Amtrak Flex Dining

Amtrak Flex Dining

Amtrak Flex/Contemporary Dining

Due to the pandemic, all long-distance trains switched to flex dining, but for the Auto Train. According to Amtrak, this will continue till June 23. 2021.

In June 2018, Amtrak rolled out its new Contemporary or “flex” Dining 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. This article will cover what trains have these meals, menu samples, and everything you need to know before your next trip.

Food Service On Trains

Flex DiningTraditionally Dining
Capitol LimitedAuto Train
CardinalCalifornia Zephyr
City of New OrleansEmpire Builder*
CrescentSouthwest Chief
Lake Shore Limited*Sunset Limited
Silver Meteor and StarTexas Eagle+
Texas Eagle+
*The dining car is not available for a section of this route
+Texas Eagle between Chicago and San Antonio is flex dining, from San Antonio to LA is traditional.

Regional trains, routes under 750 miles, use cafe cars, and few short-run trains do not have any food service, like the Hiawatha and others.

Flex dining is on trains that only run one night. Exceptions being the Auto Train with Traditional dining and the Palmetto. The Palmetto is a long-distance train but not an overnight train.

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

Amtrak Flex Meal
Amtrak’s Aisain Noodle “flex meal” with dinner roll, salad, dessert, and complimentary beer. I enjoyed this in my roomette.

Flex dining is only available for sleeper car passengers on long-distance trains East of the Mississippi. Heat and serve meals prepared in the Sleeper Lounges.

Flex dining meals can be eating in the sleeping lounge or your sleeping accommodation. Your car attendant can bring your meals to you if needed or desired. 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, the Lakeshore Limited and Capitol Limited. The traditional dining cars turned into sleeper lounges, and the meals became prepared meals.

Amtrak box meal
Amtrak’s first Contemporary Dining, Chicken Penne Alfredo, was served on the Capitol Limited (March 2018); Amtrak no longer used those wooden boxes.

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, the first adult beverage was “on Amtrak.” Amtrak offered 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

Kids Meal
Amtrak’s Kids Contemporary Dining Meal – Photo Courtesy of Amtrak

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.

*Traditional dining returns two-night trains that leave on June 23, 2021, or later. If your trip is after that date, check out traditional dining instead.

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

Capitol Limited Sleeper Lounge Car
Capitol Limited’s Sleeper Lounge Car

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.

Superliner Lounges
  • 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
Viewliner Lounges
Viewliner Dining Car
Viewliner Amtrak dining car is now used as a Sleeper Lounge.
  • Between 2014-2019 the new Viewliners were built and put into service.
  • Single level cars
  • Used on
    • Cresent
    • Cardinal
    • 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, and the food cars are closed for service overnight.

Ask either your sleeping car or the sleeper lounge attendants for the current hours and protocol for meals.

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Safe Travels!



Kev has traveled over 125,000 miles on over 660 trains all around the United States aboard Amtrak. When he is not on the move, Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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