What you need to know about Amtrak’s Traditional Dining Cars
As of now till the end of June, all long-distance trains only have flex dining.
Over my years of traveling with Amtrak, many great memories and “interesting” conversations happened during a meal in an Amtrak Dining Car. Even a long-term friendship started over lunch in the Sunset Limited/ Texas Eagle dining car. (Hi Sean and David).
A dining car is where Amtrak serves meals in a restaurant-style; a cafe car sells grab and go food, beverages, and snacks.
The dining car is the heart and soul of the train, where people gather for a common goal, food!
Topics Covered On Amtrak Dining Car
- What Amtrak trains have or do not have Amtrak dining cars
- Links to dining car menus
- The type of dining cars used on Amtrak trains
- How to make meal reservations
- Car etiquette
Amtrak Menus For Traditional Dining Cars
The menus seem to change quarterly, and some trains have off-menu specials, but not all. Occasionally some meal choices run out along the way, but other options are usually are available if your first choice isn’t. Sidenote: trains are stocked with food at the endpoint and not restocked er route—the menu of traditional dining cars.
If you have special food requirements or questions on special meals, click here.
Mealtimes for Traditional Amtrak Dining Cars
Dining cars operate on local time. If you are on an East or West train, set your watch before you go to bed, because you typically wake up in a new time zone. Abridged or omitted meal services may occur if the train reaches its final destination during the regular meal service. Ask onboard staff if you have questions. The cafe car is available to purchase food from early in the morning to late at night but does close for the attendance breaks.
- Breakfast services time is from 6:30 am – 10:00 am
- Last boarding time to receive breakfast service is 9:30 am
- Reservations are usually not needed
- There are no announcements for the start of this service; you may go for breakfast anytime after 6:30 am
- Lunch Service is from 11:30 am – 3:00 pm
- Last boarding time to receive lunch service is 2:30 pm
- Reservations could be required
- Dinner service is from 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm
- Final boarding time to receive dinner service is 8:30 pm
- Reservations are required
Be advised, all this can change at any time and can vary from train to train.
Meal Reservation For Amtrak Dining Cars
You need a reservation for supper, possibly for lunch (depending on the train), but never for breakfast.
Sleeping car passengers
There are times when your car attendant will make the reservations for you; an example is if you are not on board during the time reservations are being made.
For sleeper car passengers, making reservations is easy. The dining car makes an announcement stating that they are coming around to take reservations, and during that time, have at least one person in the room to make the reservation. Often when you make your reservations, they give you a reservation reminder slip.
For passengers in coach class, after sleeper’s reservations, the dining car steward walks through the coach cars, wait at your seat till after they come through to get the best times. There is a chance that you could catch them in the observation car, but your reservation choice could be limited. You can ask the dining car steward for openings if you board after they take reservations. Sleeper passengers often get bookings assigned if they board later.
Ask your car attendant if meal services the announce reservations or if you should walk to the dining car at your reservation time.
Be aware at times the dining car is busy, and 6:30 reservation could get called at 6:45, but they still call it a “6:30.” This congestion can be due to passengers lingering too long after their meal or not coming at their scheduled time.
When You Enter Traditional Amtrak Dining Cars
The common practice for eating in an Amtrak Dining Car
- When arriving in the dining car, wait to be seated. The steward will direct you where to sit
- Amtrak practices community seating
- If there are fewer than four people in your party, others may join you
- Sleeping car passengers, before you order your meal, the staff will hand you a piece of paper for you to fill in your sleeper car number, room number/letter (this info is on your ticket), and then sign the staff will fill everything else out for you
- All scheduled meals come with the price of your room ticket (so pick what you want), a meal includes one entree, plus meal appropriate extras such as breakfast meat, cheese, desserts with lunch and dinner
- Meals include beverages but not alcohol
- Coach passengers, you will not have to sign a slip
- You are responsible for paying for your meal
- The experience is similar to that of a restaurant
The Portland Section of the Empire Builder
The Empire Builder split or join another train with the same name en route. During part of your trip, there may not be a dining or cafe car. Often your section of the train will have one or the other.
Portland section (28) of the Empire Builder joins the Seattle section (8) in Spokane, WA. The Seatle section has the diner, and the Portland section has a cafe car. If you are a Portland sleeper passenger, car attendants handed soon after you leave, and after the two trains combine, you will enjoy the rest of your meals in the dining car.
Tipping is appreciated, and many passengers base the tip amount off the menu prices.