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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / ‘Lake Shore’, ‘Capitol’ get hot entrees; coach passengers left in the cold

‘Lake Shore’, ‘Capitol’ get hot entrees; coach passengers left in the cold

By Bob Johnston | January 17, 2019

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BeefShortRib
BeefShortRib
Amtrak’s “Beef short rib” meal
Bob Johnston

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.”

21 thoughts on “‘Lake Shore’, ‘Capitol’ get hot entrees; coach passengers left in the cold

  1. In my humble opinion anything short of traditional railroad dining car service is unacceptable. Especially with 25 new diners. Anderson and Gardiner get a no confidence vote from me. Time for them to be dealt out of the game.
    Mike Lustig

  2. Still missing from the menu are the fabled light and fluffy pancakes served with butter and hot pure maple syrup in dining cars.

  3. “Our customers say they want high-quality food with good variety — and we are listening.” Seriously? Who do these clowns think they’re fooling?!

  4. It seems like the front office wants to do away with all food service. This will only drive passengers away and the final result will be the end of Amtrak and passenger rail service.

  5. If the “Beef Provencal” is the same thing that replaced the hanger steak on Auto Train 3 years ago, forget it, It looks like, and has all the appeal of, a horse turd.

  6. My comment still obtains. The best way to kill a service is to make it inconvenient or objectionable to use. Since coach passengers cannot buy food, the next thing they should do is to forbid you to bring on your own…I’m sure they can come up with some sort of excuse.

    Drive all the passengers away, and then they can point to it and say “SEE? NOBODY WANTS PASSENGER RAIL.”.

    Hot flash to Gardiner and Anderson: We DO want passenger rail. We just don’t want you trying to run it.

    The above remarks are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn lawyer.

  7. As many others have said, if their objective is to drive away passengers, this will help do it. They seem not to understand that if the total riding experience is unsatisfactory, people won’t use the trains. For travel of any distance, a decent meal is part of a good riding experience. I, personally, have the choice of a Regional or the Crescent for my travels from or to Lynchburg. I have, a couple of times, deliberately chosen the Crescent for my return because it leaves DC headed south right at dinner time – even though it would put me home an hour later. It’s the “dinner in the diner” experience, and it’s worth it.

  8. Make Amtrak management take the train for all company travel except dire, distant emergencies, and watch the food service improve.

  9. ARTHUR – Make Amtrak management take the train, they’d see how bad the trains are and discontinue the trains.

  10. Remember that Anderson is an airline guy. Amtrak wants to know how many people they need to feed in first class. Period. Based on that number they plan the number of meals accordingly. If you try to figure the number of coach passengers who might want a pre-packaged first class meal…good luck. Coach passengers have the cafe car. Sure, Amtrak could try to figure the number of first class meals that coach passengers would want but you are running into overage or shortage issues under that scenario.

    It is not fair to coach passengers, but that is the way it is. I would love to go back to traditional dining on these trains, but I just don’t see that happening. I will continue to ride when I can.

  11. Re: SP automat cars. Read Fred Frailey’s book. The anti-passenger carriers from the 1960’s, Southern Pacific (with its automat cars) and Southern, were better than today’s Amtrak.

  12. Willaim , one option would br to have coach customers order meals at the time of ticket purchase.
    Another would be to find a way of allowing unused meals to be re loaded onto the next train. I understand the current practice is to destock the entire train inventory at the end of each trip.

  13. Of course this is better than no hot food. But on both trains the diner is absurdly understaffed with only one employee, there is no diner access for coach riders and the presentation remains horrible, with food sealed in plastic wrappers, served on naked tables, or worse taken to the micro tables in the sleepers.

    Three decent hot choices for dinner, but only oatmeal or a hot egg sandwich (ugh!) for breakfast.

    This remains very much a work in progress!

    On the Lakeshore coach riders have no food or beverage service at all from New York to Albany and then face a long walk to the Boston lounge car, which has only 5 1/2 tables—but wait the crew takes 2 of those. This tiny lounge is the only food for six coaches, over 300 riders.

    This remains a very bad service which the RPA needs to continue to insist requires still deeper redesign.

    For reference the RPA blog post is at https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/new-dining-options-are-here/

    While I do not agree with the overall positive tone there-in I do applaud RPA President Jim Mathews for months of hard work to get at least 3 hot dinner choices, but much more must be done. Amtrak must put a second staffer into the diner on both the LSL and the CL, offer food/drink to coach riders in a thru NYP-CHI full lounge car, if not even better, in the little used diner and provide at least one proper eggs/sausage or bacon non-sandwich breakfast. Even then this will remain a poor service, but a bandage on a pig does not disguise the existence of a swine!

    Carl Fowler
    RPA Vice Chair (These opinions are my own)

  14. How about we make the Amtrak Brass eat nothing but their dining car fare for a week. I’d bet we would see positive changes after that.

  15. It appears that Amtrak has settled on meals that are no better–or worse, for that matter–than the frozen dinners you can buy at the supermarket or price club for an average of $2 to $3 a shot. Nice way to serve the customer. Since most of those frozen things contain preservatives or cheap oils to which I am allergic, much as I love trains, I’ll be driving on my travels from now on. Perhaps if we all speak with our wallets, Amtrak will fold and/or change to something better.

  16. My cats and dog eat more appetizing fare . I feel disinclined to even consider Amtrak for any long distance travel .A captive audience deserves better treatment . The decision makers would never tolerate such conditions .

  17. It seems that ” Air” Anderson is going to lose two passengers. Myself and my wife! The idea of turning airline food into train food is a great mistake! Unless, the food and service goes back to the good old days, we can’t go to Chicago. If the Lake Shore and Capitol continue these meals and The Cardinal takes forever and a day, then good bye big Chi. We will continue to take other trains as long we can get real food.

  18. This very well done blog is profusely illustrated with how Via presents catered food on the Ocean between Montreal and Halifax.

    All entrees are heated in a bank of ovens—ala the new Amtrak plan. But the presentation evokes proper restaurant service. The diner typically has 2-4 servers, but the same staff out of meal hours actually double as sleeping car attendants and coach porters. Even Amtrak now asks the sleeper attendants to help carry out food or the LSL, Cap and Silver Star, but why not in the diner itself?

    Of course this is also very much like what Amtrak itself does in Acela First and to a lesser level of presentation on the diner-lite cars on the Cardinal and the City of Nee Orleans.

    I’ve experienced the Via product many times and can assure you that 90% of riders have no idea these weren’t fully cooked on-Board. Surely we can do better than even the infinitesimally improved offering now on the LSL and the Cap?

    Carl Fowler

    http://timstraintravels.blogspot.com/2019/01/christmas-2018-most-wonderful-time-of.html

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