Amtrak Flex Dining
Amtrak Flex Dining

Amtrak Flex Dining: What You Need To Know

Amtrak's Flex dining meal
Amtrak’s Chicken Marsala is part of its flex dining program. My meal included an iced tea, a roll, and a salad.

If your train adventure is under 32 hours, you receive Amtrak Flex Dining as a sleeping car passenger. Currently, Amtrak does not offer this meal service to coach passengers.

This meal is also called Amtrak’s Contemporary Dining. Depending on what train you take, your food options may vary.

Most all Amtrak trains have a Cafe car, but for a few more short-run routes. But, if you are traveling on an overnight or a long-distance train and in a sleeper, you will have “traditional” or “flex dining.” This article is an overview of flex dining and will direct you to the right article if this is not the right article for you.

Is this the right article for you?

This article is for you if your next trip is in a sleeper passenger aboard one of these trains.

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

If you are not a sleeping passenger and your train is not on this list, go to this page.

Trains With Amtrak Flex Dining

CardinalCity of New OrleansCapitol Limited
CrescentLake Shore LimitedSilver Meteor
Texas Eagle*
*Between San Antonio and Chicago

Changes To The Silver Star

The Silver Star is doing a pilot program bringing back traditional dining. As of now, this service is only for sleeping car passengers.

What is Amtrak Flex Dining?

Amtrak’s Flex dining are meals for sleeping car passengers. Coach passengers cannot access these meals but can use the cafe car, which is open to all passengers.

  • The meal program offers hot, ready-to-serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices. There is also a hot and continental breakfast option.
  • A selection of wine, beer, and spirits (the first one is on Amtrak during dinner), plus unlimited soft drinks throughout the journey
  • Amtrak offers unlimited soft drinks, coffee, and tea throughout the journey (while the car attendant is on duty).
  • The onboard lounge is a place to dine and socialize, or you can have room service provided by your attendant. This car is not available on all trains.
  • Meals come at flexible times without reservation, although staff may take time slots for meals during peak times.
  • You get one meal per person per mealtime.
Amtrak Flex Meal
Amtrak’s Asian Noodle flex dining entree with dinner roll, salad, dessert, and beer

A Brief History Of Amtrak Flex Dining

New Amtrak Food
My dad’s chicken Cesar salad we had during our October 2018 trip on board the Lake Shore Limited.

Flex dining or Contemporary dining started as a pilot program in June 2018 on two routes, Lakeshore Limited and Capitol Limited. This move was in response to an act of Congress to reduce food costs and waste on Amtrak trains.

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 photos.

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 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, 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 bases for the current iteration of this program.

Today, Amtrak has ditched the boxes, offered hot selections, and expanded the meal service to all long-distance trains that run for one night.

Since the beginning of this program, your first adult beverage has been “on Amtrak” and offers complimentary drinks to sleeper passengers while the sleeper car lounge attendant is on duty.

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

Amtrak Flex Dining Menus

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

Amtrak rotates the choices throughout the year but usually offers beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian options.

Lunch and dinner are the same offerings. Breakfast offerings include continental breakfast, warm selections, and more.

And as a reminder, your first adult beverage is “on Amtrak,” and other complimentary drinks throughout the trip.

You can purchase additional adult drinks from this or the cafe car, but they are on your dime.

There is a separate menu for the City of New Orleans.

Amtrak Flex Dining Meal Times

Since Amtrak rolled out Flex Dining, things have changed some.

Amtrak Flex dining
Amtrak Flex Dining: Thai Red Curry Street Noodles, with dessert and white wine

Some trains have more rigid meal times because the cafe car attendant is doing double duty. On these trains, they serve coach passengers and prepare sleeping car passengers’ meals.

This situation is on Capitol Limited, Texas Eagle, Cardinal, Crescent, and possibly others. (This can change at any time),

For these trains, attendants take reservations and bring your meals to your room. Let your attendant know if you want to eat in the cafe car. Breakfast may or may not be by reservation, depending on the train.

If you get on 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.

Standard Amtrak Meal Times:

Breakfast: Available 6:30 – 10 am; board the train by 9:30 am
Lunch: Available 11:30 am – 3 pm; board the train by 2:30 pm
Dinner: Available: 5:00 – 9:30 pm; board the train by 8:30 pm

If you are looking for a snack, check out the cafe car, but food and drinks in the cafe are at your expense.

Ask the onboard staff for hours of operation for meals service or any other questions.

Capitol Limited Sleeper Lounge
A dining car that now serves as a lounge for sleeper car passengers

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

Viewliner Trains

Amtrak Flex Dining Wrap-Up

Amtrak Flex Dining:  beef
Amtrak’s Red Wine Braised Beef Flex Meal

While Flex Dining is not everyone’s favorite, I found the most recent meals on the train tasty and serve their intended purpose. The complimentary drinks are a nice touch, and the lounge offers a nice change of pace from your room.

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

While rumors are going around that traditional dining is returning to most trains, Amtrak has no set date or confirmation.

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 with support and information. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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