Amtrak Flex/Contemporary Dining
Covd=19, all long-distance trains will use flex dining, but the Auto Train still uses traditional dining. According to Amtrak, this will continue till May 21, 2020, and is subject to change. (12/10/2020)
Amtrak Contemporary Dining rolled out in June 2018 due to a Congressional bill to reduce Amtrak cross country trains’ food cost. Contemporary dining is also known as flex dining. The meals are prepared meals for passengers to enjoy as they roll closer to their destinations.
Food Service On Long-Distance Trains
Regional trains (routes under 750 miles) do not have dining cars but have cafe cars. A few 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 trains offer sitdown meals, basically a restaurant on the rails. Conventional dining cars are open to coach and sleeper car passengers, but priority reservations are for the sleeper car passengers.
These cars found on:
- Auto Train for more information on the changes coming to the Auto Train, clicks here.
- California Zephyr
- Coast Starlight
- Empire BuilderThe dining car is not available between Portland, OR, and Spokane, WA, on trains 28 and 29; the cafe car and other food are available for sleeping passengers.
- Southwest Chief
- Sunset Limited
- Texas Eagle
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.
A History of Amtrak Flex Dining
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 in 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 cold and hot cereals, a warm sandwich, yogurt, and more. (The meals onboard may not appear exactly as in the photo)
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.
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.