WASHINGTON — Characterizing the change as an “evolution,” Amtrak says sleeping car passengers will have new meal options on the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited and Chicago-Washington, D. C., Capitol Limited starting this week.
On June 1, 2018, Amtrak reduced dining car staffs on those trains from a chef and waiters serving cooked food to everyone on board, to a single lead service attendant dispensing boxed cold meals to sleeper passengers only. Touted at the time as reducing annual operating expenses by more than $3 million, the move was labeled “contemporary dining” by Amtrak. Subsequent customer reaction resulted in a hot, beef short rib entree being added later in the summer.
Now, although coach passengers still are only allowed to purchase food from the cafe car that operates in the Boston section (no snack or beverage service is available between New York and Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y), a “Deluxe Continental Breakfast” is being offered to sleeping car passengers that includes hot oatmeal and breakfast sandwich options, as well as cold hard boiled eggs, cereal, fresh fruit, yogurt, and muffins.
The trains also feature a choice of hot entrees at lunch or dinner. “Beef Provencal” has replaced the short rib. Or, sleeping car customers can choose “Chicken Penne Alfredo” or an “Asian Noodle Bowl” as well as a chilled antipasto plate. No additional kitchen preparation equipment was required in the diners.
Also noteworthy: business class patrons riding the Lake Shore’s Boston section now are entitled to a complimentary alcoholic beverage (beer, wine or mixed drink) and unlimited soft drinks that sleeping car passengers get, but they have to buy food in the cafe just like coach passengers and aren’t allowed into the “sleeper-lounge” where complementary sleeping car meals are served.
On board passenger interviews last year revealed that there was a lot of packaging waste and unwanted food not eaten, especially at breakfast. Instead of being presented altogether in a balsa wood box, some Deluxe Continental Breakfast offerings will be displayed on two tables and others items stocked behind a counter manned by the car’s lead service attendant.
“There will be carryout trays and plates for customers to place their items on/in…and customers will be able to select as many items as they like,” according to an internal memo obtained by Trains. Passengers can choose to take the breakfasts back to their room or eat at another table in the car, “but customers should still bus and clean the tables they have used,” the memo says.
All meals can also be ordered from the sleeping car attendant, who can bring them to the passengers roomette or bedroom. This has always been possible on trains with full dining cars.
“We continuously improve and enhance our offerings,” Amtrak Vice President of Product Development and Customer Experience Peter Wilander says in the statement announcing the new menus. “Our customers say they want high-quality food with good variety — and we are listening.”