Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak food and beverage service’

Traditional Dining to Return to Most Western Long Distance Trains on June 23

June 4, 2021

French toast will come with fruit and whipped topping when traditional dining resumes late this moth. (Amtrak photo)

Amtrak this week announced the return of traditional dining-car service aboard its western long distance trains effective June 23.

The announcement played up “a redesigned menu,” new appetizers, and table service with glassware, cutlery and linen tablecloths. Ceramic dishware will be added later this year.

However, the change comes with a number of caveats.

This includes traditional dining being limited to sleeper class passengers. Coach passengers must continue to rely on café car offerings.

Another caveat is that traditional dining for now is not being reinstated on the Texas Eagle.

Texas Eagle passengers continuing beyond San Antonio will be able to take advantage of traditional dining service aboard the Sunset Limited, which operates between New Orleans and Los Angeles and carries through cars between Chicago and Los Angeles that are interchanged in San Antonio.

The Rail Passengers Association reported recently that the Eagle will for the time being continue to operate with one food service car and it won’t be a Sightseer Lounge.

Amtrak reportedly plans to assign Sightseer Lounges to the Texas Eagle at a later but unspecified date.

Trains that will have traditional dining include the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited.

The announcement said nothing about whether eastern long distance trains are being considered for reinstatement of traditional dining.

Those trains for the past two to three years have featured what Amtrak bills as “flexible dining” in which food is prepared off the train and served aboard.

The Amtrak announcement this week indicated that the traditional dining aboard the western trains will have meals prepared by an on-board chef and have table service and communal seating.

Traditional dining had been removed from western long distance trains in April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak’s announcement indicated that passengers will still be expected to wear facial masks when aboard a train except when they are eating or drinking.

Dining cars will be for the use of sleeper class passengers only. Those passengers will have the option of being served meals in their rooms.

Amtrak said is planning to revamp its café menu this summer by adding more fresh selections. The announcement did not indicate what that might include nor did it indicate when or if the passenger carrier plans to resume selling dining car meals to coach passengers.

As for the traditional dining car experience, it will feature some changes from the pre-pandemic service.

This includes offering three-course dinners that have an appetizer, main course and dessert. The breakfast and lunch menus will be similar to what has been offered in the past.

All trains will have the same menu, a practice that has been in place for the past several years. There also will be a children’s menu.

One feature of flexible dining that is being retained with the return of traditional dining is passengers receiving one complimentary alcoholic beverage.

On its website, Amtrak said passengers can make reservations for lunch and dinner.

Breakfast hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Lunch will be served between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. while dinning hours will be 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Final seatings will be at 9:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. with a last call made 15 minutes before the dining period ends. Exceptions may apply based on train schedule or in the event of a delay.

As for what is on the menu, breakfast offers four selections, including a continental breakfast, French Toast, three-egg omelet, or scrambled eggs.

The omelet and scrambled eggs come with a choice of cheese, tomatoes, breakfast potatoes and a croissant. Both entrees also can come with red and green peppers and onions.

Sides include bacon and sausage, either chicken or pork.

The lunch menu features a Caesar salad, grilled cheese sandwich, angus burger and vegan chili. The grilled cheese sandwich comes with turkey and bacon. The chili is served in a baked potato or a bowl with a choice of toppings.

The two sandwiches come with a side of cole slaw and Terra chips. All lunch entrees also include a dessert from the dinner menu.

As for the dinner menu the first course is one of three appetizer, including a lobster crab cake, green chile cheese tamale or a mixed greens salad with baby brie.

Entrees include flat iron steak, pan roasted chicken breast, grilled Atlantic salmon and tortellini with pesto cream.

All entrees except the tortellini come with vegetable side dishes. The steak also comes with a choice of cheese polenta or baked potato.

Desserts include a flourless chocolate torte, Philadelphia cheesecake and carrot cake. Passengers receive unlimited soft drinks.

Amtrak Sleeper Passengers Can Pre-Select Meals

October 1, 2020

Amtrak has begun giving sleeping car passengers the ability to choose their meals in advance of travel.

The option is now available for those riding the Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, and Lake Shore Limited.

Passengers will be sent an email informing them of the option as well as offering an opportunity to view menus before selecting their meals.

Amtrak expects the ability to pre-select meals to be extended to the Silver Star and Silver Meteor in the coming weeks.

The meals on all of those trains are prepared off the train and heated onboard in a microwave oven.

Sleeping car passengers can have their meals delivered to their rooms or eat in a dining car reserved for the use of sleeping class passengers.

