Amtrak Flex Dining
Amtrak Flex Dining

Amtrak Flex Dining: What You Need To Know

Amtrak Flex Dining is a meal system for passengers with sleeping accommodations and is unavailable for coach-class passengers.

This article is an overview of flex dining, with sample menus, and will direct you to the right article if this is not the right article for you.

Amtrak Flex meal
Amtrak’s Chicken Marsala is part of their flex dining program, including an iced tea, roll, and salad.

Is this the right article for you?

You are in the right place if your next adventure is one of the trains on the list; if not, you need the traditional dining article.

If you are in coach class, you need this article.

Trains With Amtrak Flex Dining

CardinalCity of New OrleansCapitol Limited
CrescentLake Shore LimitedTexas Eagle*
*Between San Antonio and Chicago

What is Amtrak Flex Dining?

As I said in the intro, Amtrak’s Flex dining meals are prepared before departure, warmed on the train, and given to sleeping car passengers, and these meals are part of their reservations.

  • The meal program offers hot, ready-to-serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices.
    • There is also a hot and continental breakfast option.
  • Beverages
    • Complementary soft drinks, coffee, and hot or iced tea during meals.
    • You can purchase wine, beer, and spirits
      • The first one is on Amtrak during dinner.
  • Complimentary room service provided by your attendant
    • The Lake Shore Limited is the only train with a Sleeper Lounge Car (let me know if I am wrong).
    • Please let me know if you find one on another train.
  • You get one meal per person per mealtime.

You can grab something from the cafe car if you want something extra, or you can bring food with you, but Amtrak cannot store or heat it.

A Brief 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. I have been eating them from the start until recently; while not my favorite meal, they have improved in some ways and were better in others.

Why did this happen?

What is often forgotten is why this happened and why these meals found their way on Amtrak. Around 2017, Congress passed an act to reduce food costs and waste on Amtrak trains. If Amtrak changed the meals on a few trains to flex meals, it would allow Amtrak to keep traditional dining on two-night trains. This act is no longer in effect.

Even before this, not all trains had traditional dining; since I started riding Amtrak long-distance trains in 2013, the Cardinal and City of New Orleans never had it. These meals are an improvement to some of what was served aboard the City of New Orleans.

Early flex meals

These first “contemporary” meals came in a wooden box, similar to a bento box, and initially did not offer hot food selections, as seen in the upper photo.

These wooden boxes were bulky and took up a lot of space on the table.

At that time, the sleeper lounge attendant placed the wooden meal boxes in a reusable bag so you could consume the meals in the Sleeper Lounge or take them back to your room.

In October 2019, Amtrak Contemporary “2.0” rolled out and is the basis for the current iteration of this program.

Amtrak has ditched the boxes and offers only hot selections, which was a good move.

During the pandemic, this meal service was on every train, but today, Amtrak has returned to traditional dining on many trains, but a few trains still serve this service.


Since the beginning of this program, your first dinner adult beverage has been “on Amtrak,” and you still get complimentary non-alcoholic drinks with your meals.

A complimentary adult beverage that started with flex dining has expanded to traditional dining, and it is a nice touch.

These days, most flex dining meals get served at somewhat set times, but there is more flexibility for those who arrive after meal times, and complimentary beverages are only at meal time.

Amtrak serves most of the passenger’s meals in their room but with the option of going to the cafe car.

Amtrak Flex Dining beverages

You get complimentary non-alcoholic beverages with your meals; if you are of age, you get a complimentary adult beverage for dinner. The selections can vary or change at any time, but this will give you an idea of what you can get.

Cold beverages

  • Milk
    • Plant-based milk is available on request,
    • Orange juice
    • Iced tea
    • Bottled spring or sparkling water
    • Regular and diet Coke, Sprite, and ginger Ale.

Hot beverages

  • Coffee
    • Regular and decaffeinated
  • Hot tea
    • If I remember right, it’s black tea, but more options may be available.

