Amtrak Cafe Car: What You Need To Know
Title photo for Cafe Car

Amtrak Cafe Car: What You Need To Know

The cafe car is an essential part of many Amtrak adventures, especially for coach or business class passengers. The Amtrak cafe car is where you can purchase a meal, snack, beverage, and even adult beverages on many Amtrak trains. This article also covers menus, where you can eat and bring food onboard Amtrak trains.

Due to the pandemic, there are several temporary changes, and these red boxes indicate those changes for more information on Amtrak and the pandemic.

What Trains Have Café Cars?

Amtrak’s long-distance trains and most regional routes have a cafe car, including the Northeast Corridor, Midwest Corridor, Cascades, and Capitol Corridor. Short-run trains such as the Hiawatha do not offer any food service.

Other food options

For now, sleeping car passengers are the only ones with access to the dining car. This policy could change at a later date. Sleeping car passengers can use the cafe car for added snacks and drinks.

Until July 1st, 2021, all long-distance trains will use Amtrak’s Flex dining except for the Auto Train.

Long-distance trains running West of the Mississippi River offer traditional dining.

Long-distance trains running East of the Mississippi River currently use Amtrak’s flex dining. With flex dining, Amtrak uses the dining car as a “Sleeper Car Lounge,” where sleeper car passengers receive their meals, complimentary beverages and can hang out.

Amtrak Coffee
Coffee tastes better on the rails — coffee from Amtrak’s café car.

Café Car Hours

On average, the typical hours of the cafe car are from 6 am to 11 pm local time, and will close a few times throughout the day, so the attendant gets their break.

Often the cafe car opens up not long after the train leaves the original station. For most long-distance trains and some regional trains, the cafe car will close during a few station stops. The cafe may also close early as the train reaches its final destination.

The best thing you can do is listen for announcements made by the cafe car attendant, for they will keep you in the loop.

What Can You Buy In Amtrak Cafe Cars?

Amtrak’s café cars sell carry-out style food to eat at your seat or enjoy in the café or sleeper accommodations. It is similar to a convenience store on the rails.

Many cafe cars are open for service but may have limited seating or closed for people to sit in the car and eat or relax at this time.

The cafe car offerings can include sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, pizza, salads, coffee, tea, soft drinks, adult drinks, snacks, warps, and other delights. Amtrak uses microwaves or a convection oven to heat your food. Selections can vary from train to train.

Amtrak cafe cars also carry a few extras, like headphones and asperin; they also have Amtrak’s Comfort Kits, which is a bag that includes a small blanket, eye mask, earplugs, blow-up neck, and a pillow.

Toiletries like toothbrushes and deodorants are not available in the cafe, so pack accordingly.

Sample Amtrak Café Car Menus

These menus are guides; prices and offerings can change at any time at Amtrak’s discretion. There are rumors from trusted sources that new cafe menus are coming out soon with more diverse offerings. I will update the page as things happen.

A photo of the cafe car/business class car on the 500th Amtrak train I rode. Train 301, the Lincoln Service in Bloomington, IL.

Payment Options For Amtrak Café Cars

Due to the pandemic, Amtrak cafe cars are temporarily only excepting credit or debit cards. Remember to practice social distance as much as you can while in the cafe area.

Amtrak cafe cars accept cash, major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover), and debit cards with a Mastercard or Visa logo for payment. But Amtrak does not take checks or foreign currency, except when Amtrak is running in Canada.

Identification is often required when using a credit or debit card or when purchasing adult beverages.

Something new for passengers with an Amtrak Credit Card, you’ll receive 10-20% cashback on your bill (depending on what card you have) when you use it to purchase food on the train.

Where Can You Eat The Food You Bought in an Amtrak Café Car?

Eating in the cafe car may be suspended; ask your cafe attendant.

Amtrak Food
You can bring the food from Amtrak’s Cafe car back to your seat.

You may enjoy the food you purchased in an Amtrak cafe car at your seat, sleeping accommodations, observation car of Superliner trains, or the seats in the cafe car.

A cafe car is a great place to stretch out, enjoy your food, or maybe get some work done, but be considerate of other people who may want to use the cafe.

If the cafe seating is full, it is not polite to occupy the whole booth with your belongings, especially if you are not actively eating or drinking.  

