Amtrak Traditional Dining
Amtrak Traditional Dining

Amtrak Traditional Dining: What You Need To Know

Over my years of traveling with Amtrak, many great memories and “interesting” conversations happened during a meal in an Amtrak Dining Car. My first experience was on the California Zephyr, where I had several terrific conversations with other passengers. Depending on the train, you could have Amtrak traditional dining or Flex Dining.

Amtrak MEXICAN SOUFFLE WITH GRILLED STREET CORN
AMTRAK MEXICAN SOUFFLE WITH GRILLED STREET CORN

I even had a long-term friendship that started over lunch in the Sunset Limited/ Texas Eagle dining car. (Hi Sean and David).

A dining car is where Amtrak serves sit-down meals prepared by onboard chefs, and the cafe car sells grab-and-go food, beverages, and snacks.

If you ride the Texas Eagle between Chicago to San Antonio, you WILL HAVE FLEX DINING. However, from San Antonio to Los Angeles, cars from the Texas Eagle connect to the Sunset Limites with traditional dining so that you will be on that section of the route.

The dining car is the train’s heart and soul, where people gather for a common goal, food!

Kev
Amtrak Salmon
Amtrak’s new salmon dish is in from the dining car. Photo Courtesy of Amtrak

Food Service On Amtrak Trains

Knowing your food option is essential when planning your first or next Amtrak Adventure. All train passengers have access to the cafe car.

Amtrak’s Traditional Dining is on these trains:

Sleeping car passengers have access to meals in the dining car.

Auto TrainCalifornia Zephyr
Coast StarlightEmpire Builder *
Southwest ChiefSunset Limited
Texas Eagle+
*The dining car is unavailable between Portland, OR, and Spokane, WA, 28 and 29. The cafe car is open for food, and sleeper passengers still receive meals in this section. + (only between San Antonio, TX, and Los Angeles, CA.)

Flex dining is on these trains:

Sleeping car passengers on these trains receive Amtrak’s flex dining and use the Sleeper Lounge, a rebranded dining car. The exception is the Cardinal, Capitol Limited, and Texas Eagle (Between Chicago and San Antonio), where a cafe car serves double duty. These meals could change at any time.

The Palmetto is a long-distance train but does not have a sleeper car, so it only has a cafe car.

Capitol LimitedCardinal
City of New OrleansCrescent
Lake Shore LimitedTexas Eagle*
Silver MeteorSilver Star
*(Between Chicago, IL, and San Antonio, TX)

Check out this page for more information on these trains with Amtrak’s Flex Dining.

Amtrak's french toast
Amtrak’s French toast from the dining car. Photo Courtesy of Amtrak

Food Options For Amtrak Traditional Dining Cars

Amtrak menus often change quarterly, and some trains have specials, usually new items they are trying out.

AMTRAK PAN ROASTED CHICKEN BREAST
AMTRAK PAN ROASTED CHICKEN BREAST

Breakfast can be a simple continental breakfast or one or more hot selections. Along with your food, you can get coffee, tea, juice, or other beverages.

Lunch includes beverages and a dessert from the dinner menu.

Dining choices offer a traditional spread of dishes like beef, chicken, fish, or seafood entree and a vegetarian option.

Amtrak introduced appetizers to the compliment of diner selection along with dessert. You can get one complimentary alcoholic beverage or “unlimited” other beverages during your meals.

The kid’s menu is available for lunch and dinner and includes grilled cheese, chicken breast, hot dog, and mac and cheese.

While Amtrak tries to have everything on the menu, sometimes popular choices run out towards the end of the route if they are more popular than Amtrak expected.

Current Amtrak Traditional Dining Menus

Where To Find The Dining Car

For most trains, the dining car is between the Sightseer Car and the sleeper cars, towards the middle of the train.

The Empire Builder dining car is on the Seattle side of the train behind the last sleeper and the first coach car. If you are in the Portland section, it is a little bit of a walk.

Mealtimes For Amtrak Traditional Dining Cars

Dining cars operate on local time. Cell phones and smart watches will often automatically change the time to the correct time zone. The exception is if a train changes time zone during service, then meal times are based on the time zone the service started.

Capitol Limited Sleeper Lounge Car
The inside of a dining car

Abridged or omitted meal services may occur if the train reaches its final destination early or if the scheduled time is during mealtime.

Quick meal times can happen if the train arrives early at its final destination. On the other hand, if the train is running late, they may add a meal, which could also be a quick service meal.

Verify with onboard staff times and if you have questions.

If you miss a meal, the cafe car is available from early morning to late at night. Food in the cafe is at your expense and is closed overnight and for attendant breaks.

The following times come from the Amtrak website; these times can vary. Meals get announced, but for breakfast. You can go for breakfast anytime after 6:30  am.

Breakfast

  • Breakfast time: 6:30 am – 10:00 am.
  • The last boarding time to receive breakfast is 9:30 am.
  • Reservations are not required.