Amtrak currently only prepares meals onboard the Auto Train, having suspended the practice for Western long-distance trains during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the passenger carrier has said the suspension of on-board food preparation for Western long-distance trains is temporary and a notice on the carrier’s website indicated that full-serving dining on those trains is suspended through Dec. 15.

Amtrak Suspends Cafe Car Seating

May 15, 2020

Amtrak will no longer allow seating in café cars which means passengers will need to take their food and beverages back to their seats or sleeping car compartments after purchase.

The carrier said the change is being made for passenger safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a related development, Amtrak has extended to Aug. 31 the period in which it is waiving change fees for reservations.

In a news release, Amtrak said this includes reservations booked with points.

The carrier also extended to Aug. 31 the period in which it will waive cancellation fees for reservations, including reservations booked with points.

Those wishing to cancel a reservation without a fee are being directed to 800-USA-RAIL and speak with an agent.

This procedure is not available via Amtrak.com or the Amtrak app.

Amtrak Donates Surplus Food to Food Banks

May 6, 2020

Food supplies that were planned to be served to Amtrak passengers are being donated to food banks across the nation rather than seeing that food wasted.

Amtrak officials said they are donating surplus perishiables and short-dated items that otherwise would go unused.

The officials said the food became surplus because of lighter passenger loads and the change to flexible dining in place of full-service dining cars on western long-distance trains.

Food banks receiving the donations include King Majesty Ministries in Chicago; St. Jude’s Community Center in New Orleans; Brookline Food Co-Op in Boston; City Harvest in New York; Central Union Mission in Washington, D.C,; Curley’s House Food Bank in Miami; Northwest Harvest in Seattle; Food Finders in Los Angeles, and Operation Dignity Inc. in Oakland, California.

Amtrak Suspending Full-Service Dining

April 15, 2020

Flexible dining is being introduced on Amtrak’s western long-distance trains starting April 17 in lieu of full-service dining cars.

The carrier said the changes are temporary and in response to falling ridership on its trains during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flexible dining, which has been implemented over the past two years on all overnight trains operating east of the Mississippi River, involves giving sleeping car passenger pre-packaged meals.

Full-service dining cars have meals freshly prepared on board and table service.

An Amtrak internal memorandum said the flexible dining on western long-distance trains will be in effect at least through May 31.

An online report on a railfan chat list indicated that flexible dining had apparently been implemented already on the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief. But that report could not be verified.

The Amtrak memo, whose contents was reported by Trains magazine, said sleeping car passengers on western trains will be given exclusive access to dining cars as it done on the eastern trains.

Coach passengers on western trains will have to buy food and beverages from café cars.

However, with the Viewliner Sightseer lounge normally assigned to the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited having been removed, the dining car on Nos. 29 and 30 will serve sleeping car and coach passengers alike.

Similar arrangements have been implemented on the New York-New Orleans Crescent and Chicago-New York Cardinal.

The Crescent has lost its Viewliner II dining car and all food service is being handled in an Amfleet Café car.

The Cardinal has never had a Viewliner II dining car but continues to have a single Amfleet food service car serving coach and sleeping car passengers.

The New York-Miami Silver Meteor is set to lose its Viewliner II dining car in favor of a single food service car on April 17.

On all three trains, sleeping car passengers are to get their meals from the lead service attendant in the food service car on a “to go” basis.

Amtrak plans to implement flexible dining on the New York-Miami Silver Star on May 1. Until then, sleeping car passengers are not receiving meals as part of their sleeping car accommodations as is the case on all other trains with sleeper service.

Only the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited will continue to carry a Viewliner II dining car where it is assigned to the New York section.

The café car on the Lake Shore operates on the Boston section.

The implementation dates for flexible dining on western trains as described in the Amtrak memo are:

Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland, Oregon): westbound, April 20; eastbound, April 17.

California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California): westbound, April 17; eastbound April 20.

Southwest Chief  westbound and eastbound, April 17.

Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio): westbound, April 17; eastbound, April 19.

Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles): westbound, April 20; eastbound, April 17.

Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles): northbound, April 17; southbound, April 19.

Amtrak said on-board service employees affected by the dining service changes will not be furloughed but instead moved to the extra board, a move that will mean they will receive less pay.

Amtrak conductors, engineers and other operating personnel are already assigned to the extra board.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the changes in western train meal service was also made because flexible dining meals “are designed to be portable and more easily transported back to passengers’ private room accommodations.”

Magliari said Amtrak will review its food service options on all routes before May 31.

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.

