What you need to know about Amtrak Dining Cars
Over my years of traveling on Amtrak, many great memories and “interesting” conversations happened over a meal in the Amtrak Dining Car.
Amtrak food update
Amtrak modified all Eastern long-distance trains to the new contemporary meal service on October 1st, 2019. For information on the latest changes, check out this article. This article has been updated to reflect those changes.
The dining car is the heart and soul of the train, where people gather for a common goal, food!
- What Amtrak trains have or do not have Amtrak dining cars
- Links to dining car menus
- The type of dining cars used on Amtrak trains
- How to make meal reservations
- Car etiquette
What Amtrak Trains Have Dining Cars & What Sleeper Lounges?
Trains that do not have dining cars at all
- Regions trains (trains that travel less than 750 miles)
- Silver Star (long-distance train) Dining car service in returning in 2020
- Palmetto (long-distance train but not an overnight train)
Amtrak trains with traditional dining cars
- California Zephyr
- Coast Starlight
- Empire Builder
- The dining car is not available between the cities of Portland, OR, and Spokane, WA on trains 28 and 29, there is a cafe car, and other food is available for sleeping passengers
- Southwest Chief
- Sunset Limited
- Texas Eagle
Amtrak trains with flexible dining
As of right now, this service is only available to sleeping car passengers, and Amtrak is looking to expand this service to coach and business class passengers.
- Auto Train for more information on the changes coming to this routes click here
- Capitol Limited
- City of New Orleans
- Lake Shore Limited
- Silver Meteor and Star -Flexible dining is returning in Star in 2020
Wait, let’s back up for a second, what is a dining car?
A dining car is where Amtrak serves meals in a restaurant-style; a cafe car sells grab and go food, beverages, and snacks.
Amtrak Dining Car Menus
The menus seem to change quarterly, and some trains have off-menu specials, but not all. Occasionally some meal choices run out along the way, but other options are usually are available if your first choice isn’t. Sidenote: trains are stocked with food at the endpoint and not restocked er route.
- This menu is the menu for the long-distance trains that run west of the Mississippi River
- The menu for the Flex Dining for the routes that run east of the Mississippi River
- As of now, the Silver Star does not offer a dining car at this time but provides this menu; you can purchase these items in the cafe car.
If you have special food requirements or questions on special meals, click here.
Two Types of Amtrak Dining Cars
Amtrak runs both bi-level and single-level trains and single-level trains on routes in and out of New York Penn Station. The bi-level trains do not fit in the tunnels.
Sleeping Car Lounge
- These lounges are either Viewliner or Superliner dining cars
- Amtrak uses these for sleeping car passenger to relax
- The “contemporary meals” are served out of these cars
Superliner Traditional Diners
- Bi-level cars
- The dining area in on the upper level while this kitchen is on the lower lever in Superliner dining cars
- Booths seating on the top level with the kitchen below
- Found the long-distance train that does not go through New York Penn, but the City of New Orleans and Capitol Limited use a modified version of this car (see below)
Mealtimes for Traditional Amtrak Dining Cars
Meal services operate during the local time, but for the Eastbound Cardinal and Capitol Limited. The meal times on these trains star and continue on Central time even after it crosses over to Eastern Time,
General dining car note
- Abridged or omitted meal services may occur if the train reaches its final destination during the typical meal service
- Ask onboard staff if you have questions
- The cafe car is available to purchase food from early in the morning to late at night but does close for the attendance breaks
- Breakfast services time is from 6:30 am – 10:00 am
- Last boarding time to receive breakfast service is 9:30 am
- Reservations are usually not needed
- There are no announcements for the start of this service; you may go for breakfast anytime after 6:30 am
- Lunch Service is from 11:30 am – 3:00 pm
- Last boarding time to receive lunch service is 2:30 pm
- Reservations could be required
- Dinner service is from 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm
- Final boarding time to receive dinner service is 8:30 pm
- Reservations are required
Be advised, all this can change at any time and can vary from train to train.
Info on Meal Reservation
You need a reservation for supper, possibly for lunch (depending on the train), but never for breakfast.
