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Passenger Trains > Amtrak meal prices

Date: 02/18/02 19:28
Amtrak meal prices
Author: jay

Friend called from #5 enroute Omaha this evening, and he mentioned that the meal prices in the diner had gone WAY up since his last ride. He characterized it as Denny's food at hotel prices. Okay but not great lamb chops were about $21, plus $3-plus for a piece of pie. Not to mention extra for any beverage. Steak was about the same price, other entres were around $15. Now clearly there is an argument that we're lucky to be able to eat in a diner at any price, and Amtrak clearly needs the money, but that won't sell with the non-railfan crowd. Any comments pro or con?

Date: 02/18/02 19:49
RE: Amtrak meal prices
Author: MattMelzer

If I were you, I'd ask your friend some questions:

1) When was the last time you rode the train? Nothing may have changed in recent history, and any quality or price fluctuations may have occured quite awhile ago.

2) How good was the chef? Okay, you can't realistically ask him that one, but food quality can GREATLY vary depending on the skill, deftness, experience, and creativity of the chef. All chefs may be supplied the same ingredients, but only some really know how to make lemonade out of lemons.

3) Was the lamb chops a special item? I don't recall seeing lamb on any permanent Amtrak menu, and it may have been that train's chef's special. The specials tend to cost considerably more than the other dining car items.

I just hope that the above factors played into the equation, and that the case isn't just that quality has dropped but prices have risen. For now, at least, food quality remains high on the Coast Starlight, and the prices have not risen. I hope the same is true on other routes.

Date: 02/18/02 19:55
RE: Amtrak meal prices
Author: alanvan505

Last summer I made a quick trip from Salem to Kfalls and back just for the scenery and experience. Of course I had eat in the dining car at least once, so I had an early dinner north of Eugene. Yes, it was more expensive than my usual eating establishments with the menu on the wall, but I wanted the experience. I went with the chicken entre; chicken is usually safe. One of the family members who shared my table had a more costly beef cut which usually has a small bone in the center (with that description you know I don't get out much). After sending two plates back the third one finally had more meat than bone. I'll order chicken again on my next trip, thank you.

Date: 02/18/02 20:13
RE: Amtrak meal prices
Author: lowwater

Here are the California Zephyr dinner prices as of mid-November (I'll omit the cute names, like "Reno" pasta). My wife took the trip, I didn't...:-( Incidentally she said the service and food was "awesome" in both directions, and she's not that easily impressed. But then again she does like riding trains.

Chicken: $12.50
Seafood medley: $17.50
Porterhouse: $21.75
Pasta: $11.00
Chef's special (was lamb once): $16.50
"Young at Heart"(???): $6.75
Rock Cornish hen w/orange sauce: $14.00
Rocky Mtn trout: $13.50
Prime rib: $16.50
Lasagna: $11.00

All non-alcoholic beverages $1.50
Deserts $1.75 (vanilla ice cream) to $5.00 (pie ala' mode)

About middle-of-the-road prices these days, but I'd certainly expect to be satisfied quantity- and quality-wise.


Date: 02/18/02 21:24
RE: Amtrak meal prices
Author: TexasBill

Those Zephyr prices are about what I'd experienced on the Eagle, City, and Sunset I rode last September. Beef prices seem to vary according to size and cut. But the prices seemed a bit lower on the Sunsets I rode last June.

There is only great lamb and lousy lamb. Being the chef's special, it was probably great. I always opt for the chef's special -- whenever it's available, but it was never available on the trains I rode last September.

Bill in Texas

Date: 02/18/02 22:53
RE: Amtrak meal prices
Author: SantaFeCF7

I've rode the NB and SB Coast Starlights several times, and though there has been some variations on quality due to different chefs, I usually have the steak/prime rib on the train, and find it is usually better than ones I've had at Steakhouse-type restaurants. Most of my dining experiences on Amtrak have been very good. Chris

Date: 02/18/02 22:58
RE: Job security? Make work?
Author: stash

MattMelzer wrote:
> 2) How good was the chef? Okay, you can't realistically ask him
> that one, but food quality can GREATLY vary depending on the
> skill, deftness, experience, and creativity of the chef. All
> chefs may be supplied the same ingredients, but only some
> really know how to make lemonade out of lemons.

Stop making excuses.

