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Date: 10/09/19 23:32
Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millennial
Author: GenePoon

I tried Amtrak's new 'contemporary' dining car — and it was immediately clear why so many people want to save the old one

Business Insider
by Graham Rapier
October 9, 2019 
  •  
  • Earlier this year, Amtrak announced an overhaul of many dining options on its long-distance services on the East Coast. 
  • The biggest change was that custom-cooked, made-to-order meals would be going by the wayside in favor of read-to-serve options. 
  • Even before the changes took effect, the backlash was quick and fierce from rail fans across the country. 
  • I set out on a cross-country journey this week to see for myself what the new food was like, and found many of the passengers' worries were not only warranted, but completely correct.    
  •  
  • ABOARD AMTRAK'S LAKE SHORE LIMITED — The fact that airline veterans now make up a bulk of Amtrak's c-suite is on display perhaps nowhere more than in the agency's new, "contemporary" dining car offerings.  Beginning in October, many overnight trains east of the Mississippi River bid adieu to the traditional white tablecloths and custom-cooked meals that hearkened to an earlier age of rail travel.  They were replaced by what is essentially airline food: microwaved, individual-sized meals, heated from frozen storage.

Amtrak's leadership, to their credit was up-front with passengers about the need for change: the company has a mandate from Congress to save money, especially in the dining cars. But a remark by Andrew Wilander, Amtrak's head of customer experience, in late September, rubbed riders the wrong way.

"We want to simplify the process," he told the Washington Post. "On the single-overnight, long-distance trains, we have a mandate from Congress to take the loss on the food down, and we're going to keep driving that down. The simplest way to do that is to go to a single food car and then have choice for customers."

The backlash was nearly instantaneous, with a petition to save the dining car's previous service racking up more than 13,000 signatures by the time of writing.

On Tuesday, I set out on a cross-country Amtrak trip of my own to find out why, among other things, the dining car was such a favorite of rail fans around the country. And it was clear when I first sat down why the changes had left a bad taste in some peoples' mouths. 

All meals are included when you book a "roomette" or bedroom on a long-distance Amtrak train.

From New York, from where I began my journey to the West Coast, these include the "Lake Shore Limited" to Chicago, which I am riding, the "Cardinal," which heads to Chicago via Washington DC, the "Capitol Limited," the " the "Crescent" to New Orleans," and a few others. 

There were more choices than on an airplane, but only barely. 

The ticket also includes one complementary alcoholic beverage or soft drink.  After consulting my two table-mates, (due to limited space, community seating is encouraged), I went with the creole shrimp and sausage.  Hal, on his way home to Montana from Vermont, ordered the beef, while Peggy, a retired religious educator on her way to visit her son in California, had the chicken fettuccine.

"It's nothing like it used to be," she told me as we raced through the dark somewhere between Albany and Syracuse.  They, too, had heard that Amtrak blamed the changes on millennials, and I took the chance to apologize profusely for yet another death caused by my generation.  The flavor was slightly above that of airplane food, though not being at 30,000 feet could have also affected my enjoyment for the better.  There's not much a splash of hot sauce and plenty of pepper can't fix, in my opinion, but slimy vegetables are not one of those things.

"1-800-USA-RAIL!," the lone (and very busy) dining attendant quipped to an unsatisfied passenger. "I didn't make the changes."

After a nights' sleep, I had high hopes for breakfast. The menu claimed to feature fresh fruit, granola, and other continental items — and technically, it wasn't wrong.  I took a late breakfast, seeing as we were more than two hours late en route to Chicago, and was met again by microwaved food.  To be fair, I eat a banana and a granola bar most every morning, so even a reheated Jimmy Dean sausage egg and cheese sandwich is an improvement.   But for nearly $900 a ticket, I could see why some of my fellow passengers were disappointed.

"Your next train will be better," Hal assured me as we ate our "specialty dessert" brownies and watched the lounge car empty for the night. At this rate, there's only upward mobility possible.

Next I'm headed on the Empire Builder, one of Amtrak's longest and most popular routes where I've been assured by my new traveling companions that the food is still what it once was. Stay tuned!

Article, with photos:

https://www.businessinsider.com/amtrak-new-contemporary-dining-car-review-lake-shore-limited-2019-10

 SEE ALSO: The full history of Amtrak's iconic dining cars, which the company says it is removing to cater to millennial whims

https://www.businessinsider.com/amtrak-ending-dining-car-evolution-and-history-2019-9



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/09/19 23:34 by GenePoon.



Date: 10/10/19 03:49
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: PRSL-recall

Thanks Gene. This is met with much vindication. Let NARP digest it.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/10/19 03:50 by PRSL-recall.



Date: 10/10/19 03:50
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: andersonb109

Please post the report on the writers Empire Builder dining experience once available. Good to know not all younger people think this new so called food is acceptable. 



