It’s the Dining Car, Stupid!

OK, so in order to show Congress how hard they’re trying to save money, Amtrak has taken the dining cars off the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited. Now, instead of hot meals served in the traditional dining car setting, sleeping car passengers are being provided with cold boxed meals served in their accommodations.

 The Amtrak brain trust refers to this new service as “contemporary dining”. Personally, I resent that. It’s nothing but a transparent attempt to make us feel better about continuing to pay top dollar for our overnight train travel experience, but getting less.
The Amtrak decision makers don’t understand that you can’t have ”the dining car experience” while eating a Cobb Salad sitting by yourself in a roomette. It’s having a glass of wine with your dinner, enjoying a decently prepared meal when you want to eat, not at 5:30 because that the most convenient time for the dining car crew. It can be done! In fact, it has been done!
Believe it or not, some twenty years ago, the management team responsible for the Sunset Limited, decided to try a different approach in an effort to solve the problem of food service losing money. Instead of cutting costs, they decided to pay for additional crew by increasing revenue and to do that by attracting more people to the dining car and getting them to spend more money while there. Think dining car open and serving 24 hours a day! Think Bloody Mary before breakfast. Think strolling into the diner at 10 p.m. for a late dessert and a nightcap.
(There’s an article about this in the current issue of Railway Age but, for reasons beyond my understanding, Word Press won’t let me provide the link.)
I can tell you this: If there should ever be a dining car operating in that manner on just one long-distance route, that would immediately become the one train I would recommend.