Amtrak Flex/Contemporary Dining
Amtrak Contemporary Dining rolled out in June 2018 in part due to a bill mandated by Congress to reduce food cost on Amtrak cross country trains. Contemporary dining is also known as flex dining.
Food Service On Long-Distance Trains
Regional trains (routes under 750 miles) do not have dining cars but, instead, have cafe cars. A few of the short-run trains do not have any food service like the Hiawatha and others, may not have any food service. The Palmetto is a long-distance train but not an overnight train, so it does not have any additional food service other than the cafe car.
Traditional dining is found on long-distance trains west of the Mississippi. These dining cars offer sitdown meals, basically a restaurant on the rails. These cars are available for both coach and sleeper car passengers with priority reservations given to the sleeper car passengers.
These cars found on:
- California Zephyr
- Coast Starlight
- Empire BuilderThe dining car is not available between the cities of Portland, OR, and Spokane, WA on trains 28 and 29, the cafe car and other food is available for sleeping passengers.
- Southwest Chief
- Sunset Limited
- Texas Eagle
For more information on these trains with Amtrak’s Traditional Dining Cars, check out this page.
Flex dining is dining for sleeper car passengers on long-distance trains East of the Mississippi. Heat and serve meals are offered in the Sleeper Lounges. Amtrak has talked about expanding this service to coach and business class passengers.
- Auto Train for more information on the changes coming to the Auto Train clicks here.
- Capitol Limited
- City of New Orleans
- Lake Shore Limited
- Silver Meteor and Star
A History of Flex Dining On Amtrak
Flex dining or Contemporary dining started as a pilot program in June 2018, on two routes, the Lakeshore Limited and Capitol Limited. The traditional dining cars turned into sleeper lounges, and the meals became prepared meals.
These first meals came in a wooden box, like a bento box, and initially did not have warm food selections. The wooded boxes were bulky and took up a lot of space on the table. At that time, the attendest placed the wooden meal boxes in a reusable bag, and you could consume the meals in the Sleeper Lounge or back at your room.
In October 2019, Amtrak Contemporary “2.0” rolled out and expanded to all long-distance trains running East of the Mississippi. During this update, Amtrak discontinued the boxes for a new presentation.
Since the beginning of this program, the first adult beverage was “on Amtrak,” and the other drinks are complimentary sleeper passengers while the sleeper car lounge attendant is on duty.
Amtrak Flex Dining Menus
Amtrak’s new ready-to-serve meal selections can change at any time, and here is the current menu. Lunch and dinner have the same offerings, including meat and vegetarian meals, and breakfast offers a selection of items such as cold and hot cereals, a warm sandwich, yogurt, and more.
Your first adult beverage is “on Amtrak,” and other drinks are complimentary throughout the trip. Additional adult drinks can be purchased from this or the cafe car if so desired.
(The meals onboard may not appear exactly as in the photo)
Mealtimes for Contemporary Dining
The advantage of this meal style is that you can eat whenever the attendant is on duty. Meals are not available late at night, and the car attendants do have a few breaks during the day.
If you are looking for a snack, check out the cafe car, but food and drinks in the cafe are at your expense.
Two Types of Amtrak Sleeper Lounges
Amtrak rebranded dining cars on these routes as Sleeper Lounge Car. These cars are only available to sleeping car passengers, and open 24/7 although not staffed that whole time.
There are two styles of these cars, bi-level or Superliner, and the Viewliner single-level. Amtrak uses Viewliner equipment on routes that start or end at New York Penn Station. Superliners run on all other long-distance routes.
Foodservice is available for most of the trip, but it is closed late at night and during break times. Ask the onboard staff for hours of operation or any other questions.
- Bi-level cars
- There are two styles of this car, either full diner or Cross Country Cafe.
- The dining area is on the upper level.
- Used on
- Auto Train
- Capitol Limited
- City of New Orleans
- Between 2014-2019 the new Viewliners were built and put into service.
- Single level cars
- Used on
- Lakeshore Limited
- Silver Meteor
- Silver Star
How To Use the Sleeping Car Lounge
Are you hungry? Want to stretch your legs? Head down to the Sleeper Lounge. This car is where you receive your complimentary meals and drinks (for sleeping car passengers).
As I said before, meals are available anytime you want, providing the attendant is on duty. Meals are not unlimited; only one lunch and one dinner per mealtime. Ask either your sleeping car or the sleeper lounge attendants for the current hours and protocol for meals.
For more information on traveling on Amtrak, check out this page.
To keep up to date when new information becomes available or when the older post gets updated, sign up from the newsletter/email list. If you are interested in more details about riding Amtrak, check out this growing page.