Try Giving ‘Em MORE, Not Less.
Ask someone who has just made their first long-distance train ride what they liked most about the experience. Then find a veteran rail traveler, someone who’s made a dozen overnight journeys on passenger trains here in the U.S. and in Canada. Ask them the same question: What do you enjoy most about your long-distance train rides?
I’ll wager that at least 80-percent of those people will tell you the same thing: What they liked best about their overnight train rides was meeting and getting to know other passengers over meals in the dining car.
Of course the experience wasn’t the same a half-century ago. In those halcyon days, there was white linen on tables that were set with real silverware and handsome china and glassware with the railroad’s logo tastefully appearing on each piece. The food was high-end restaurant quality prepared pretty much from scratch in the dining car’s full kitchen.
The Great Northern railroad claimed that the rainbow trout offered on their menu had been caught in a Rocky Mountain stream that same afternoon and handed up to the Empire Builder’s chef while the train was stopped at Glacier Park.
The railroads found that offering high quality food and good service in their dining cars generated more ridership.
Added to that was the unique experience of being seated with strangers for meals. At first, rookie travelers may have found “community dining” a bit awkward, but almost always that concern evaporated within minutes and conversation flowed easily. It’s the same today in Amtrak dining cars.
So here’s my question: If it’s the dining car experience that passengers enjoy most and talk about later with their friends and families, shouldn’t Amtrak be looking for ways to enhance that experience? Instead, on at least two long-distance trains, Amtrak has decided to deliver meals to each passenger’s roomette in a cardboard box.
Amtrak calls it “contemporary dining”. I call it counter-productive marketing.