Either a chef has the necessary skills to cook quality food that pleases the customers or that "chef" is quickly fired. I'd have to think that even Amtrak, screwed up as that company is, wouldn't hire a chef lacking expertise in the galley. But then, it's Amtrak.

The entire meal operation ought to be contracted to quality enterprises. Some of the cruise lines come to mind. They serve dazzling meals that are tasteful, too. They don't pay their help the big bucks that Amtrak doles out and yet those folks are eager to please the customer. Train meals could probably be served 'round the clock with the right management.

Date: 02/19/02 02:00
RE: Job security? Make work?
Author: dojo

Stash mentioned serving around the clock. Brings to memory the good old Erie. Their timetables specified when the diner would be open, and that is how it was. You could come into the diner at three in the afternoon for late lunch and be served with a smile. Or come in for dinner at nine. The Erie was a great way to go, and if you had some work to do, taking a roomette, getting a table set up, and eating when you wanted, made for a wonderful situation.

As mention was made of the Zephyr, I recall with a smirk what happened at Salt Lake City when, in days of yore, the Pioneer, the Desert Wind, and the Zephyr all arrived at once and were assembled into a single train eastbound. This happened early in the morning, and before the dining car was ready for the day's work. Daily a man would pull up to the train side with one of those trucks that serve food from the sides and back. He would set up, and the train crew would get off for breakfast. Note, friends, they preferred to pay up for the food than take the Amtrak food on the cheap. Realizing this, I made it a point to join the crew, and I found that the food from the truck was really fresh and rather good. Worth the cost. Amtrak seemed to have the wrong suppliers. Stop the train, roll up the trucks, and let the passengers have a meal break. Cumbres and Toltec got it right with their break for a meal. And, let the Starlight stop alongside a brook and serve fresh salmon. Fresh OJ for the silver fleet. Hey, fella, try the tree to the left.

Date: 02/19/02 02:21
RE: Amtrak meal prices
Author: dogsboss

I rode the Zephyr from EMY to CUS(?) in July '01, returning on the same train about one week later. As luck would have it, we got the same steward who had exellent headwaters although different, both ways. The prices quoted here seem only slightly higher than what I remember, but I was in a sleeper, so I was not overly aware of the prices. I had 'rack' of lamb at least 3 times and it was always very satisfying, the others with me said they enjoyed the meals very much also. The trip was actually from SF to Boston RT. The food on the Lake Shore Ltd was also good, the service just slightly below that on the Zephyr. That Zephyr dining car crew was gangbusters,I loved the whole experience.

Date: 02/19/02 06:31
RE: Amtrak meal prices
Author: TexasBill

Several years ago, Amtrak sent its chefs to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

I wonder how many of them have since quit?

Bill in Texas

Date: 02/19/02 07:08
Higher Cost helps with loss
Author: Chrisg

About a year ago Amtrak raised all the dining car prices to help cover the bottom lime. In my extensive travels I have seen the Steak at $ 18.95 out west to $ 15.98 in the east. Chef specials also vary from the high out west to a Chicken Fried Steak on the City of New Orleans for only $ 9.95 and it was as good as anything I had ever eaten on Amtrak.

Date: 02/19/02 07:14
RE: Amtrak meal prices
Author: PeterRobinson

On the Sunset Ltd last week Dinner entrees were $15 to $18; Desserts $1.50 to $4.50. The Price is on the high side, but running a dining car is unlike running a shore based eating house. Dining Car prices were far higher in England on the odd occasions there was actually a dining car as opposed to the usual buffet car in the formation. Other comments - I have never yet had a bad meal on Amtrak, and the service is usually very good. The only time the service in the Diner left something to be desired was on an inbound Starlight. Dinner was served early, and the crew wanted us out of that Diner ASAP so they could go home the minute we hit LAUPT. BTW, those were the days when the Coast usually ran on or near scheduled time. Also, I assume part of the plan was to make sure that no-one boarding at Santa Barbara could get dinner, so they could use the last three hours of run time to clean up.

Date: 02/19/02 07:24
I forgot to say that...
Author: PeterRobinson

Dining Cars are money pits. British Rail used to reckon that the Dining Cars on most Inter City trains cost twice as much to operate as the revenue they generated. Thus BR went all out to eliminate them except on a few "Pullman" trains. I cannot imagine that the situation on Amtrak's Diners is much different, though with more passengers using them, they must cover more of their costs than their UK counterparts. However in the USA you cannot avoid providing some sort of meals service on Inter City trains - the routes are far too long. In the late 60s SP tried to do it and the ICC informed them of the error of their ways.

