The future of Amtrak food

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Monday, November 05, 2018

I’ve been telling everyone who would listen that boxed dinners and breakfasts on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited are way stations on the road to the solution to Amtrak’s food and beverage problem. The problem is that Amtrak has been losing $90 million a year on F&B—all on its long-distance trains—and is under Congressional order to cease these losses by the end of 2020.

It’s clear to me what the future does not hold: Meals cooked in the diner’s kitchen and served at your seat by unionized Amtrak staff working with food loaded at Amtrak’s six major commissaries. That’s the late Nineteenth Century model and the source of the problem—high staffing levels on and off the trains, high labor costs and wasted food.

So for a look at the future, go here and click on the item labeled "Managed Onboard Food and Beverage Services."

What you’re looking at is on the Business Opportunities page of Amtrak.com. A Request for Information, or RFI, is a first step toward awarding a contract, and can be followed by a RFP, or request for proposals, or bids. I read this only one way: that Amtrak is prepared to contract out its on-board food service, or at least part of it. And the part that needs contracting out (because it is the problem) involves the long-distance trains.

This can be either good or bad. Bad if you define the eating experience solely on the century-old dining-car model. Not so bad if you consider the alternative, that is, boxed meals. And maybe good, if it ends up with edible, precooked meals served at your table by a single attendant, in the European railway fashion.

I can live with that. What do you think?—Fred W. Frailey

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