F&B Working Group Sets the Table for Better Amtrak Service
May 12, 2023
By Madison Ned Butler / Communications Manager
As many of you know, I have spent the past few years fighting to improve onboard service for Amtrak. Since day one of “Flexible Dining” replacing real meal service, Association supporters have written to me asking for an amenity that isn’t contained in black plastic bowls, and it has been my pleasure to champion a better solution. The opportunity to advocate for real improvement presented itself as Jim Mathews and I began drafting language for the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act. We were able to effectively secure Sec. 22208:
Passenger Experience Enhancement: Eliminates requirement that food and beverage services on trains may only be provided if their revenues break even during a fiscal year. This section also directs Amtrak to establish a working group—including nonprofit organizations representing Amtrak passengers—to develop recommendations to improve Amtrak’s onboard food and beverage services.
Thus, the Food and Beverage Working Group came into existence. Over the last year, I have worked with a team of 15 members spanning from Cafe Car Attendants and onboard chefs to international transit experts and Amtrak management as well as state partners to effectively analyze the state of Onboard Service. We have collaborated in research, case studies, surveying, and channeling public response to create over 30 recommendations to improve all Amtrak service models across the United States. Now that the report is filed, Amtrak has 180 days to respond. The hope is that by exemplifying how other passenger rail providers have improved their service, we can get Amtrak into a position where they are truly prepared for the coming rail renaissance and FRA backed corridor expansions over the next five years.
During our sessions, we made a big step forward before the report was even drafted – Amtrak relaunched coach passenger dining along major western routes and the Silver Star. By continuing this progress, getting more chefs trained and in the field, Amtrak has the potential to execute a much more robust level of service before this year ends. But the report isn’t about bringing back linens and dining trends from the 1900s. It’s a map for how to move forward, it’s a guidebook for changing the culture and creating sustainable buildable practices that reflect the desires of passengers of all ages.
So how do we assure Amtrak takes the advice of experts and provides the level of service their passengers deserve? This is where our council, members, and supporters come in. We talk about it, we champion these recommendations. At the bottom of this blog is a one-pager highlighting the key enhancements included in the full report. As we await Amtrak response, now is the opportunity to get online, go to local affiliate meetings, and drum up loud public support for a better passenger experience. The more our officials know Amtrak has the tools and the playbook to create a future for Food and Beverage, the more likely it is that these recommendations become real policy at Amtrak HQ.
So many of you have been to my workshops, participated in surveys, and attended my webinars. Without your support, this work could not be done. I want to thank everyone that has donated, shared our news, and voiced their solidarity. It is truly remarkable to see what we have accomplished, and I look forward to seeing you all in the Dining Car, regardless of ticket class, once again!
See One-Pager Here for Report Highlights
"The National Association of Railroad Passengers has done yeoman work over the years and in fact if it weren’t for NARP, I'd be surprised if Amtrak were still in possession of as a large a network as they have. So they've done good work, they're very good on the factual case."
Robert Gallamore, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University and former Federal Railroad Administration official, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University
November 17, 2005, on The Leonard Lopate Show (with guest host Chris Bannon), WNYC New York.