If you are in the cafe of a Superliner (two-level) train, Amtrak asks that you head back upstairs to enjoy the views when you finish your purchases.

Some cafe cars have seating on both sides of the retails space, but some have business class on the other end. If there is a blue curtain, you’ll need a business class ticket to sit there.

Bringing Food Onboard Amtrak Train

You can bring food and snacks aboard the train, but you cannot consume them in retail areas or dining cars per FDA regulations.

Due to space, food safety, and the FDA, Amtrak cannot store, refrigerate, or heat any personal food or medication.

Alcohol On Amtrak

Travesl with Kev
Kev enjoying a beverage in a Superliner Roomette that he bought in an Amtrak Café Car..

Coach passengers may bring alcohol on the train, but you cannot consume the liquor you brought in public areas such as your coach seats, business class, or lounge areas.

If you get caught drinking alcohol you brought on board in a place you are not supposed to or become belligerent, you could face being removed from the train and facing legal charges. If you get removed from the train, it may not be where you want, and Amtrak will not accommodate you any further nor give you a refund.

Sleeper car passengers can partake in the alcohol they brought on board in their sleeping accommodations as long as they do not get out of hand. If passengers get out of hand, they may be put off the train and face legal charges.

The drinks purchased on the train can be consumed in the cafe, your coach seat, with your meal in the dining car, or in your sleeping accommodation.

Typical Locations Of The Amtrak Cafe Cars

The location of an Amtrak Cafe Car is not straightforward due to the different trainsets used across the country. This section comes from my personal experience and is meant as a guide.

Regional Trains

Amtrak San Joaquin
Amtrak”s San Joaquin (a California regional train) is sitting in Bakersfield, CA, waiting for its crew and passengers to board.

On some trains, often in the Midwest, the business class section is on the back of the cafe car.

On other trains, the cafe car is typically towards either end of the train. Amtrak uses cafes as a buffer car between coach and business class with trains with a business class car.

On some trains, you may find it toward the center of the train.

The bi-level Amtrak California trains have a cafe on the upper level.

Long-distance train

With the single-level long-distance trains, the cafe is between the coach and dining cars.

On the Lake Shore Limited, the cafe car is on the Boston section of the train, and it separates the coach and sleepers. The cafe is not available to passengers between New York, NY, and Albany-Rensselaer, NY.

On Superliner Long-Distance Train (aka two-level trains), Amtrak “hides” the cafe on the lower level of the observation car and often is between the coach cars and dining cars. The City of New Orleans has a cafe on the coach class side of the dining car.

On the Empire Builder, the cafe is in a different location. The cafe car is on the Portland section of the train, and when both sections of the train are together, the cafe car separates the coach cars of each section. If you are in the Seattle section, you will not have a cafe car between Seattle, WA, and Spokane, WA.

Note: Often, the cafe car attendant will announce the cafe’s location, the hours, and when they take breaks, so keep your ears open.

Wrap Up and FAQ’s On Amtrak Cafe Cars

  • Amtrak requires you to wear shoes when walking around the train, especially in food cars
  • When purchasing alcohol or using a credit/debit card, have a valid ID handy
  • Hours may vary, so listen for announcements
  • The location of a café car very based on the train type
  • There is only one cafe car attended so
    • Lines can happen, so be kind and wait your turn.
    • The café closes at night and during breaks.
    • Please clean up after yourself; it’s the right thing to do and makes the journey better for everyone.
  • The café attendants use cardboard trays with drink holders to help you transport food and drink back to your seat or accommodation.
  • Occasionally trains go through “dry” areas where alcoholic beverages cannot be sold or served.
  • Cafe attendants offer a cup of ice to cool your beverage because soft drinks are not refrigerated.
  • Amtrak cafés get stocked at the beginning of the trips, meaning the cafe may run out of popular menu choices, especially as trains near their final destinations.
    • If there is something you want, get it early!
  • The menus for café cars can vary from train to train, along with beer choices.

I hope this helps you get ready for your next Amtrak adventure. I hope to see you on the rails!

Safe Travels!

Kev

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Kev

Kev has traveled over 125,000 miles on over 660 trains all around the United States aboard Amtrak. When he is not on the move, Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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