In June 2018, Amtrak rolled out its new Contemporary or “flex” Dining due to a Congressional bill to reduce Amtrak cross country trains’ food costs. The meals are prepared meals for passengers to enjoy as they roll closer to their destinations.
In this article, you will uncover what trains have these meals, menu samples, and everything you need to know about food before your next trip.
Food Service On Trains
|Flex Dining||Traditionally Dining|
|Capitol Limited||Auto Train|
|City of New Orleans||Empire Builder*|
|Lake Shore Limited*||Sunset Limited|
|Silver Meteor and Star||Texas Eagle+|
+Texas Eagle between Chicago and San Antonio is flex dining; from San Antonio to LA is traditional.
Traditional dining is on trains that run for more than one night and the Auto Train. These trains offer sit-down meals, basically a restaurant on the rails. Currently, this service is only for sleeping car passengers.
Flex dining overview
Flex dining is only available for sleeper car passengers on long-distance trains that run for one night. The meals for flex dining are heat and serve meals prepared in the Sleeper Lounges.
You can consume flex dining meals in the sleeping lounge or your sleeping accommodation. If you do not want to eat in the sleeper lounge, you can grab your meals or ask your car attendant to bring your meals to you. The exact process if you want complimentary beverages as well.
Amtrak talked about expanding this service to coach and business class passengers, but they have not indicated that they are moving forward with that at this point.
A History of Amtrak Flex Dining
Flex dining or Contemporary dining started as a pilot program in June 2018 on two routes, Lakeshore Limited and Capitol Limited. The traditional dining cars turned into sleeper lounges, and the meals became prepared meals.
These first “contemporary” meals came in a wooden box, similar to a bento box. Initially, Amtrak did not offer warm food selections. These wooden boxes were bulky and took up a lot of space on the table.
At that time, the sleeper lounge 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. Not only did they change the food selection and ditched the boxes, but Amtrak expanded the meal service to all long-distance trains running East of the Mississippi.
Since the beginning of this program, your first adult beverage has been “on Amtrak.” Amtrak offers other complimentary drinks to sleeper passengers while the sleeper car lounge attendant is on duty. You can purchase additional adult beverages from the Sleeper Lounge or the cafe car.
Amtrak Flex Dining Menus
Amtrak flex dining selections can change at any time. Lunch and dinner are the same offerings, including meat and vegetarian meals. Breakfast offers a selection of oatmeal, a warm sandwich, yogurt, omelet, 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, you can eat whenever the attendant is on duty (in most cases). 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
- Capitol Limited
- City of New Orleans
- Texas Eagle (Between Chicago and San Antonio)
- Between 2014-2019 the new Viewliners were built and put into service.
- Single level cars
- Used on
- Lakeshore Limited
- Silver Meteor
- Silver Star
Flex dining wrap up
Are you hungry? Want to stretch your legs? Head down to the Sleeper Lounge to grab a bite to eat or grab 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, and the food cars are closed for service overnight.