Lunch

  • Lunch: 11:30 am – 3:00 pm.
  • The last boarding time to receive lunch is 2:30 pm.
  • Reservations could be required.

Dinner

  • Dinner: 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm.
  • The final boarding time to receive dinner is 8:30 pm.
  • Reservations are required

Be advised; all this can change at any time and vary from train to train.

Amtrak steak
Amtrak’s steak dish from the dining car. Photo Courtesy of Amtrak

Making Reservations For Amtrak Traditional Dining Cars

Sleeping car passengers

Amtrak traditional dining reservation slip.
Amtrak traditional dining reservation slip.

For sleeper car passengers, making reservations is easy. The dining car steward will walk through the sleeper cars; often, they announce when they are ready to take reservations.

As they come around, at least one person in your party needs to be in your accommodation to make the reservation. Often when you make your reservations, you receive a reminder slip.

Your car attendant may make the reservations for you if you are not on board when the dining car steward comes around to take reservations.

Coach passengers

At this point, coach passengers do not access the dining car. There are talks about returning it, but there is no date, possibly later in 2023.

Coast Starlight Business Class

Amtrak is now offering dining car reservations for Coast Starlight Business Class passengers. Currently, Amtrak charges a flat rate. These passengers make payments for their meals along with their meal reservations. There could be a limited number of reservations allowed due to demand.

  • Breakfast $20
  • Lunch is $25 and $15 for kids
  • Dinner is $45 and $25 for kids

Dinner includes a three-course meal and an adult beverage.

General Information For Amtrak Traditional Dining

Ask your car attendant or the dining car steward if the dining car announces the reservation time or if you should walk to the dining car at your reservation time.

Be aware that the dining car can get busy, and a 6:30 reservation could get called at 6:45 or later. When they call it, 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.

Amtrak's new chicken ceaser salad
Amtrak’s new chicken Ceasar salad from the dining car. Photo Courtesy of Amtrak

Entering 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.
  • During regular times Amtrak practices community seating
    • If fewer than four people are at your party, others may join you.

The Portland Section Of The Empire Builder

Box meal on the builder
A prepared meal from the Portland section of an Eastbound Empire Builder. (2016)

Depending on the direction, the Empire Builder split or joined, so there may not be a dining or cafe car during part of your trip. 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 Seattle section has the diner, and the Portland section has a cafe car. If you are a Portland sleeper passenger, car attendants hand off soon after you leave, and after the two trains combine, you will enjoy the rest of your meals in the dining car.

Tipping In Amtrak Traditional Dining Cars

Tipping is appreciated, and many passengers base the tip amount on the menu prices or what you would guess a bill would be for that meal.

If I am on long trips and have the same staff for the whole trip, I may tip at the end of the day.

Amtrak Traditional Dining Wrap-Up.

Eating on the train can be one of the more memorable parts of your Amtrak adventure.

Wine served with Amtrak Traditional Dining
Wine served with Amtrak Traditional Dining in glassware.

The menus can change anytime, and sometimes they offer entrees that are not on the menu. Often these selections are new choices that Amtrak is trying out.

If you have sleeper car reservations, include the main entree and extras. With dinner, your first adult beverage is part of your reservations. Plus, you can get complimentary beverages from the dining car.

You can eat your meals in the dining car or your accommodations. Either you can walk to the dining car during your reservation time to order your meal and bring it back. You could have your car attendant get the meals and bring them back to your accommodation.

Remember, if you have the Amtrak Guest Reward Master Card, you can get 10-20% cash back when you use it on the train. Here is more information or where you can apply.

Safe Travels!

Kev

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Kev

Kev has been traveling with Amtrak since 2012, celebrating his tenth year this year. Over those years, he has been on over 700 trains covering over 200,000 miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by assisting them with support and information. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Donna Parquette

    Thank you for your help. This is my first trip and I am so excited. It is on my bucket list.

    1. Kev

      You are welcome! If you have any questions, let me know where I can help you! I hope you enjoy your trip.

  2. Janis Quinn

    How much and when do you tip your porter at the end of your trip?

    1. Kev

      Tipping a car an attendant is optional, but typically people tip between $5-$10 a day. Often for dining car staff, tips are based on menu price or similar to car attendants.

  3. Hugo

    Hey Kev, first time writing you and first time taking a Roomette on the Autotrain from Virgina to Fla, taken the train many times before but never a roomette. A few questions if you don’t mind, do the roomettes come with a toilet, also is the food for dinner served in your room or are you required to eat in the dining car, same question applies for breakfast, is the wall outlet a single 3-prong outlet or double? Thats about it for now Thanks You.

    1. Kev

      Hi Hugo!
      Thanks for your questions.

      Roomettes on the Auto Train do not have restrooms in the room, but bedrooms do. Roomettes have a single three-prong outlet, and an extension cord will be your best friend on the train. For a little more info check out this article.

      You can talk to your car attendant about having them bring any or all meals to your room, or you could go to the dining car and ask for your meals to go.

      Safe travels and have a great trip!
      Kev

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