Date: 10/10/19 05:09
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: joemvcnj

Can't imagine why it would be acceptable. At least the Millenial-feed at Chipotle and and Panera looks edible.
Just another Amtrakian snow job. 



Date: 10/10/19 08:37
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: BRAtkinson

I rapidly becoming convinced that if Amtrak were to 'unbundle' the free meals (and reduce prices accordingly) and make all passengers (including coach) pay 'going rate' for contemporary meals, the cafe car would soon become swamped with business while the V II diner would be nearly empty at all times.



Date: 10/10/19 08:42
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: JohnM

BRAtkinson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I rapidly becoming convinced that if Amtrak were
> to 'unbundle' the free meals (and reduce prices
> accordingly) and make all passengers (including
> coach) pay 'going rate' for contemporary meals,
> the cafe car would soon become swamped with
> business while the V II diner would be nearly
> empty at all times.

if meals cannot pay for themselves, what percentage of the cost should be subsidized in your mind?   10%, 50%?



Date: 10/10/19 08:53
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: Flyer92122

It’s the total picture that needs to be looked at. The 2-3 million total saved  (lastest number Amtrak pulled from thin air)  with flexible dining will probably result in a 10 percent drop in sleeper passengers costing the company more in the long run. Numbers won’t change for at least 18 months when repeat customers stop traveling. Expect Anderson to tout great 6 and 12 month numbers but they won’t last.



Date: 10/10/19 08:54
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: ts1457

I think this writer is familiar with trains. I would like an article by a millennial who has never taken a LDT and does not know what a dining car is.



Date: 10/10/19 09:07
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: mp208

My breakfast experience on train 67 between Quantico and Richmond yesterday morning was tepid.  The cafe car was clean and bright, albeit the ubiquiteous  signal cardboard trash can that took up two possible seats in the car. .  The young lady attendant was smiling and cheerful.  I ordered the $5.00 Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich (95 cents in grocery stores) and when I took a bite, I found it still frozen in the middle.  She cheerfully nuked it for 15 more seconds and it was fine.  Hopefully there wasn't a brownout on the car mandated by Anderson.  As usual, two of the six tables (33%) were secured by the train crew and OBS.  The conductor and assistant spent the entire time between Richmond and Williamsburg,(50 minutes) seated at their "office" table.  The only interruption to their banal conversation was when the AC repeated.the engineer's signal calling over the radio.  Their only interaction with anyone else, was when they discussed Caribbean cruise experiences with the cafe attendant...The crew was helpful and professional at every station stop.
Overall the trip was enjoyable, on time, in clean cars, and an affable (if not attentive) crew.  



Date: 10/10/19 09:12
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: Woodman

My wife and I just got off the Empire Builder yesterday, and the food was good, normal, but nothing like the past.  We had a bedroom so we got the meals "free"?  The steak and sea food is OK, but the steak was tough. The rolls cold, ice cold.  The seafood is over priced but tastes good.  For lunch we had a hamburger and that was OK.  We had pancakes for breakfast that were not as hot as we would have liked.  The waiter was great, helpful and we left him a good tip.  The problem we will have the same food on the Coast Starlight and the Cal Zef.  The desert is OK, but not like the old days.  Still no ice cream and the excuse is stupid.  But we had a good car attendant and we did get food.  It is off season and train was not full nor near full, but the sleepers were full.  We were only 15 minutes late from Chi to Spokane, not bad.  Sad we have billions of $$ to sent to countries that hate us and we can't get the needed money for a great train system and more trains.  



Date: 10/10/19 12:17
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: Cole42

Woodman Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
 Sad we have billions of $$ to sent to countries that hate us
> and we can't get the needed money for a great
> train system and more trains.  

Pretty much sums it up.  But look at all the favors those countries give to the politicians and their families (both sides of the aisle), Amtrak does nothing for them.



Date: 10/10/19 12:31
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: agentatascadero

Mr Anderson's Amtrak has just invoked the law of unintended consequences.  As a poster above noted, the serious degredation of food service will result in a loss of sleeping car patronage, and a loss of serious $$$$, far more than their silly claim of 2-3 million in savings system wide.

I'm about to embark on a long trip....by rail.  My first "protection" was to book a PV trip LA to Chicago.  Then, on my own Chicago - Cleveland - Boston.  Next "protection".........coming back west via the Canadian.....probably the best passenger train in regular service anywhere........can't wait!!

Then, back to Amtrak for the close of my trip.

AA

Stanford White
Carmel Valley, CA



Date: 10/10/19 13:14
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: ATSF3751

Cole42 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Woodman Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
>  Sad we have billions of $$ to sent to countries
> that hate us
> > and we can't get the needed money for a great
> > train system and more trains.  
>
> Pretty much sums it up.  But look at all the
> favors those countries give to the politicians and
> their families (both sides of the aisle), Amtrak
> does nothing for them.

