Posts Tagged ‘Amtak food and beverage service’

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.

Lake Shore Ltd. Losing Wine & Cheese Reception

February 8, 2014
Aside from wine and cheese. the reception aboard the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago included grapes and crackers. Shown is the offering on a June 2012 trip. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Aside from wine and cheese. the welcome aboard reception in the dining car of the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago included grapes and crackers. Shown is the offering on a June 2012 trip. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

With a 9:30 p.m. departure from Chicago, the Lake Shore Limited doesn’t offer dinner in the diner.  However, for the past few years, first-class passengers were invited to a wine and cheese reception in the dining car.

But that perk will end on March 31. Trains magazine reported on Friday that Amtrak’s long-distance train directors decided in late January to scrap a number of first-class and dining car amenities in a cost-cutting move.

Among the cutbacks are the elimination of cranberry juice in sleeping cars, flowers and vases on dining car tables and newspapers in sleeping cars. Amtrak will no longer offer wine and cheese tasting aboard the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight and is dropping other services offered to passengers aboard the Coast Starlight and the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The latest cuts are nothing news. At various times, Amtrak has added or dropped first class amenities in order to increase premium ticket revenue by providing a better product or in response to congressional pressure. In response to the most recent incident of the latter, Amtrak president Joe Boardman has promised to eliminate food losses in five years.
Trains reported that Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that the decision to cut amenities came from the route directors, not a corporate directive from Washington.

Magliari acknowledge, though that Amtrak “has made promises to stakeholders that we would continue to reduce costs.
“The route directors felt these changes would have a minimal impact on passenger revenue while reducing some confusion in passengers’ expectations between riding the Coast Starlight or Empire Builder and other long-distance service. Like a hotel, we would still provide travel kits to passengers that need them.”
Magliari said there are no plans to cease operating the Coast Starlight’s aging Pacific Parlour Cars.

The wine and cheese reception aboard the Lake Shore Limited diner as the train sat in Chicago Union Station had primarily benefited passengers in the New York-bound sleepers.

Passengers in the Boston section sleeper were not invited to go to the dining car for the reception. Instead, the car attendant brought the wine and cheese to the rooms of the passengers.

The New York sleepers are typically situated at the rear of the train next to the dining car. But the Boston sleeper was situated at the front of the train, right behind the locomotives and a baggage car.

Amtrak Eyes Ending Food & Beverage Losses

October 7, 2013

Amtrak contends that it has a plan to end financial losses on food and beverage service within the next five years, most of which it says are racked up by long-distance trains.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, Amtrak’s projected losses on food and beverage in the current fiscal year – which ended on Oct. 1 – is $74 million, a 30 percent decrease from the $105 million it lost in FY 2006. Amtrak Inspector General Ted Alves has noted that Amtrak has reduced its food and beverage service losses “over the last several years” by improving management controls.

Amtrak President Joe Boardman echoed that sentiment in a statement released on Friday. “We have made steady and consistent progress, but it is time we commit ourselves to end food and beverage losses once and for all. Our plan will expand initiatives that have worked, add new elements and evolve as updated information and opportunities lead us to better solutions.”

Boardman attributed 99 percent of Amtrak’s food and beverage losses to dining car operations on long-distance trains. Cafe car service, he said, breaks even or covers its costs.

The locus of Amtrak’s plan is a new management structure that will consolidate operations and accountability for food and beverage into a single department.

Amtrak will establish a long-distance services general manager. Route directors will be responsible for profits and losses of specific trains, and will identify opportunities to cut costs and operate more efficiently.

Other steps that Amtrak expects to take include tying dining car staffing to demand, establishing metrics to assess service attendants’ onboard sales performance, taking steps to reduce spoilage, more closely tracking onboard stocking, regularly changing menus, and exploring new price and revenue management options.

One step Amtrak began taking last week involved testing touch-screen tablets in the dining cars of the New York-Miami Silver Meteor. Dining car servers will take passenger orders and print receipts with the tablets.

Next year, Amtrak will implement an electronic point of sale system nationwide that is currently used on Acela Express and California trains

This point of sale system is expected to make checkout and receipt printing in café and lounge cars faster, thus allowing onboard employees to spend more time on sales and customer service. It also is expected to provide real-time inventory status and more flexibility to introduce targeted pricing and discounts, including value and combo meals.

Also in 2014, Amtrak plans to test “cashless” food and beverage sales on certain routes in an effort to reduce transaction times, and cut accounting expenses and the risk of fraud or abuse.

Amtrak said other industries that have pursued similar initiatives have seen increased sales and that the model has been embraced by airline travelers. “I am confidant Amtrak will succeed in this effort just as we have in other areas and across a wide range of financial and operating performance metrics,” Boardman said.

Amtrak believes that eliminating food and beverage would cost it ridership and ticket revenue. Boardman said such losses might increase Amtrak’s need for federal financial support.

A study issued more than a year ago suggested implementing cashless transactions in the dining cars of the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited, which stops in Cleveland.