Planning your first trip can be fun, and setting your expectations is essential, so you know what to expect and how to prepare. Eating on Amtrak trains can be a fun but necessary travel experience.
This article helps you determine your choices for eating on Amtrak’s long-distance and regional trains.
Since this is an overview, there are links for more in-depth articles on the topic if you need more information.
While reading this article, you may need a snack because you could get hungry by the end.
Setting Your Eating On Amtrak Expectations
The first thing I want to cover about eating on Amtrak trains is to check your expectations.
You may feel disappointed if you think eating in Amtrak dining cars is like what you see in the old movies. First, there is much less singing on the train than in the old film, as in very little to know singing.
Seconds, times have changed, and even flying isn’t what you see in the movies either. Some trains, like the Hiawatha, offer food service.
What train you ride will determine what food you get; more on that in the next section.
Eating On Amtrak, What Their Different Trains Offer For Food
Not all trains offer the same food service; below is an overview of what Amtrak provides.
Regional trains travel under 750 miles and are often state-funded. Seating for these trains is mostly coach-class, although many offer business-class accommodations.
If you plan to take a regional train, your food choices come from the cafe car. There are a few trains that do have vending machines instead of cafe cars.
All long-distance trains have a cafe car that is open to all passengers. On many trains, the cafe car is towards the middle of the train.
If you have sleeping accommodations, your meals are complimentary, along with many beverages. More on this later.
Like regional and long-distance trains, Acela has a cafe car for all passengers.
First Class passengers get at-seat service, including drinks and meals.
Eating On Amtrak: Cafe Cars
As you learned, most trains have café cars offering various hot and cold entrees, snacks, and beverages. Beverages include Coke products, coffee, tea, and adult beverages.
The attendants put your selections in a cardboard tray to make taking your food to your seat or table easier.
Depending on your order, an average meal can start around $10 and go up based on what you want.
Amtrak cafe cars are open most of your journey but may close for the attendant breaks. The cafe car is closed at night if you are on a long-distance train.
Remember that not all regional trains have food service, like the Hiawatha. Trains without any food service are often short-run trains.
The Amtrak website and app indicate that your train route has a cafe car.
When Can You Use The Cafe Car?
After your ticket gets scanned, you can get up and walk to the cafe. But if you are at the beginning of the route, listen to ensure it is open before taking the hike. On some trains, the cafe may close for the attendant to prep sleeping car meals.
The cafe car will make announcements throughout the journey reminding you where the cafe car is and when it is open to get your snacks and more.
Where Is The Cafe Car?
Some routes have cafe cars in the middle of the train while others are on the ends. There is not one set location for these cars across the system.
You can always ask a conductor if you cannot find the cafe car.
The cafe car service is a buffer between the coach and the dining car for long-distance cars. The Western train is on the lower level of the Sightseer cars.
More information On Amtrak Cafe Cars
Menus can vary based on the region and who sponsors the train.
More on Cafe Cars
Coffee On Amtrak
I often get asked about coffee on Amtrak, so here is what you need to know.
For whatever reason, coffee on the rails, for me, taste better than that same coffee off the train. I know it is psychological.
The roast can vary from time to time and route to route.
You can find coffee In the cafe and dining car; in these cars, coffee is drip-brewed.
In the sleeping cars, Amtrak offers percolated coffee.
Amtrak does not offer espresso drinks such as lattes, nor do they offer iced or cold brew coffee. Amtrak does offer bottled coffee drinks.
Eating On Amtrak: Long-Distance Trains
Coach And Business Class
Coach and business class passengers may purchase food from the cafe car or bring food and beverages onboard. While coach and business class passengers can pack alcohol, they cannot consume their stash aboard, but the cafe car sells alcohol.
On select routes, traditional dining is returning for coach passengers for trains that depart on March 1, 2023, or later. Those routes include the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited.
All meals have a set price, and a limited number of reservations could be allowed due to demand.
Estimated prices based on what Amtrak did with the Coast Starlight Business Class passengers,
- Breakfast $20
- Lunch is $25 and $15 for kids
- Dinner is $45 and $25 for kids
Dinner includes a three-course meal and an adult beverage.
For Sleeping Car Passenger
- All the scheduled meals in thedining car or Sleeper Loungecome with your room price.
- Includes entrees, non-adult beverages, and desserts
- Your first alcoholic beverage comes with dinner
- Tips are appreciated
- A selection of non-alcohol drinks is available throughout your trip.
- Your car attendance can bring the food to your room.
- Sleeper passengers can purchase additional food or drink in the cafe car or consume adult beverages onboard, but only in their accommodations.
Traditional dining is when chefs on board prepare your food; flex dining is prepackaged meals heated in convection ovens.
Bringing Food On Amtrak Trains
You can bring food on the train, but Amtrak staff cannot heat, store, or refrigerate it for you. Do not bring or use a coffee maker, hotplates, or other small appliances on the train because it is unsafe for you and others. Plus, other passengers would appreciate it if you refrain from eating smelly foods.
Like in restaurants, do not bring food into the dining car or cafe car you did not buy on the train; the exception is food for young travelers.
Other Tidbits On Eating On Amtrak
The Empire Builder andLake Shore Limited are unique within the Amtrak system.
Not all parts of these trains are together for the whole route.
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 and could come from the cafe or a box meal like in the photo.
Eating On Amtrak Wrap-up
I budget money for the cafe car for my train trips, especially if I am in coach class. It works better for me if I buy meals onboard than bringing all my food on board with me.
I’m not particularly eager to carry coolers because I like to pack light. However, I may pack snacks in a reusable bag before getting off the train.
Remember, all the food in the cafe car is prepackaged. Cafe car attendants can warm up the food you bought but not the food you brought.
Riding in sleepers has changed since I started, such as an adult beverage complimentary with dinner.
I walked to the cafe car to get a cheese tray and wine to be fancy while relaxing in my room. Additionally, I have met some fantastic people in the dining car, including friends I still talk to today!
Other helpful links
Info on Riding Amtrak
Say thanks to Kev
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