How about $28 billion to subsidize farmers for their losses due to the absolute incompetence by the guy in the White House? Bet that much $$ would go far to expanding and improving Amtrak. 



Date: 10/10/19 13:18
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: ATSF3751

PRSL-recall Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Thanks Gene. This is met with much vindication.
> Let NARP digest it.

Vindication for what?

Most of the comments lament the loss of dining cars, but few were saying that would be their last trip. 

I lament the loss of privacy, but I still use the internet. 

Anyway, please note this comment 
"Even before the changes took effect, the backlash was quick and fierce from rail fans across the country. "

 I guess the fans want their nostalgic dining car experience, even if someone else has to pay for it. 

 



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 10/10/19 13:23 by ATSF3751.



Date: 10/10/19 13:44
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: PRSL-recall

ATSF3751 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> PRSL-recall Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > Thanks Gene. This is met with much vindication.
> > Let NARP digest it.
>
> Vindication for what?
>
> Most of the comments lament the loss of dining
> cars, but few were saying that would be their last
> trip. 
>
> I lament the loss of privacy, but I still use the
> internet. 
>
> Anyway, please note this comment 
> "Even before the changes took effect, the backlash
> was quick and fierce from rail fans across the
> country. "
>
>  I guess the fans want their nostalgic dining car
> experience, even if someone else has to pay for
> it. 
>  
That what was expected has been authenticated, experienced, realized and therefore our expectations as verbalized statements have been vindicated.
'Flexible' dining was "supposed" to be such a great improvement over 'contemporary'. There's a good amount of evidence above that it is not and I believe them, having experienced first-hand the contemporary version on #49.  Regarding "who pays for it" - yes I wonder too if revenue declines. Do you think there will be a measurable increase in passengers with flexible dining or less? The answer to that may shed some light if the appropriate data is delivered over the next several months. I mean primarily long-distance travellers sleeping car passengers not short-hoppers. 

Is it possible that some of the recent sales are meant to skew some of the data? Passenger counts alone may not tell the whole story, it could be reduced passenger revenue. Enough material has been written for me to very skeptical of Amtrak's accounting. Their unwillingness to change their accounting greatly increases suspicion.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 10/10/19 17:51 by PRSL-recall.



Date: 10/10/19 15:18
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: bluesboyst

And we can all thank the clown from Florida... Mr.  Mica... May he follow in the footsteps of EHH....

This is from his Wikidpedia page..  Notice  "client of Mica's Daughter"    Gotta love these idiots. TransportationMica supports Amtrak privatization.[15] In 2009, he earmarked $13 million for the Central Florida Commuter Rail, which was supported by a client of Mica's daughter.[b][[/b]16]Mica has been opposed to the federal government contributing any additional funds towards repairing the Washington DC Metrorail system.[17]



Date: 10/10/19 15:53
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: ccn511

Thank you ATSF3751. Spot on commentary. 



Date: 10/10/19 16:17
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: joemvcnj

ATSF3751 Wrote:

>  I guess the fans want their nostalgic dining car
> experience, even if someone else has to pay for
> it. 

And they still are paying for because they are saving next to nothing by getting rid of it.
Yes, $2 million on a billion dollar budget is nothing and you won't see it in you paycheck or as paydown to the national debt. 
 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/10/19 16:20 by joemvcnj.



Date: 10/10/19 16:50
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: raytc1944

The President's golf trips have cost us loyal taxpayers upwards of two million dollars to put things into perspective.



Date: 10/10/19 22:03
Re: Business Insider: Amtrak's New Dining, Reviewed by a Millenni
Author: jp1822

Flyer92122 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It’s the total picture that needs to be looked
> at. The 2-3 million total saved  (lastest number
> Amtrak pulled from thin air)  with flexible
> dining will probably result in a 10 percent drop
> in sleeper passengers costing the company more in
> the long run. Numbers won’t change for at least
> 18 months when repeat customers stop traveling.
> Expect Anderson to tout great 6 and 12 month
> numbers but they won’t last.

Valid point and concerns. There inevitable will be people that will say "never again" (likely due to price and value received or perceived). Glad this is not being rolled out to the Western Long Distance trains - yet! Is all this worth just a $2M savings? That's the part that I find difficult. The Viewliner II Diners were to have efficiency and the luxury of a better setup and kitchen than its 1950s counterpart. I actually find that people value and want good "food experiences" - even in travel. This will likely be the tipping scale - as always. Unbundle or bundle in meals with sleeper service - perhaps that should have been tested more than what it was tried at with the Silver Star. I still think that change was dictated by not only a Heritage Diner shortage but also the "market" onboard during meal time hours. 



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