.

One sentence in the memo may be illustrative of management’s view of dining car service: “but customers should still bus and clean the tables they have used.”

In other words, food service aboard Amtrak is more akin to a school cafeteria than a sit-down restaurant.

Passengers will even use trays or plates to take their chosen continental breakfast choices to their table or sleeping car room.

This is designed to cut down on waste, including packaging waste and uneaten food. However, passengers will be able to take as many items as they like within reason.

Of course they can also ask their sleeping car attendant to fetch their meal and bring it to the passenger’s room.

As for outsourcing, that isn’t being done now and it remains to be seen if it will come about as I thought it might.

Amtrak’s unions have been staging public protests to accuse Amtrak of trying to eliminate their jobs.

There is reason to believe that is true. The move to “contemporary dining” resulted in a reduction in staff aboard the trains, notably the elimination of chef and waiter positions.

It may be that Amtrak won’t outsource dining service completely so long as labor contracts with the union onboard service employees exist.

But management no doubt has considered how much money it could save by going to labor provided by a contractor paying non-union employees less compensation and benefits than Amtrak provides its union workers.

It remains unclear if Amtrak management is seriously considering any scenario involving the return of food preparation aboard the eastern long-distance trains whether that is done by Amtrak’s own employees or those of a contractor.

I could see Amtrak management opting for a return to on-board preparation again if—and this is a big if—a contractor could do it for less cost than what Amtrak now pays for “contemporary dining.”

In the short and probably medium term, Amtrak might play around with different contractors to provide food items prepared off the train to see who provides the best value for the least cost.

It may only be a matter of time before that model is extended to the handful of trains with dining cars providing on-board meal preparation.