Empire Builder Dinning

Old Aug 18, 09, 3:30 pm
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Empire Builder Dinning

I have read something about "enhanced" dinning on the Empire Builder. Can anyone tell exactly what the enhancement is?

Thanks!
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Old Aug 18, 09, 8:07 pm
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Actually if one wants to get technical, it's not so much more an enhancement as it is that service on this train was never downgraded like it was on most other Amtrak trains. When Congress ordered Amtrak to cut its food service losses about 4 year ago or so, Amtrak set out to accomplish that goal by reducing service and the number of employees on most of its trains. The Empire Builder managed to escape that fate.

So the "enhanced" service means that instead of having only 1 or 2 waiters like most other trains, you'll have 3. Instead of having only 1 cook, you'll have two. Instead of having paper table cloths, you'll have cloth table cloths. Instead of having plastic plates, glasses, and mugs, you'll have glass ones. Instead of having most of the food pre-cooked and reheated in a convection oven, about half of your menu will be cooked fresh on board.

Prior to that Congressional mandate, all Amtrak trains were basically like the Empire Builder is now. So food service on the Empire Builder is an enhancement compared to other trains, but it's really just the same service that has existed for the last ten years or so on the Builder.
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Old May 12, 13, 7:03 pm
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Does anyone know the current status of food service on the Empire Builder?

Maybe 5-6 years ago we did a trip Portland to somewhere down south of SF and the food was fantastic. Everything was cooked to order and excellent, especially the steak. A subsequent trip was awful. Plastic and the food near inedible.

I'm hoping the EB is more like our first trip but would rather not bother going Portland to Seattle then east just to find out its more like the latter.

Anyone know if those steaks are still real going east out of Seattle?

Last edited by sbedelman; May 12, 13 at 7:27 pm
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Old May 13, 13, 10:32 am
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I was on the EB from CHI to SEA in mid April. Food was great, steak cooked to order. I had no complaints about the food. I previously traveled on the California Zephyr and the food was the same (same menu, same dining car setup, same plastic dishware, etc).
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Old May 13, 13, 1:56 pm
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Originally Posted by sbedelman View Post
Does anyone know the current status of food service on the Empire Builder?

Maybe 5-6 years ago we did a trip Portland to somewhere down south of SF and the food was fantastic. Everything was cooked to order and excellent, especially the steak. A subsequent trip was awful. Plastic and the food near inedible.

I'm hoping the EB is more like our first trip but would rather not bother going Portland to Seattle then east just to find out its more like the latter.

Anyone know if those steaks are still real going east out of Seattle?
Yes, they are: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/20392493-post23.html (post #23)

Food in general was very good (early March): http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/20369248-post15.html (post #15)
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Old May 14, 13, 4:55 pm
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Originally Posted by sbedelman View Post
Does anyone know the current status of food service on the Empire Builder?

Maybe 5-6 years ago we did a trip Portland to somewhere down south of SF and the food was fantastic. Everything was cooked to order and excellent, especially the steak. A subsequent trip was awful. Plastic and the food near inedible.

I'm hoping the EB is more like our first trip but would rather not bother going Portland to Seattle then east just to find out its more like the latter.

Anyone know if those steaks are still real going east out of Seattle?
Were your plastic plates and inedible food on the Starlight or another route?

Amtrak experimented a few years ago with some dining car cutbacks on some routes. The Starlight (as one of Amtrak's flagship routes) wasn't touched, AFAIK, though, so if you had bad food there, it was hopefully just a fluke.

Note that if you are in sleeper class on the southern fork of the Builder (Portland to Spokane), you will receive a boxed lunch that is actually quite good. I can't recall the name of the restaurant that produces the boxed lunches, but they rank among some of the best food I've had on Amtrak.
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Old May 14, 13, 6:20 pm
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EB has a dining car from Seattle to Spokane, where it joins up with the Portland-Spokane section, which does not have a dining car. Sleeping car passengers receive a free limited-selection dinner in the superliner lounge car on the eastbound trip between Portland and Spokane, a free limited-selection breakfast on the westbound trip.
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Old May 14, 13, 6:56 pm
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
Amtrak experimented a few years ago with some dining car cutbacks on some routes. The Starlight (as one of Amtrak's flagship routes) wasn't touched, AFAIK, though, so if you had bad food there, it was hopefully just a fluke.
Noooooo.

