Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak food 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 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.

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.

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.

Amtrak Workers Contend Jobs in Jeopardy.

October 11, 2018

The union representing Amtrak food service workers believes that as many as 1,700 of its members may lose their jobs if Amtrak outsources its food service to a contractor.

Some of the union workers protested that prospect during a rally outside New York’s Penn Station this week.

Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen said Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is “engaged in a slash-and-burn management plan.”

The approximately 100 Amtrak workers also decried Amtrak’s replacement of full-service dining aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited with boxed meals, most of them served cold.

Amtrak acknowledged in a statement that it has cut 14 chef positions, but that all those affected who wanted another position with Amtrak were able to get one.

The Amtrak statement also contended that the change in meal service aboard the Lake Shore and Capitol has been well received by passengers.

Amtrak Looking to Revamp Food Service

September 14, 2018

Amtrak appears to be poised to undertake a revamp of its food services systemwide.

The passenger carrier recently issued a request for information that seeks “transformational service models and industry best practices for managed food and beverage service.”

The information netted in response to that request will be used to draft a request for proposals to create a new model for providing food and beverages that is less costly.

That could be a first step toward turning over its food and beverage service to an outside contractor.

Submissions to the request for information are due by Oct. 16.

The request for information said that Amtrak is seeking models similar to the luxury service options offered on VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian and the Rocky Mountaineer excursion service based in Canada.

Amtrak said in the request for information it is reviewing its current service model and wants to hear how the respondents “might address food and beverage service onboard all trains through examples of similar services offered elsewhere or new and innovative approaches that might fit Amtrak’s environment.”

This will include proposals for operating café/lounge cars, dining cars, and Acela First Class service with and without Amtrak employees performing the work.

Amtrak Debuts New Cafe Care Menu in NEC

June 15, 2018

In what could be a preview of what is coming system wide, Amtrak launched new café car fare on June 13 on its Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains.

The new menu includes products from Boar’s Head Brand as well as a variety of other snacks, drinks and sundries.

This included drinks such as Makers Mark®, Cutwater™ Spirits, and LaCroix® sparkling water, and other such food items as Sahale Snacks® and Sweet Street® desserts.

“We are pleased to introduce this new menu featuring Boar’s Head premium products for our customers to enjoy as they travel with us along the Northeast Corridor,” said Amtrak Vice President of Product Development & Customer Experience Peter Wilander in a statement.

“The updated menu features premium sandwiches, salads and snacks, along with some gluten-free and vegan choices to enhance the overall Amtrak travel experience.”

Amtrak Cafe Car Fare

February 22, 2017

cleveland-amfleet-mural-3

The offerings of a typical Amtrak cafe car probably are not the healthiest and they are for sure not the cheapest offerings.

But if you have the munchies after sitting in a coach seat for a couple hours with another couple hours to go before reaching your destination, they look pretty good.

Shown is the serving area of an Amfleet cafe car that was on display in May 2016 at the National Train Day event in Toledo, Ohio.

Through the use of enhance graphics and color photography the food offerings look better than they do when the attendant hands them to you in a cardboard box.

And when was the last time that you saw a whole pie in a food service car? The current national cafe car menu at the Amtrak website doesn’t show pie as an option. Not even one of those Hostess apple pies found in convenience stores.

I will admit that I’ve always had a fondness for the Angus cheeseburger, which currently costs $7.25.

Like I said, Amtrak cafe fare is not cheap. Bon appetit.

Amtrak CEO Moorman Talks About His Vision for the Future of the U.S. Rail Passenger Carrrier

January 30, 2017

Since taking over last fall as the CEO of Amtrak, Charles “Wick” Moorman has given hints here and there about his vision of America’s national intercity rail passenger carrier.

Wick Moorman

Wick Moorman

Columnists and editors of Trains magazine sat down with Moorman in December to discuss that vision.

Columnist Don Phillips was there and wrote about it for the March issue of the magazine that will be in subscriber mailboxes soon.

Phillips recently sent advance copies of his columns to those on an email list that he maintains. Presumably, there will be another report in the March issue written by the magazine’s passenger rail correspondent.

Moorman told the Trains representatives that he sees a future for long-distance passenger trains, but it is less clear if he sees any expansion of them.

He does see potential growth in medium-distance service, which is paid for by the states.

The proposed restoration of service along the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans has been gaining political support and may end up becoming an extension of the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans.

But that hinges upon the federal government making a financial commitment to the service.

Moorman said during the interview that the new Viewliner equipment for eastern long-distance trains that is being built by CAF USA will be finished according to a new production schedule that the company and Amtrak have agreed upon.

Other items of interest include Moorman’s view that something needs to be done about the quality of food service aboard Amtrak trains, and the aging diesel locomotives and passenger cars used by trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

In regards to food service, Moorman said the pressure that has come from Congress in recent years to cut the cost of food service is lessening and what Amtrak needs to do is sell more food.

Another high priority on Moorman’s list is the institution of a training program for on-board employees, including conductors.

But the top priority on Moorman’s list is rebuilding infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor. That includes replacing bridges, tunnels and catenary, as well as building a replacement for New York Penn Station.

The takeaway from the Phillips column: Look for a better on-board experience but with little to no expansion of the existing routes and levels of train frequency.