Acholic beverages

  • Beer
    • Michelob Ultra, Corona Extra, Sella Artois, Blue Moon Gelgain White, Stone IPA, and Star Dust IPA.
  • Wines
    • La Marca Prosecco, Ryder Estate Chardonnay, or Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Spirits
    • Tanqueray Gin, Barcardi Run, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, and Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey.

Amtrak Flex Dining Menus

Amtrak meal choices change throughout the year, but the basics are the same.

Kids Meal
Amtrak’s Kids Contemporary Dining Meal – Photo Courtesy of Amtrak
  • Breakfast options
    • Continental breakfast and warm selections
  • Lunch and dinner selections are the same
    • Including beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian options.
  • Beverages
    • Non-alcoholic meals are part of your meal.
    • Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase.
    • Your first adult drink with dinner is on Amtrak!

Menus are often found in every room, so you can plan your meal choice when they want to take your order. Lunch and dinner often include a side salad, roll, and dessert.

Amtrak Flex Dining Menu

City Of New Orleans Flex Menu

Amtrak Flex Dining Meal Times

Things have changed since Amtrak rolled out Flex Dining; trains now have set meal times these days because the cafe car attendant is doing double duty. Most trains these days serve coach passengers and prepare sleeping car passengers’ meals out of the cafe car.

Car attendants take reservations for these trains and bring your meals to your room.

Let your attendant know if you want to eat in the cafe car.

Sleeping car attendants will let you know when breakfast is served the night before, and in most cases, it is served in the cafe car and is first come, first served. But this can vary on some trains.

If you board the train after reservations, you can still get your meal but chat with your car attendant. If there is a Sleeping Car Lounge, there is more flexibility.

Average Amtrak Meal Times

Ask the onboard staff for hours of operation for meal service or any other questions. If you are looking for a snack, check out the cafe car, but food and drinks in the cafe are at your expense.

Where To Get Amtrak Flex Dining

If you do not get your meals delivered to your room, there are cars you can walk to get them. Amtrak uses Viewliner equipment on routes starting or ending at New York Penn Station, and Superliners run on all other flex dining long-distance routes.

Superliner Trains

  • Cross Country Cafes has food service retail space in the center of the upper level with seating on both sides.
  • The car between the sleepers and coach cars.
  • Used on

Viewliner Trains

  • In most cases, an Amtfleet cafe car does double duty.
  • Used on Cresent and Cardinal
    • Between the sleepers and coach cars.
  • A sleeper lounge is on the Lake Shore Limited.
    • It is between the coach cars and sleepers on the New York side of the train.

Amtrak Flex Dining Wrap-Up

While Flex Dining is not everyone’s favorite, I found the most recent meals on the train tasty and serve their intended purpose. It is nice that Amtrak has expanded its offerings and switched from only cold options to mainly warm ones.

While the program has changed over the years, including its flexibility, it is more flexible for passengers getting on a late train or getting off during the peak hours of meals.

Amtrak is slowly returning traditional dining to all the trains that previously had it. The trains in that category include the Capitol Limited, Crescent, and Lake Shore Limited. But there has not been any word on that as of yet.

Looking at history, the City of New Orleans and the Cardinal may maintain the flex dining options.

Agina, since I started riding long-distance trains on Amtrak in 2013, these two trains have not had traditional dining. The current flex meals are better than the previous food offered aboard the City of New Orleans.

Safe Travels!


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Kevin Monteith

Kev Monteith has been traveling on Amtrak since 2012. With over a decade of experience, he has been on over 800 trains, covering over 200k miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by providing support and information. Outside of travel, Kev enjoys making music as an organist and outings with family.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Lynn

    Are there children’s options on trains with Flex Dining? Thank you

    1. Amtrak does not have child-specific flex menu offerings. On most trains, the cafe does double duty so that you could ask for a more child-friendly entree served by the cafe.

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