Amtrak’s Cafe Car: What You Need To Know

by Kev
Cafe Car

Are you planning an Amtrak adventure and wondering what there is to eat aboard an Amtrak train? The first place to look on many Amtra trains is the Amtrak cafe car; they are a great place to purchase a meal or snack. This article covers what is available, where you can eat, and bring food onboard Amtrak trains. It also covers bringing food aboard.

Depending on what train and accommodations you have on your next adventure, you may have more options than just the Amtrak cafe car, and you can find out more about those choices further down.

Due to Covid-19, 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 Cafe Cars appear on all long-distance trains and most regional routes, including the Northeast Corridor (NEC), excluding the short run trains such as the Hiawatha. (The Hiawatha is only an hour and a half from end to end.)

Along with a cafe car, long-distance trains that run west of the Mississippi also offer traditional dining cars. Long-distance trains that run east of the Mississippis have “Sleeper Car Lounges,” where sleeper car passengers receive complimentary meals and beverages. The coach and business class passengers have the cafe car at their disposal.

All trains but for the Auto Train are temporarily using Amtrak’s Flex dining.

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

Cafe Car Hours

The hours vary from train to train; on average, the car is open around 6 am to 11 pm local time, and will close a few times throughout the day, so the attendant gets his/her break.

Often the cafe 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 a few stops before reaching its final destination. If you are getting on towards the end of the route, you might want to make sure you plan on bringing a snack with you.

While onboard, listen for announcements made come the cafe car attendant, and they will keep you in the loop as to when you can or cannot get that tasty treat of meal from them. Tipping optional for great service.

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 closed for people to sit in the car and eat.

The offerings include sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, pizza, salads, coffee, tea, soft drinks, adult drinks, snacks, and other delights. Hot food gets warmed in a microwave or such a warming device.

Amtrak also carries a few extras in the cafe car, like headphones and headphones; they also have Amtrak’s Comfort Kits, including a small blanket, eye mask, earplugs, blow-up neck pillow, and all in a bag.

Toiletries are not available in the cafe, so pack accordingly.

Sample Amtrak Cafe Car Menus

These menus are guides, prices, and offerings can change at any time at Amtrak’s discretion

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

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

Amtrak food service cars accept cash and major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover). Amtrak does not take checks or foreign currency but does take Canadian money if the train is running in Canada.

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

Something new for passengers with the Amtrak Credit Card, if you use that card in any of the Amtrak food service cars, you receive 10-20% cashback on your bill depending on what car you get.

Where Can You Eat The Food You Bought?

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 from in the cafe car at your seat, sleeping accommodations, observation car, or the cafe car’s booths.

A cafe car is a great place to stretch out and enjoy your food, and maybe get some work done, but be considerate of other people who may want to use the cafe. It is not polite to take a whole booth for a long time when others need a place to sit.   If you are in the cafe area on Superliner (two-story) equipment, Amtrak asks that when you finish your, head back upstairs to enjoy the views.

Some cafes have seating on either side of the retails space, but other cafe cars 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 The Train

You can bring food and snacks aboard the train, but you cannot consume the food you brought aboard in retail areas per FDA regulations. If you get food aboard, you can eat at your seat, observation car, or sleeping accommodation.

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

Alcohol On Amtrak

Travesl with Kev
Kev enjoying a beverage in a Superliner Roomette.

NOTE: You 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. There is a chance of being removed from the train if you violate this policy and face legal charges.

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 a passenger does get out of hand, they may be put off the train and face legal charges.

If you buy drinks on the train, you can drink them in the cafe, your coach seat, with your meal in the dining car, or in your sleeping accommodation. Make sure to keep yourself under control and not over-consume.

Typical Locations Of The Amtrak Cafe Cars

This topic is not straightforward due to the different trainsets that Amtrak uses across the country. So keep that in mind while going through this section because your mileage may vary. This section comes from my personal experience.

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 regional trains, the cafe car is typically towards either end of the train. These cars often separate coach from business class either as a buffer car between the two, or the business class is on the back of the cafe car. On a few trains, the cafe location is toward the center of the train.

Long-distance train

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

On trains like the Lake Shore Limited, the cafe car is on the train’s Boston section, separating the coach and sleepers. It is not available in the New York section until or after the train reaches Albany, NY (depending on your direction).

On Superliner Long-Distance Train (aka two-level trains), Amtrak “hides” the cafe on the lower level of the observation cars, but for the City of New Orleans, where the cafe area is on the coach class side of the dining car. The bi-level Amtrak California trains have a cafe on the upper level.

The observation car separates the coach cars and 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, so towards the ends. Meaning if you are on the Seatle section, you will not have a cafe until or after Spokane, WA, when they put two trains together or separate them.

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

  • Shoes are a requirement for walking around the train, especially in food cars
  • When purchasing alcohol or use a credit/debit card, bring a valid ID
  • Hours may vary, so listen for announcements
  • The locations of the café car very based on the train type
  • There is only one cafe attended so
    • Lines happen; 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 alcohol cannot be sold or served.
  • Cafe attendants offer ice to cool your beverage; often, 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 when 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.

If your Amtrak trip is on a long-distance train, also check out my article on Amtrak dining cars even if you are not in a sleeper. Currently, the dining cars are closed to all coach passengers, so you don’t have to check out the other article.

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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