When Simplified Dining Service (SDS) was implemented, the Coast Starlight was most certainly downgraded.

The only two trains spared from the SDS downgrade where the Empire Builder and the Auto Train.

The Coast Starlight however has since been upgraded from the lows of SDS to a higher level, although I don't believe that it is up the EB's level yet.
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Old May 21, 13, 10:46 am
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I'm confused...on my recent EB trip, I had more than one meal off plastic plates and I don't think there were any table linens. We did have real glassware. As far as real china, is that supposed to be for every meal or just for dinner? My diner car experience was good, don't get me wrong, and I don't have any basis for comparison as this was my first LD trip but I did come away thinking that after everything I had read, something was missing.
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Old May 23, 13, 9:25 pm
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
Were your plastic plates and inedible food on the Starlight or another route?

Amtrak experimented a few years ago with some dining car cutbacks on some routes. The Starlight (as one of Amtrak's flagship routes) wasn't touched, AFAIK, though, so if you had bad food there, it was hopefully just a fluke
I can't remember the route where the food was terrible. One of the long distance runs out of NY, maybe to New Orleans. We booked only to Virginia just to enjoy the dining car since the Starlight had been so great and rather than being cooked to order it was like airplane food, reheated and on plastic.

My memory was that the Starlight and all the long distance runs except the EB had been downgraded in this way. Since eating a real cooked to order meal on wheels was such a treat I was thinking that if Seattle going east was the only run left we'd go try it. My younger son loves trains and a run to Glacier is close enough that its a cheap treat even if we need to go to SEA first.

What I didn't want to do was go to all that trouble just for another meal like the last one. Not worth it. Hence my question about whether the meal service on the EB really is unique in the whole Amtrak system the way I was told it is.
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Old May 26, 13, 9:54 am
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Sbedelman,

Last I knew, the following routes were supposed to be using glassware for all meals; Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, Capitol Limited, and the Auto Train. On all other routes you'll see the plasticware.

As for the food itself, the EB & the AT have the most items that are cooked fresh onboard. But this is not to say that every item is indeed cooked fresh. Both trains do offer a few items that are prepared ahead of time and simply reheated in a convection oven. So its really a matter of ordering the right item off the menu.

All other trains, save the Cardinal, offer about a 50/50 split of cooked fresh vs. preplated & reheated. The Cardinal with no dining car is 100% reheated in either a convection oven or the steam table.
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Old May 28, 13, 10:24 am
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Thank you. Just the info I was looking for.
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Old May 29, 13, 12:58 pm
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Yesterday I completed a great trip on the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder back-to-back. Save for the boxed cold dinner out of PDX on train 28, the plating and presentation of meals were nearly identical on both trains. The only difference I noticed was that the EB had linen napkins for dinner only and paper napkins for other meals, whereas the CS had linen napkins for all meals.
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Old May 29, 13, 5:32 pm
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Thanks for the update.

Can you tell me if the meals were cooked like in a restaurant or reheated precooked like you get on an airplane (even in First Class).

I'm just really looking forward to that steak if they still actually grill it to order. Ymmmm.
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Old May 29, 13, 6:03 pm
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As AlanB mentioned, some items are cooked offsite and re-heated on-board using steam tables/sous vide or convection ovens (think pastas, quiche, burritos, sauce-y meat dishes, side veggies).

The items that are cooked to order are the ones that matter most IMHO: Steaks, burgers, eggs, pancakes, etc. There is no grill as open flame isn't allowed. A griddle surface is used. Everyone who ordered the steak on my trains reviewed it positively. The scrambled eggs are also consistently fantastic IME.

I would say most meals on Amtrak compare very favorably to what you would find on most airlines' domestic F. You should check out the menus on Amtrak.com (which also now include caloric info) to see what to expect.
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