Dining Onboard Amtrak’s Long Distance Trains

people sitting in a train

Gone are the days of fine dining with crisp linens, fine cutlery and impeccable service aboard trains across the United States. Now, Amtrak rules the rails and the dining experience is far from that of yesteryear.

Amtrak operates multiple long-distance services across the US, some of which travel across, while others up and down. On each of these long distance trains – those that travel overnight – there’s a dining car that services the food and beverage needs of those onboard. It’s an onboard restaurant of sorts, complete with a kitchen, tables and wait staff.

How does one dine in the dining car?

First off, it’s important to note that it’s very worthwhile to make a reservation for eating in the dining car. Not only will the car become crowded during peak hours, but first preference is also reserved for those in sleeping car compartments since the food is included with their ticket.

To make a reservation, a member of the dining car’s wait staff will come around to each of the sleeping compartments individually and offer a choice of times. You’ll select a time and receive a confirmation slip in return. This is the slip you’ll need to bring to the car when you’re ready to dine.

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When you arrive in the dining car, you’re seated with other people. There’s rarely an opportunity to sit alone, if you’re traveling by yourself, so expect to sit with at least one other person you don’t know, sometimes more.

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The Menu

The menu isn’t as varied as a full restaurant, but does feature a daily selection of meals, listed by traditional meal hours. Breakfast usually includes a choice of an egg option, a French toast option and a section of meats. Lunch includes a list of hot choice and sandwiches. For dinner, you’ll usually find a steak, a selection of seafood and some sort of vegetarian or healthy option, at the minimum. There are kid options as well.

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  • Sleeping car passengers can select one entree and one non-alcoholic drink. Each meal comes with a starter salad and bread.
  • Alcohol is always extra, and will be added to your final bill.
  • Be sure to have your room number and car handy, since this information is noted on your receipt so they can “zero-out” your bill.

The Food

Well, it’s not the best to be honest. Think of a cross between an average chain restaurant and a microwave meal and you sort of come up with what an Amtrak meal looks and tastes like.

On a recent trip, I enjoyed the steak which was cooked as I asked, though was a bit on the tougher side, indicating that at one point, I believe it was frozen. It was served with a salad to start and a strawberry cheesecake for dessert.

Overall, not bad, but don’t come here expecting a 5-star meal or experience – it’s anything but. That said, it’s an experience you should try if you haven’t. You won’t get this flying, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


  1. Steve says

    As an avid collector of railroad dining car recipe manuals from the 19th and 20th centuries, I have to say it was at first a delight to see the article, and then so totally discouraged to read its contents, which of course I already knew.

    Thirsty for my experiences of the past, memories of a quality dining experience never to be repeated…

    Very sad that those times cannot be shared and experienced by those who were born too late…


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