Let’s Improve On-Board Dining.

Once again, VIA Rail’s Canadian has proven itself worthy of the title of Best Long Distance Train in North America. And, yes, the stainless steel equipment is nice and beautifully maintained, but to my mind, that rating is based almost entirely on the food service passengers receive over the four days this great train is en route between Toronto and Vancouver. It’s also because of the manner in which the food is presented.

At any rate, my recent experience on VIA’s Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver has prompted a couple of suggestions for the  Amtrak executives responsible for the food service offered to passengers on long-distance trains operating in the Western U.S.

1. A few of the menu choices should vary each day.

Take it from someone who is about to undertake a rail journey involving eight nights on an Amtrak long-distance train over a total of 16 days: If you face the very same few menu options every one of those lunches and especially dinners, you’ll risk life and limb for something different and it might not even matter how well the dishes are prepared. 

Of course I understand that it’s not cost effective to have each chef deciding the entire menu for his or her dining car. But at least allow them a little flexibility. They are, after all, professional chefs!  

By all means have a pasta dish on the menu, but let each chef decide on the sauce. Maybe it’s marinara on the Lake Shore Limited and al Fredo on the Zephyr.  Came on now, how hard would that be . . . really!

2. The presentation is serious business.

 Personally, I’d like to see little more professionalism in how the food is actually brought to the table and presented to the guests. 

Was General George Washington fond of this dish? Is this the way it  would have been served to his dinner guests at Mount Vernon?

Then—doggone it!—can’t we do better than, “OK, who had the steak rare with mashed?”

I know this is easier said than done, but the people who ran the long-distance trains back in the Golden Age knew that they had to compete for passenger business and they knew that the competition was won or lost in the dining car.

That isn’t changed! The only difference now is the competition is not taking Amtrak.