Amtrak Traditional Dining
Amtrak Traditional Dining

Amtrak Traditional Dining: What You Need To Know

What goes well with rail travel? Amtrak Traditional dining experience! As an experienced train traveler, I have come to appreciate the tasty meals prepared by onboard chefs, which are complimentary for passengers in sleeping accommodations. On most trains, coach-seat passengers can still enjoy these sumptuous offerings by making a reservation at a set price.

Dining car flowers
Dining car flowers

However, Traditional dining is more than just a meal; it’s an opportunity to connect with fellow travelers.

Whether you want to know more about meal times or are curious about menu options, I’m here to assist you every step of the way. Whether making reservations for coach or sleeper passengers or navigating the culinary delights, consider me your go-to resource for all things Amtrak dining.

One highlight of traditional dining is its communal aspect. It’s an opportunity to start conversations with other passengers, take a break from your room, and delight in the ever-changing scenery outside your window. And if you prefer a more intimate setting, don’t worry; you can choose to have your meals delivered right to your room, ensuring convenience and comfort throughout your journey.

So, whether you are a seasoned rail enthusiast or embarking on your first Amtrak adventure, get ready to enjoy meals on the rails. Don’t forget to get desserts included!

Kev’s experience

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

Over my years of traveling with Amtrak, I have made many great memories and had many “interesting” conversations while enjoying meals in Amtrak Dining Cars.

My first experience was in March 2013 on the California Zephyr, and since that first trip, I have had many Amtrak traditional meals while riding the rails across the USA. One long-term friendship started over lunch while riding the Sunset Limited/ Texas Eagle (Hi Sean and David).

I love going into the dining car for great meals, and the experience breaks up the trip by getting me out of my room.

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

Kev

Food Service On Amtrak Trains

Knowing your food options helps you plan for your first or next Amtrak Adventure.

All train passengers can access the cafe car throughout the trip, but it does close overnight and for meal breaks.

Amtrak’s Traditional Dining is on these trains:

Coach passengers (on trains with an “A”) can access these meals in the dining car.

Auto TrainCalifornia Zephyr A
Coast Starlight AEmpire Builder * A
Southwest Chief ASunset Limited A
Texas Eagle A+Silver Star A
Silver Meteor A
*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 the following trains receive Amtrak’s flex dining.

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

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

If you ride the Texas Eagle between Chicago and San Antonio, you WILL HAVE FLEX DINING. However, between San Antonio and Los Angeles, the Texas Eagle is paired with the Sunset Limited, which has traditional dining.

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

The coast of Amtrak Traditional Dining for coach passengers

Set prices for coach meals

These prices can change anytime; check with the dining car to confirm prices.

  • Breakfast $20
  • Lunch is $25
  • Dinner is $45
  • The kids’ meals are $20.

Meals include drinks and extras; you can purchase alcohol, although your first adult drink during dinner is on Amtrak.

Amtrak Traditional Dining meals offered

Amtrak menus often change seasonally, and some trains are used as test kitchens, offering new items not on the current menu. All meals come with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages; you can receive one alcoholic drink with dinner.

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.

Breakfast

Amtrak omelette breakfast
An Amtrak traditional dining omelet breakfast

Having breakfast on an Amtrak train is a delightful experience, especially after waking up on the train. The meal typically consists of a hot entrée and beverages; if you want something more, you can add breakfast meats, which are included. If you are looking for something lighter, there is a continental breakfast option

Amtrak offers a few classics that I love; They rotate between pancakes and French toast, and there is always an omelet option that is somewhat customizable. The other options can rotate throughout the year.

Beverages are included, and you can choose from a list on the menu. If you’re a coffee and juice lover, you’ll be happy to know that you can get both. Ensure your coffee is topped off before returning to your room. While the dining car coffee is better than the coffee station in your car, it’s a matter of personal preference.

Lunch

Chili bowl on the Silver Star
Bowl of chili on the Silver Star

Amtrak has a delicious menu for lunch with a main course, dessert, and beverage. The selections change throughout the year.

Burgers are a popular choice for those who crave a classic. For lunch, you can add cheese or bacon to your burger as part of the price. 

Hot sandwiches will satisfy you if you’re in the mood for something hearty. And on some trains, Amtrak offers a chili bowl or chili over a potato. 

We also have a salad on the menu for those who prefer a lighter option. 

Of course, beverages are included in the price, so you can choose your favorite to accompany your meal. They are available for purchase if you’re in the mood for adult beverages. And remember, every lunch also includes dessert and, if I remember correctly, a salad.

Dinner

Chicken dinner
Chicken entree

When you have dinner on board, you have a range of options. Whether on a Superliner dining car or the Silver Star and Meteor, you’ll enjoy a delicious meal with a main course, dessert, beverages, and one adult beverage. 

On Superliner trains, you can indulge in a three-course meal with an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Meanwhile, the Silver Star and Meteor offer a two-course meal with the main course and dessert. Regardless of the train you’re on, your meal will also come with a salad, a warmed roll, and dessert. 

For the main course, Amtrak offers a variety of options to cater to your preferences. Whether you’re a fan of traditional dishes like beef, chicken, fish (or seafood). If you prefer vegetarian options, Amtrak has got you covered. And if you’re feeling peckish and can’t wait for your meal, the appetizers will provide something extra to enjoy. 

If you want something lighter, often you can choose from the lunch menu.

Beverages are included with your meal; to add a touch of indulgence, you’ll even get one adult beverage on the house! If you want more alcoholic beverages, you can purchase them in the dining car for consumption with your meal or take them back to your accommodation.

Kids meals

The Amtrak kid’s menu is available for lunch and dinner and comprises grilled cheese, chicken breast, hot dogs, and mac and cheese.

