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Amtrak dining Car

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. 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!

Amtrak Salmon
Amtrak’s new salmon dish 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.

Traditional dining trains:

For sleeping car passengers, you have access to meals in the dining car, and this is also where you go to pick up select complimentary beverages. All train passengers have access to the cafe car in Sightseer Car.

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. All train passengers have access to the cafe car.

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 traditional dining cars

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

Breakfast offerings include continental breakfast, french toast, omelets, and scrambled eggs. Breakfast meats, coffee, and beverages are available at no additional charge to sleeper car passengers.

Lunch can include a Cesar salad, burger, grill cheese, or chili.

Dining choices offer a traditional spread of dishes like beef, chicken, fish, or seafood entree and a vegetarian option. Amtrak introduces appetizers to compliment your diner selection, with choices like lobster crabcakes, green chili cheese tamale, and more.

The kid’s menu is available for lunch and dinner and includes grill 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 were more popular than Amtrak expected.

Amtrak offers complimentary soft drinks for sleeper car passengers throughout their journey and a complimentary alcoholic beverage with diner.

Current Traditional Dining Menus

2021 Dining Car Changes

Some new additions are coming to Amtrak’s “traditional dining cars,” with some “old classics” coming back.

Flex dining carry-over drinks, not food.

A few carry-overs from the flex dining program may be enjoyable for many sleeper passengers.

Traditional dining cars now offer complimentary non-alcoholic beverages thought-out your Amtrak adventure. Choices could be limited; ask the dining car steward for more information. This service is only available when staffed, and it is closed at night.

The other flex dining carry-over is a free complimentary adult beverage with your dinner for those old enough.

Changes to the dining car experience

According to an article by the Rail Passenger Association, more exciting changes are coming. These changes include cloth tablecloths, glassware, silverware, and ceramic plates. These changes will increase the passenger experience and reduce onboard waste.

Other changes can include more flexibility with the menu, like lunch for dinner or adding breakfast meat to the continental breakfast.

These changes could take a little time to implement, and Amtrak does not have a goal date for tableware.

The Location of 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 Traditional Amtrak Dining Cars

Dining cars operate on local time. Your cell phones and smartwatches will often automatically change the time to the correct time zone.

Capitol Limited Sleeper Lounge 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 meals can happen if the train comes in early to its final destination. On the other hand, if the train is running late, they may add a meal. Ask your onboard staff if you have questions.

If you miss a meal, the cafe car is available from early morning to late night, but it is closed overnight and for the attendance breaks.


  • Breakfast time is from 6:30 am – 10:00 am
  • The last boarding time to receive breakfast is 9:30 am
  • Reservations are not needed and are first-come, first-served
  • There are no announcements for the start of this service; you may go for breakfast anytime after 6:30  am.


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


  • Dinner is from 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 can vary from train to train.

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

Meal Reservation For Amtrak Dining Cars

Sleeping car passengers

For sleeper car passengers, making reservations is easy. The dining car steward will announce when they are ready to take reservations.

When they are coming around, at least one person in your party needs to be in your accommodation so they can 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 they take reservations.

Coach passengers

At this point, coach passengers do not have access to the dining car. There are talks about bringing it back, but there is no date for the return.

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 payment 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

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

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.
  • During regular times Amtrak practices community seating
    • If fewer than four people are at your party, others may join you.
  • Sleeping car passengers receive handed a piece of paper when they sit down. Only fill in the room and car number/letter (found on your ticket) and sign it. The staff will fill out everything else.
    • All scheduled meals come with your room ticket (so pick what you want). Meals include one entree, plus meal-appropriate extras such as breakfast meat, cheese, and desserts with lunch and dinner.
    • Sleeper passengers get complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and an acholic drink with diner throughout their journey.
  • 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

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 handoff 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 off the menu prices or what you would guess for a bill.

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

Traditional dining wrap-up.

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

The menus can change at any time, 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 in 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.

Safe Travels!


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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 to get started. 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!

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