Eating on Amtrak
Eating on Amtrak

Eating on Amtrak: An overview of what to expect

Eating on Amtrak trains is possible on all but six of their trains. All other trains have at least one food car for all trains and long-distance trains often have two.

Food cars serve a few purposes for passengers. The obvious one is to get nourishment and beverages, but they also allow passengers to leave their seats or rooms, stretch their legs, and get a different scenery for a little while. On many Superliner trains, there are Sightseer lounges where you simultaneously enjoy your purchase and the scenery.

You can hang out in the cafe car, but be courteous of another passenger who may also want to use it. You can also hang out in the dining car while you eat.

This article is an overview with links for more in-depth articles; you may get hungry by the end! Or am I the only one who does that way when I read or talk about food for too long?

Setting your expectations for eating on Amtrak

Amtrak's Amfleet Café Car
Amtrak’s Amfleet Cafe Car

The first thing I want to address is setting your expectations. Not all trains, especially regional ones, have chefs who prepare meals. In many cases, the food options are more grab-and-go.

I hate to break it to you, but train travel isn’t always like what you see in old movies. For starters, there is usually less singing—often, there’s no singing. This lack of singing will upset the people who learned about train travel from White Christmas, but it relieves others who do not want to live in a musical.

The best thing you can do is be a responsible traveler and do your research.

Since you’re reading this page, I know you’re already on the right track. If you’re traveling on one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, you can find information about the available food services and the meals served onboard on my long-distance train schedule page. This way, you can plan and set your expectations accordingly.

Amtrak trains without food service.

These trains do not have cafes or food service cars, but one does have vending machines.

What different trains offer for food

Amtrak Acela First Class breakfast
Amtrak Acela First Class breakfast

As previously discussed, not all trains provide the same food service. This section delves into the services offered on different trains, while the next section will outline the types of food you can expect.

Regional Trains:

Regional trains, which typically travel less than 750 miles and are often state-funded, mainly offer coach-class seating, with some also providing business-class options. If traveling on a regional train, your food options will be available in the café car or through vending machines.

Long-Distance Trains:

All long-distance trains have a café car open to all passengers, making you feel welcomed and comfortable during your journey. If you have sleeping accommodations, you’ll be eligible for complimentary flex or traditional dining, depending on the train. Some long-distance trains also offer dining car reservations for coach passengers.

Acela:

Like regional and long-distance trains, Acela provides a café car that is accessible to all passengers. However, first-class passengers receive at-seat service, including drinks and meals.

Eating On Amtrak: Cafe Cars

A sandwisch, coffee, water, and brownie from an Amtrak cafe car.
A meal from the Amtrak Cafe Car

As you’ve learned, most trains have café cars that offer a variety of entrées, snacks, and beverages. You can enjoy your selections in the café car or return them to your seat or room. Menu options can vary depending on the route.

Amtrak café attendants use cardboard trays to facilitate food transport. The food is prepackaged, and customization is limited to adding condiments. If needed, the attendant will warm your purchased food will be warmed for you.

Regarding beverages, the café car offers a wide selection, including Coke products, coffee, tea, juices, and adult beverages.

For those concerned about the cost, an average meal (including a drink and an entrée) can start at around $10, depending on your choices. Some regional trains even offer combo meals, providing good value for money.

Amtrak café cars are usually open for most of your journey but may close for attendant breaks, at specific station stops, and at night on long-distance trains.

If you have dietary restrictions, reviewing the café menus in advance is a good idea to see if Amtrak’s offerings will work for you or if you need to bring your own food.

Coffee On Amtrak

Amtrak Coffee
Coffee from Amtrak’s cafe car.

Many people ask about coffee on Amtrak, so here’s the vital information. For some reason, coffee on the train tastes better—possibly psychologically.

Amtrak provides fresh coffee in the café cars and sleeping cars. The café and dining cars offer fresh drip coffee, while the sleeping cars serve percolated coffee. The type and brand of roast may vary depending on the route.

