Amtrak is eliminating full-service dining on long-distance routes

Sep 23, 2019

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The great American railroad system is America’s backbone — the spinal structure that stitched together the great divide between East and West. But an era of train travel may be coming to an end: According to the Washington Post, Amtrak is ending its dining car kitchen service on long distance routes this fall, beginning with one-night routes east of the Mississippi River.

Beginning on Oct. 1, the following routes will eliminate kitchen service:

  • Cardinal (New York City to Chicago)
  • City of New Orleans (Chicago to New Orleans)
  • Crescent (New York to New Orleans)
  • Silver Meteor (New York City to Miami)

The Silver Star, another route linking New York and Miami, will lose its dining car kitchen in 2020. The service already exists on the Capitol Limited (Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh/Cleveland/Chicago) and Lake Shore Limited (New York to Boston/Albany/Chicago) routes.

Related: The best credit cards for train travel

The dedicated dining car will still exist on long-haul routes, but made-to-order meals will give way to prepackaged foods, designed to offer more flexibility in terms of serving time and allowing Amtrak to eliminate the added costs of onboard cooking equipment and staff.

This means goodbye to eggs over easy, crab cakes, cooked-to-order steak and the perennial customer favorite, the Railroad French toast, as well as farewell to the need to schedule meal reservations in advance. Instead, customers will choose from prepared meal options such as red wine-braised beef, Creole shrimp and chicken fettuccine.

Pastries and coffee to go will be available as part of a continental breakfast buffet in the morning.

A 1950's-era retro chrome dining car from a past era
A 1950’s-era retro chrome dining car from a past era. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Premium riders booked in bedrooms and roomettes will have the option of having their meals delivered directly to their berths or venturing out to the dining car as usual — a modified version, that is, which will retain the booths of the past but will no longer be decked out in white linen service.

As with many changes sweeping the travel industry, Millennials — and the reach of their wallets — are at the root of Amtrak’s decision to offer more flexibility with the dining experience. The American railroad institution wishes to woo the demographic that favors private jet suites, micro-hotel lofts and Seamless delivery over the shared hotel accommodations and communal dining cars of yore.

“Some people really like [the dining car] and view it as sort of a nostalgic train experience,” Peter Wilander, who oversees Amtrak’s customer experience, told the Washington Post. “Some people, especially our new millennial customers, don’t like it so much. They want more privacy, they don’t want to feel uncomfortable sitting next to people they don’t know.”

“It is part of an evolution,” Wilander said. “The concept is to provide service the way our customers want, rather than have everybody conform to one service delivery.” Estimates suggest that eliminating made-to-order service and implementing prepackaged meal service will save Amtrak around $2 million per year on average.

Related: The ultimate guide to Amtrak Guest Rewards

The dining change is part of a larger brand overhaul Amtrak has been implementing for its long-distance train routes, which includes updates to both the hard product (interiors) and soft product (service and experience). The decision to eliminate full service meals was formalized after the train company introduced precooked meals on the Crescent train line. Feedback from that trial showed Amtrak that passengers weren’t enthused about boxed food, which is why the new dining cars will offer up to five hot meal options instead of boxed meals. Eventually, travelers will even be able to preselect their meals online before the trip.

Even with all these concessions, Amtrak faithfuls aren’t giving up their dining service without a fight, citing deeply nostalgic attachment to the classy dining car experience as part of the “amazing American tradition.” As of the time of this publication, more than 3,100 people have signed a petition requesting that Amtrak keep dining car service on all long distance trains.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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