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Amtrak Café Car

What You Need To Know About The Amtrak Cafe Car

The cafe car is essential for 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, eating, and bringing food onboard Amtrak trains.

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

Amtrak Cafe Car Podcast

One of my first podcasts was about the cafe car. If you want to listen, click below.

What trains have Amtrak cafe cars?

All Amtrak’s long-distance trains have one, along with most regional routes have a cafe car, including the Northeast Corridor, Midwest Corridor, Cascades, and Capitol Corridor. But, 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 snacks.

Long-distance trains running West of the Mississippi River offer traditional dining, except for the Chicago to San Antionio section of The Texas Eagle.

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 and complimentary beverages and can hang out.

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

Coffee on Amtrak

I often get asked about coffee on Amtrak, so here is what you need to know. In the cafe and dining car, coffee is drip-brewed. In the sleeping cars, Amtrak offers percolated coffee. The roast can vary from time to time and route to route.

Amtrak does not offer espresso drinks such as lattes, nor do they offer iced or cold brew coffee, but it does offer bottled coffee drinks.

Amtrak cafe car hours

On average, the typical hours of the cafe car are from 6 or 6:30 am to 10 pm (or so) local time and will close a few times throughout the day, so the attendant gets their break and sleep. Times can vary from train to train.

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

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

What is available from Amtrak cafe cars?

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

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

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

The cafe car offerings include sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, pizza, salads, coffee and 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, 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 cafe car menus

These menus are guides; prices and offerings can change at Amtrak’s discretion. I work to keep this section as updated as possible—last updated on 8/17/22 from the Amtrak Cafe page.

*As of the last time I checked, early July 2022.

Payment options for Amtrak cafe cars

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 runs in Canada.

When using a credit or debit card or purchasing adult beverages, identification is often required.

If you have an Amtrak credit card, you can receive 10-20% cashback on your bill (depending on your card). Currently, they are not issuing new cards.

Where can you eat your Amtrak cafe car purchases?

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.

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

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

If the cafe seating is full of passengers, 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 a Superliner (two-level) train cafe, 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 retail space, while others have business class seating on the other. If there is a blue curtain, you’ll need a business class ticket to sit there.

Bringing food on to Amtrak trains

According to FDA regulations, you can bring food and snacks aboard the train but not consume them in retail areas or dining cars.

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

Alcohol on Amtrak – purchasing and bringing it onboard

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

Coach passengers may bring alcohol on the train but cannot consume the liquor in public areas such as coach seats, business class, or lounge areas. The moral of the story is if you bring it, please leave it stored.

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.

Passengers can take their drinks purchases anywhere on the train.

Where you can typically find 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, so please read it as a general guide.

Regional Trains

Amtrak San Joaquin
Amtrak”s San Joaquin (a California regional train) sits 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 and is typically towards either end of the train. Amtrak uses cafes to buffer between coach and business class when trains with a business class car.

On some trains, you may find it toward the train’s center, like on regional trains in the NEC.

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

Long-distance train

The cafe is between the coach and dining cars with single-level long-distance trains.

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 unavailable 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 and Texas Eagle has the 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 trains 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.

Amtrak cafe car wrap-up and FAQs

  • Amtrak requires you to wear shoes when walking around the train, especially in food cars.
  • Have a valid ID handy when purchasing alcohol or using a credit/debit card.
  • Hours may vary, so listen for announcements.
  • The location of a café car varies 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 make it easier for you to 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 and beer choices.
  • If you want more info on eating aboard Amtrak, click here.

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 been traveling with Amtrak since 2012, celebrating his tenth year this year. Over those years, he has been on over 700 trains covering over 200,000 miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by assisting them to get started. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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