Sleeping car passengers
There are times when your car attendant will make the reservations for you; an example is if you are not on board during the time reservations are being made.
For sleeper car passengers, making reservations is easy. The dining car makes an announcement stating that they are coming around to take reservations, and during that time, have at least one person in the room to make the reservation. Often when you make your reservations, they give you a reservation reminder slip.
For passengers in coach class, after they take the sleeper’s reservations, the dining car steward walks through the coach cars to make reservations for those passengers, wait at your seat till after they come through if you want a ticket. There is a chance that you could catch them in the observation car, but your reservation choice could be limited. If you board the train after they take reservations, you can ask in the dining car if there are any openings or wait and see if they have the last call. The cafe is always available for food as well.
If you miss booking a reservation
If there are open seats at the end of the service, they may announce that seating is available for people without reservation. During that time, if the diner becomes too full, they take names in order of that you arrive and call you back as seats open.
Ask your car attendant if meal services the announce reservations or if you should walk to the dining car at your reservation time.
Be aware at times the dining car is busy, and 6:30 reservation could get called at 6:45, but 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.
When You Enter Traditional Amtrak Dining Car
Skip this section if you plan on riding the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Silver Star and go the next section for more about the services on those trains
Below is common practice for eating in an Amtrak Dining Car
The exceptions are the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited, more on those later.
- When arriving in the dining car, wait to be seated
- The steward will often tell you where to sit
- Amtrak practices community seating mostly when they are busy
- If there are fewer than four people in your party, others may join you
- Sleeping car passengers
- Before you order your meal, the staff will hand you a piece of paper fill in your sleeper car number, room number/letter (this info is on your ticket), and then sign the staff will fill everything else out for you
- All scheduled meals come with the price of your room ticket (so pick what you want), a meal includes one entree, plus meal appropriate extras such as breakfast meat, cheese, desserts with lunch and dinner, and salad and dinner roll
- Meals include beverages but not alcohol (except for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited)
- Coach passengers
- You will not have to sign a slip
- You are responsible for paying for your meal
- The experience is similar to that of a restaurant
Eastern Trains Flex Dining
- Dining car service is not available to coach passengers on these two trains
- Amtrak offers a “contemporary” food selection
- These trains meals are pre-made
- Offerings include both hot and cold meals
- Breakfast is similar to a hotel set up with a heated up sandwich and drinks available from the attendant
- Amtrak is still working on these new meal programs
- Mealtimes on these cars are flexible to your needs.
- These trains meals are pre-made
- On these trains, the diner cars are now lounge cars and only for sleeper car passengers
- Meals include your first alcoholic beverage
- Unlimited non-alcoholic beverages throughout the whole trip
- Menu for these trains
Sleeping Car Passengers Meals Aboard The Eastern Routes
You are now able to get your meal when they are convenient for you. I have not been on these trains since the recent changes have come into play. Ask your car attendant what the procedure is for your train.
Current protocol in these cars
You can order your meals with your car attendant to have them brought to you. The other option is to eat in the Sleeper Lounge Car. If you chose this option, walk to the car and place your order with the attendant in that car. After they prep your meal they will bring it to your table, or you can carry it back to your accommodation.
Diner and lunchtimes are open to when you are hungry, and ask for current breakfast times, probably available after 6 am.
Anytime there is an attendant in the car, you can ask for complimentary soft drinks anytime and adult beverages during dinner.
This meal was handed out after leaving Portland, OR.
Trains That Split ~ Empire Builder & Lake Shore Limited
A few trains like the Empire Builder and the Lakes Shore Limited that split or join another train with the same name en route. During your part of your trip, there may not have a dining or cafe car. Often your section of the train will have one or the other.
For example, the Portland section (28) of the Empire Builder joins the Seattle section (8) in Spokane, WA. The Seatle section has the diner, and the Portland section has a cafe car. If you are a Portland sleeper passenger, you are handed a meal soon after you leave, and after the two trains combine, you will enjoy the rest of your meals in the dining car.
Tipping is appreciated, and many passengers base the tip amount off the menu prices.
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