Date: 02/19/02 07:48
Snack Bars & Galleys
Author: jachoochoo

Back in the 60's, the PRR dropped virtually all diners on Corridor trains, and cut back where possible on long-distance trains. Why? Well the food servce cost $2 for every $1 in revenue; and there was no way to raise prices high enough to cover.
Thanks to the microwave oven, the solution was Snack Bar Coaches and Microwave Galleys on Parlor cars. THe Snack Bars quickly spread to secondary long-distance trains on many roads.

Date: 02/19/02 08:50
Amtrak Diners Likely Below 50%
Author: reindeerflame

The meals in Amtrak's diners are a bargain considering what it costs to provide them. A $15 item likely costs at least $45 for Amtrak to provide it. But, on a LDT, diners are considered as essential as, say, wheels.

On Australian long hauls, diners survive, and probably also lose lots of money. But train attendants and conductors help out in the diner. The woman who took my sleeper ticket later was seen behind the cash register in the diner. Helps with productivity.

Date: 02/20/02 15:22
RE: Amtrak Diners Likely Below 50%
Author: rbx551985

I won't soon forget what an on-board service employee on a south-bound Silver Palm told me about Amtrak's food prices: with a shrug, he simply said, "The prices are what the public is willing to pay for it." He wasn't being mean, nor was he just giving a short answer to avoid further discussion. He was being honest.

I was on an overnight trip from Virginia to Florida, and had dinner in the diner. The food was, in fact, quite good, but hardly worth the nearly $20 it cost---at least in my opinion. It might also have been that $20 was all I had with me for food on the trip. I really had no idea food cost that much these days on trains. No clue. And that was what shocked me more than anything else; food prices weren't mentioned at all before the trip.

Perhaps if the general cost of a full dinner had been mentioned at the time of the ticket purchase, I'd have been less shocked when I got there. But yes, I ate it and paid for it. Would I do it again? Probably, but this time I'd be under no illusion at the price of dining car meals. They're up there, and if one isn't prepared, one meal might be all they can afford---not good on longer trips than the ride I went on.

I was a bit put off by the employee's statement, mentioned above, considering instead that people pay these prices because if they didn't, they'd starve on the longer distance trains. I guess we could bring our own food, but that might get old pretty quick! And if that is the only criteria Amtrak's food service were judged by, then maybe their food is overpriced. However, that may not be the case at all. Other threads above have pointed out that food service Amtrak provides costs them more than is made for providing the service. That might be one more concern in any re-structured passenger rail America sees in the future. How do the airlines afford their meals? (Can one really compare the two, thought?) And what about those amazing feasts cruise ships provide? Yeah, they're all included in the multi-thousand dollar price, but is that kind of food service realistic or feasible for a national passenger rail system by any stretch of the imagination?

What to do about it? It gets complicated, since it involves politics (Congress and ARC), as well as various states and localities, food supply businesses, and so on. I don't know, but if the price of that meal on the Silver Palm had been about $5 or so less than I paid, I probably would have had no complaints regarding the cost whatsoever. It really was quite good.

I gave my compliments to the Palm's dining car staff (excellent attitudes, all, and that removed much of the apprehension I felt concerning the price). Recommended on the Silver Palm: coffee and key lime pie at 79 miles per hour, while all traces of the sun disappear outside your window in North Carolina on CSX's "A" Line. And after a good meal.

I suppose he was right after all; I chose to pay the cost as advertized. Hmmm... I suppose there's something to be said for what we put up with (higher costs) for better service these days.

Date: 02/21/02 21:14
RE: Amtrak Diners Likely Below 50%
Author: TexasBill

Good commentary, RBX, regarding onboard food. When I ride coach, I budget, plus tips, $20 for dinner and $10 each for breakfast and lunch.

<< And what about those amazing feasts cruise ships provide? >>

Well, their labor costs are third worldly. Ditto that of many decent restaurants in the U.S. Good restaurants charge Amtrak prices (and much higher) because the desired labor is costly.

In the old days, many railroads charged off overcosts of dining car operations to passenger advertising. If GW knew railroads, he'd know that the biggest complaint, one that will surely drive the customer away, is lousy food in the food service car. When it's found as you found it on the Palm and I do on many southern route trains, we ride again no matter what else goes wrong.

Bill in Texas

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