Amtrak Traditional Dining beverage choices

While the options can change, this list will give you an idea of what you can expect.

Amtrak Coffee
Coffee from Amtrak’s Cafe Car

Hot beverages

  • Regular and decaffeinated coffee, coffee in the dining car is drip coffee, while in sleeper cars, it is perculated.
  • Tea, and if I remember right, it is black tea, but check with the staff.

Cold beverages

  • Milk
    • Soy or other plant-based milk is available on request
  • Orange juice
  • Unsweetened iced tea
  • Bottled spring or sparkling water
  • Regular and diet Coke, Sprite, and ginger ale.

Alcohol

Kev with a beer
Kev is enjoying a beverage
  • Beer
    • Bud Light, Corona, Stella Artois, Heineken, Stone IPA
  • Spirits
    • Tanqueray Gin, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Bacardi Rum, and Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskey
  • Wines
    • Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, Chateau Ste Machelle -Rose, and Dark Harvest – Cabernet Sauvignon

Amtrak Traditional Dining Superliner Sample Menu

The menu is the same for all Superliner trains with traditional dining but for the Auto Train. Here is the Auto Train sample menu.

Silver Star And Silver Meteor Sample Menu

Where to find the Dining Car

For most trains, the dining car is between the Sightseer or Cafe car and the sleeper cars, which are towards the middle of the train. The Empire Builder dining car is on the Seattle side of the train, which is the front section. It is behind the last sleeper, and the first coach car is towards the front of the train, so if you are in the Portland section, it is a little bit of a walk.

Mealtimes For Amtrak Traditional Dining

Dining cars operate on local time, and cell phones and smart watches often automatically adjust to the correct time zone, so you should be on time. When you travel, make sure you activate that feature.

The exception is if a train changes time zones during service; then meal times are based on the time zone in which the service started; it does not hurt to ask the staff to ensure that the train operates under those terms.

Amtrak Viewliner dining car seating.
Amtrak Viewliner dining car seating.

Abridged or omitted meal services may occur if the train reaches its final destination early or if the scheduled time is during mealtime. On the other hand, if the train is running late, they may add a meal, which could also be a quick service meal.

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, but verify times with onboard staff and if you have questions.

Breakfast

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

Lunch

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

Dinner

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

Be advised all this can change anytime 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

Amtrak requires reservations for dinner, often for lunch, but you rarely need them for breakfast, and they are easy to make!

Sleeping car passengers

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

Making reservations is not complicated for sleeper passengers; the dining steward walks through each Amtrak sleeper car to gather everyone’s reservations. Before doing this, they often announce it, so you can have at least one person in your party who must be in your accommodation to make said reservation.

On some trains, the steward will give you a reminder slip.

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

Coach passengers

The dining car steward will explain the reservation process. Often, they will come through the lounge and coach cars until there is no more availability.

Coach passengers are not guaranteed reservations; if you cannot get a reservation, feel free to use the cafe car.

The Amtrak traditional dining dress code

Amtrak dining cars do not have a set dress code, but you should keep things family-friendly. Casual is fine, but you can dress up more to enhance your experience.

General information for Amtrak’s traditional dining

Not all dining cars operate the same way; on Western trains, the ding car attendant tends to announce when it is time to head to your meal. On Eastern trains, you often wander to the dining car when the time rolls around on your watch.

From my experience, I find it best to ask how that train operates so you do not miss a meal or get there too early. It is also worth noting that if they announce times, a 6:30 reservation could get called at 6:45 or later. When they call it, they still call it a “6:30.”

Amtrak signature stake meal
Amtrak’s signature flat iron stake with potatoes and veggies

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, for 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
The sleeper car attendant handed out these meals after leaving Portland, OR

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 and Amtrak traditional dining

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, but you can do what feels right for you. Learn more about tipping on Amtrak.

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 at any time; sometimes, they offer entrees that are not on the menu as a test run. These selections are often new choices that Amtrak is trying out.

If you have sleeper car reservations, your meal includes 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 during your meal.

You can eat your meals in the dining car or your accommodations. You could have your car attendant get the meals and bring them back to your accommodation. Less common is if you walk to the dining car during your reservation time, where you can place your order and return it to your accommodation or seat with your meal.

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 about where you can apply.

Safe Travels!

Kev

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 6 Comments

  1. Larry Wilson

    What type of cold meal breakfast is served to Westbound Empire Builder Sleeping Car Passengers on the Portland Section.

    1. Kev

      These days, I hear they are give you choices from the cafe car. So, hot and cold selections based on the current menu.

  2. Steve D

    There is some excellent information in this blog! I have a trip planned on the California Zephyr (westbound…going the entire route in a Roomette) in early September 2023. It will be my very first Amtrak long haul adventure! I have watched countless YouTube videos regarding the whole CZ experience, but none of them have contained information such as what you provide in your “General Information For Amtrak Traditional Dining” section. Thank you so much for that helpful tip!!

    1. Kev

      You are welcome, I am glad that I can help!
      Kev

  3. William

    Very helpful info. Can you tell me the date you posted it?

    Taking the SW Chief next week, my first time in coach on the route.

    Thanks,
    William

    1. Kevin Monteith

      Hello, William,

      I hope you enjoy your ride on the Southwest Chief. Although I originally wrote the article years ago, I update it often. Sometimes, Amtrak changes onboard menus before I am able to post new ones, but they still give you an idea of what you can order. I recently confirmed the meal prices for the coach class passengers, but like anything, Amtrak can change things anytime.

      The chicken is delicious, and lemon cake is my suggestion for a sweet treat.

      Safe travels!
      Kev

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