Analysis: Amtrak trends continue in exploration of outside food service providers

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The lone breakfast offering on the Lake Shore Limited on Sept. 13, 2018. Amtrak is seeking information for possible outsourcing of its food service.

WASHINGTON — Claiming to look for “transformational service models and industry best practices for Managed Food and Beverage Service,” Amtrak issued a request for information on Aug. 31 that could lead to outside providers of onboard food.

The request is for information the company may utilize “to develop a request for proposal to solicit new model(s) .. .to create an environment to improve Amtrak’s financial outcome with [sic] providing services and enhancements to the passenger experience.”

Deadline for written question submissions is Sept. 14, and all responses are due by Oct. 16.

The request continues current management’s intent to replace the food preparation and presentation practices Amtrak has refined over its 47-year history in favor of attempts to import ideas from other transportation modes. Stressing the “transformational” aspect reinforces what management did to service offerings on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited. Beginning June 1, those trains replaced dining car staffs and freshly-prepared full meals — included in sleeping-car fares but also available for purchase by coach passengers — with a single attendant and limited, mostly cold, pre-packaged selections available only to travelers riding in sleeping cars.

Management seems intent on continuing — or even exacerbating — the sequestered class trend by noting that the models “should offer different levels to include luxury service options that are similar to the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada and VIA Rail’s Canadian.” The fact that the information request also mentions stratospherically-priced European tourist trains like the Royal Scotsman and Venice Simplon Orient Express reflects President and CEO Richard Anderson remarks during the past year to the effect that Amtrak’s current onboard service doesn’t do a good job of creating an “experiential” environment.

“Amtrak is reviewing its current service model … to increase revenue and control costs,” the request explains, and “is interested in learning how respondents might address food and beverage service onboard all trains through examples of similar services offered elsewhere or new and innovative approaches that might fit Amtrak’s environment.”

The intent “to transform and reshape all services on Amtrak trains,” and include proposals for “staffing café/lounge cars, dining cars, and Acela First Class for all departures (with and without Amtrak employees performing the work)” also sends a clear message to current employees that their efforts, diligence, and future loyalty to the company are not respected or appreciated.

Judging from passengers Trains interviewed on a Lake Shore Limited trip this week and two previous samplings of cold meal service this summer, customers connecting from trains with traditional dining car service have generally not embraced Amtrak management’s decision to introduce “contemporary and fresh dining choices.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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