Amtrak doesn’t offer hot espresso drinks like lattes or fresh iced or cold brew coffee, but they sell bottled coffee drinks.

Eating On Amtrak: The dining car or sleeper passenger meals

June 20 2021 Amtrak #5 oma
The California Zephyr #5 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Depending on the route, Amtrak offers two different types of meals for sleeper car passengers.

Regardless of the meal type, you receive non-alcoholic beverages, desserts, and other meal-appropriate add-ons. Additionally, you get your first adult drink with dinner on Amtrak!

Flex dining

Amtrak Flex meal
Amtrak’s Chicken Marsala is part of its flex dining program, which includes iced tea, a roll, and a salad.

Trains with Flex dining:

These are pre-prepared meals that are loaded onto the train and heated onboard. They are not available to coach passengers. Often, your attendant brings these meals to your room, but Crescent and Lake Shore Limited sleeper car passengers can eat in the dining car.

There are hot and cold breakfast selections, and lunch and dinner share the same selections.

Traditional Dining

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

Traditional dining is prepared onboard and found on:

Set prices for coach passengers on some trains based on availability.

  • Breakfast $20
  • Lunch is $25 and $15 for kids
  • Dinner is $45 and $25 for kids.

Can you bring food On Amtrak Trains?

You can bring your food and drinks on the train, an excellent way to save money and accommodate dietary restrictions. However, it’s essential to know that Amtrak cannot heat, store, or refrigerate food, and the same rules apply to drinks.

Passengers can bring alcohol on the train but must keep it in their luggage unless they have a room. Amtrak prohibits coach and business class passengers from consuming alcoholic beverages they haven’t purchased from the food car. If caught drinking alcohol, you brought conductors may remove you from the train, especially if you become unruly. However, passengers with a room are allowed to consume alcohol in their room or a friend’s room.

Please do not bring or use coffee makers, hotplates, or any other small appliances on the train, as it is unsafe for you and the other passengers. Additionally, it’s best to avoid bringing smelly foods, as they can be unpleasant for others.

Finally, like restaurants, do not bring outside food into the dining or café car unless it is for young travelers.

Other Tidbits On Eating On Amtrak

Box meal on the builder
My car attendant handed me a meal shortly after leaving Portland, OR.

The Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited are unique within the Amtrak system.

These trains spit somewhere along that route, so the food offerings on the part of the route can vary. Since the train splits, only one section of the train will have a dining or sleeper car lounge during the trip, and the other half will have a cafe car.

Your first or last meal may not be in the dining car; it could come from the cafe or a box meal like the one in the photo.

Eating On Amtrak Wrap-up

To be safe, always bring a few snacks. I usually have a few bars, jerky, or snack packs, just in case! Don’t forget to pack a few protein-enriched snacks so they “last longer,”

Amtrak omelet breakfast
An Amtrak traditional dining omelet breakfast

When I plan a trip, I like to set aside some money for the café car, especially if I’m traveling in coach class. I find it more convenient to purchase meals onboard rather than bringing all my food. I prefer hot meals, but do whatever works best for you.

I’m not a traveler who enjoys lugging around coolers or extra food because I prefer to pack light.

I pack snacks in a reusable bag that I carry onto the train or stow in my luggage. As I travel, the bag empties, and then I can stow it away. Unless I’m on a day trip, I only pack snacks for one leg of the journey to travel lighter. This approach allows me to shop at my destination and savor something different, perhaps even a local delicacy, which always adds a delightful twist to my journey.

Remember that all the food available in the café car is prepackaged, and the staff can warm up the food you purchased onboard, not the food you brought from home.

Sometimes, I stroll to the café car to pick up a cheese tray and a glass of wine for a fancy snack to enjoy as I relax in my room. But what I truly cherish about train travel is the social opportunities it presents and the chance to leave my room.

I have met some wonderful people in the dining car, including friends I still keep in touch with today!

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.

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