Amtrak Traditional Dining
Amtrak Traditional Dining

Amtrak Traditional Dining: What You Need To Know

Amtrak traditional dining is a complimentary meal offering for passengers in sleeping accommodations.

These meals are also available to coach passengers on select trains based on availability.

Passengers can eat these meals in the dining car or their room. Here is a list of trains for Amtrak traditional dining; if your long-distance is not on that list, learn about Amtrak Flex Dining.

  • Amtrak offers various entrees with selections for kids that change seasonally.
  • All meals include extras or add-ons,
    • Whether in a sleeper or a paying coach passenger
    • Don’t worry about adding bacon and cheese to that burger or dessert with lunch or dinner!
  • Your meals come with a wide selection of beverages
    • Beer, wine, and spirits are for purchase
    • Your first adult beverage at dinner is on Amtrak!

Learn more about making reservations, see menus, and more!

Kev’s experience

Over my years of traveling with Amtrak, many great memories and “interesting” conversations happened 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 of my long-term friendships 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.

  • If you have a sleeper accommodation, as I said in the intro, your meals are part of your reservation.
  • Traditional dining is available to coach passengers on some trains, but
    • Reservations may be limited to coach class
    • Meals are at a set price for these passengers.
  • All train passengers can access the cafe car throughout the trip,
    • The car does close overnight and for 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
Silver Meteor
*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 Traditional Dining for coach passengers

Limited space is open in the dining car for coach passengers who ride the:

More coach seatings will open as more trains add traditional dining and get fully staffed.

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; alcohol can be purchased, although your first adult drink during dinner is on Amtrak.

What do you get Amtrak Traditional Dining meals?

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

  • Breakfast includes an entree and beverages.
    • Your breakfast can be a simple continental breakfast or, in my preference, one of the hot selections.
  • Amtrak rotates between French toast or pancakes.
  • There is always a somewhat customizable omelet and other hot choices.
  • Don’t forget to add breakfast meats if you are so inclined.
  • Beverages are included and listed in the next section
    • If you want to get coffee and juice, you can.
    • Don’t forget to have your coffee topped off before returning to your room.
    • The dining car coffee is better than the coffee station in your car, but that could be me.

Lunch

  • Lunch includes a main course, dessert, and a beverage.
  • Your options include various choices, often rotating items such as:
    • Burgers
      • Add cheese or bacon to your burger with lunch as part of the price.
    • Hot Sandwiches
    • Chili bowl or over a potato
      • On some trains
    • Salad.
    • Beverages are part of the price.
      • Again, you can purchase an adult beverage with this meal.
    • Includes dessert, and if I remember right, a salad.

Dinner

  • Dinner choices include a main course, dessert, beverages, plus one adult beverage!
    • Three-course on Superliner trains
      • Appetizer, main course, and dessert
    • Two-course meal for the Silver Star and Meteor
      • Appetizers, main course, and dessert.
    • Meals come with salad and a warmed roll.
  • Entree choices include one of the traditional options:
    • Beef, chicken, fish/seafood, and vegetarian options.
  • Appetizers provide something extra to your meal while you wait
  • Don’t forget to add that sweet treat before returning to your room!
  • If you want something lighter, you can often order select items from the lunch menu for dinner.
  • Beverages are included, including your first adult beverage!

If you want additional 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 kid’s menu is available for lunch and dinner and includes:

  • Grilled cheese,
  • Chicken breast
  • Hot dog
  • 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.

Hot beverages

  • Regular and decaffeinated coffee
    • Coffee in the dining car is drip coffee, while in sleeper cars, it is perculated.
  • Tea
    • 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

  • Beer
    • Bud Light, Corona, Stella Artois, Heineken, Stone IPA
  • Spirits
    • Tanqueray Gin, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Barcardi 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 since cell phones and smart watches often automatically correct themselves to the right 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 zone during service, then meal times are based on the time zone the service started; it does not hurt to ask the staff to ensure that the train operates under those terms.

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

Reservations are required for dinner, often for lunch, but are rarely needed 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, then you can have at least one person in your party must be in your accommodation to make said reservation.

On some trains, the steward will give you 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.

Coach passengers

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.

The 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’s 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. Ofen on Superliner trains, reservations are called, and on Viewliners, you walk to the dining car when that time comes.

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.”

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

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.

The menus can change anytime; sometimes, they offer entrees not on the menu as a test run. Often, these selections are 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

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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 4 Comments

  1. Larry Wilson

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

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

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