Congressman Prodding Anderson over Food Service

February 15, 2020

A Tennessee congressman is demanding that Amtrak provide “accurate and credible evidence” that Amtrak ridership supports its decisions to end dining car service on some long-distance routes.

In a letter to Amtrak President Richard Anderson, Rep. Steve Cohen, a senior member of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, reminded Anderson of their exchange over Amtrak onboard service during a committee hearing last November.

During that hearing, Cohen asked Anderson to provide market research and customer questionnaire responses that led to the changes.

Cohen said in a news release that Amtrak provided only “some vaguely worded surveys in which customer food service preferences, and an assessment of food service options, were not sought.”

During that hearing Cohen also dredged up a grudge that stemmed from Anderson’s time as CEO of Northwest Airlines.

Cohen reminded Anderson that at an April 2008 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, he testified that Memphis would retain its hub and its non-stop flight to Amsterdam after its merger with Delta Air Lines.

However, after the merger, Delta shut down the Memphis hub and ended the Amsterdam flight. Anderson went on to serve as Delta’s CEO.

Design Teams Compete for Amtrak in Philadelphia

October 14, 2019

Amtrak recently hosted 20 DesignPhiladelphia industrial and product designers and students who competed in a competition to design new food delivery practices.

They were challenged to come up with a way that will increase recycling by 20 percent by 2020.

The winning entry was submitted by Brandon Bauer, a New Jersey native who is a junior at Drexel University studying product design.

He was received a round-trip Acela ticket for his winning submission.

Runners-up included Robin Kohles, Sam Garst, Kristin Kopple and Arcangelo Guida in second place and BreAnna Bechtold in third. These finalists received special Amtrak branded merchandise for their contributions.

Amtrak did not specify in a news release the contents of the winning entries other than they focused on ways to “source potential sustainable delivery solutions.”

The news release said the carrier is seeking ways to reduce packaging, waste and dependence on single-use plastic.

Amtrak said it will work with its vendors, facilities teams and on-board staff to improve onboard recycling and material diversion.

DesignPhiladelphia is a 10-day festival produced by the Center for Architecture and Design that is held every October.

No More Dining Car to the Big Apple

October 7, 2019

An overlooked footnote to the Oct. 1 changes to Amtrak dining service aboard its eastern long-distance trains is that New York City no longer is served by a full-service dining car.

The Big Apple sees hundreds of Amtrak trains a day, many of them offering food and beverage service, but none of them now has a dining car in which meals are prepared freshly onboard.

The last dining car to arrive in New York was the Nashville, which arrived late on the afternoon of Oct. 1 aboard the inbound Crescent from New Orleans.

The Crescent and Silver Meteor were the last trains serving New York to operate with full-service dining cars.

Those trains now have the “flexible dining” that is also offered aboard the Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, Cardinal and City of New Orleans.

For now full-service dining cars continue to operate on western long-distance trains.

The flexible dining service model uses food prepared off the train and reheated onboard or served cold.

Although it has a more expansive menu of offerings than the “fresh and contemporary” model implanted in June 2018 on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited, the number of entrees available at lunch and dinner is four.

Coach passengers are unable to partake of those offerings whereas they could buy meals in full-service dining cars.

Instead, coach passengers who do not bring their own food and drink aboard must buy from the café car.

A report on the Trains magazine website noted that New York’s first dining cars began in the 1880s when the the New York & Hudson River Railroad (a New York Central subsidiary) offered then on its Chicago and St. Louis Vestibule Limited. Those cars operated between New York and Buffalo, New York; and Elkhart, Indiana, and Chicago.

Although some Amtrak trains serving New York, most notably the Acela Express, offer some fresh food to first class passengers, it is prepared off the train.

New York LSL Passengers Have Limited Cafe Car Service

August 12, 2019

With the restoration of the Boston section of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited coach passengers riding between New York and Albany, New York, no longer can buy food and beverages between those points.

The cafe car is part of the Boston section, which separates and combines with the New York section at the Albany-Rensselaer station.

The Boston section was suspended for six weeks earlier this year due to CSX track work.

That work was completed in mid July and the Boston section was reinstated. In the interim, passengers bound for points between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer traveled on a bus.

During the suspension of the Boston section, the cafe car, which also accommodates business class passengers, operated between New York and Chicago.

The Rail Passengers Association noted that during the Boston section suspension Amtrak assigned a full table cafe car to Nos. 48 and 49.

But now the cafe car has reverted to a split car with six tables of which at least two are often taken by the crew for their use.

RPA said it is pressing Amtrak to increase the number of tables available for use by coach passengers as well as providing food and beverage service to and from New York.