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.
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 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
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 and coach passengers (on trains with an “A”) can access these meals in the dining car. The Auto Train and Silver Star do not have traditional dining for coach passengers.
|Auto Train||California Zephyr A|
|Coast Starlight A||Empire Builder * A|
|Southwest Chief A||Sunset Limited A|
|Texas Eagle A+||Silver Star|
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.
|City of New Orleans||Crescent|
|Lake Shore Limited||Texas Eagle*|
Check out this page for more information on these trains with Amtrak’s Flex Dining.
Coach Passenger’s Cost For Amtrak Traditional Dining
Traditional dining is returning for coach passengers who ride the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited.
All meals have a set price, with a limited number of reservations could.
Coach Passenger Prices
- Breakfast $20
- Lunch is $25
- Dinner is $45
- Kid’s meals are $20.
Meals include drinks and extras; dinner consists of three courses and one alcoholic beverage.
Food Options For Amtrak Traditional Dining
Amtrak menus often change their food offerings quarterly, and some trains offer new items they are trying out. This information applies to sleeper meals and coach passengers who pay the flat meal rate for dining car meals.
All meals come with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages, although you receive one alcoholic drink with dinner if you desire.
Breakfast can be a simple continental breakfast or one or more hot selections.
Amtrak rotates between French toast and pancakes. There is often a somewhat customizable omelet and a few other hot selections.
Feel free to add breakfast meat can be added as part of the deal.
Beverages include coffee, tea, juice, soft drinks, and other beverages along with your food. Often Amtrak allows you to get more than one beverage, such as coffee and milk or juices. Usually, you can grab a coffee to take back with you.
This meal includes a main course, a side, and a beverage.
Lunch includes various choices such as burgers, hot sandwiches, chili, and salad.
This meal includes a main course, dessert, and a beverage.
Dinner is now a three-course meal! Amtrak offers a traditional spread of dishes like beef, chicken, fish, or seafood entree and a vegetarian option.
Appetizers provide something extra to your meal, and who doesn’t like a sweet treat before returning to their room?
Often if you want something lighter, you can order select items from the lunch menu for dinner.
This meal includes a main course, dessert, beverages, plus one adult beverage! Passengers may purchase additional ones.
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
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.
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 time: 6:30 am – 10:00 am.
- The last boarding time to receive breakfast is 9:30 am.
- Reservations are not required.
- Lunch: 11:30 am – 3:00 pm.
- The last boarding time to receive lunch is 2:30 pm.
- Reservations could be required.
- 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 anytime and vary from train to train.
Making Reservations For Amtrak Traditional Dining Cars
Sleeping car passengers
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 must 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.
The dining car steward will let you know about the reservation process. Often they will come through the lounge and coach cars until there’s no more availability.
Coach passengers are not guaranteed reservations; if you cannot get a reservation, feel free to use the cafe car.
Amtrak Traditional Dining Dress Code
The dining car has no set dress code, but one should keep things family-friendly. Casual is fine, but you can dress up more to add to your experience.
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.
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
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.
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. 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 or where you can apply.
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This Post Has 10 Comments
Thank you for your help. This is my first trip and I am so excited. It is on my bucket list.
You are welcome! If you have any questions, let me know where I can help you! I hope you enjoy your trip.
How much and when do you tip your porter at the end of your trip?
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.
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.
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!
What type of cold meal breakfast is served to Westbound Empire Builder Sleeping Car Passengers on the Portland Section.
These days, I hear they are give you choices from the cafe car. So, hot and cold selections based on the current menu.
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!!
You are welcome, I am glad that I can help!