News & Reviews News Wire Amtrak plans to offer dining-car service to coach passengers, return traditional meals to eastern trains

Amtrak plans to offer dining-car service to coach passengers, return traditional meals to eastern trains

By David Lassen | June 15, 2021

| Last updated on June 23, 2021

No date set for changes, which will follow June 23 return of traditional meal service on western trains

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Table with Amtrak place settings, linen tablecloth and napkins
A table set for the return of full dining-car service on western Amtrak trains includes a linen tablecloth and napkins. (Trains: David Lassen)

CHICAGO — Amtrak plans to again offer dining car meals to coach passengers, and to again offer meals prepared onboard on its eastern overnight trains, as part of coming enhancements to its long-distance operations.

Dates and details for the roll-out of those changes are still to come, says Robert Jordan, vice president operations and customer services, at.a Tuesday event at Chicago Union Station previewing the return of traditional dining and interior improvements to the Superliner car fleet.

The exact timing and nature will largely depend on reaction to the new dining-car menu, to be rolled out on western long-distance trains as of June 23.

“A lot of it is centered on two things,” he says. First will be passenger reaction to the menu. “Do we need to make any adjustments? What is the most popular, and how long each of those items takes to cook, because we imagine that whatever is popular with our [sleeping-car passengers] is going to be as popular with our coaches,

“And then, once we understand that, we’ll figure out the logistics of what’s going to make sense. Is it opening up the dining room or additional tables for coach customers, or is it more of a take-out kind of menu, or is it a delivery? Those are the things we have to weigh. It is a priority for us to roll it out for coach customers, so hopefully within three or four months we can do that.”

Eastern trains will probably “a version” of the new menu, but probably not the exact version,” Jordan said. 

“You’re only talking three or four meals, so I don’t know if we have to have every single menu item. …. It will probably be an abridged version of this.” That change could come late this year or early next year, Jordan said.

The new full meal service will debut on on the California ZephyrCoast StarlightEmpire BuilderSouthwest ChiefSunset Limited, and the San Antonio-Los Angeles portion of the Texas Eagle [see “Amtrak to restore full meal service …,” Trains News Wire, June 3, 2021].

It features the return of linen tablecloths and napkins, new flatware and glassware, and — in a few months — new dining china. Initially, table settings will use plastic plates.

“It’s almost impossible to get new china right now, particularly custom-made, in the volume that we want,” Jordan says. “ So in three or four months, we’ll have real china

All of this, says Roger Harris, executive vice president, chief marketing and revenue officer, reflects an understanding that premium prices should be accompanied by premium service.

“We have so much demand that prices go up, because we’re a little bit of. Supply-and-demand world,” Harris says. “We look at it, and go, wow, if we’re going to charge people more, we better do a better job of looking after them. … It’s not just a tablecloth. The food product is better.”

Enlargement of menu with photo of french toast breakfast
A display on one of the tables in a dining car shows the new Amtrak breakfast menu with a photo of the “Railroad French Toast.” (Trains: David Lassen)

The menu, Jordan says, was developed with the input of both in-house and outside chefs. Cuisine Solutions — which, among other items, makes the sous vide egg bites served at Starbucks — was involved in several of the items; Aramark and other distributors are also represented on the menu.

“We also flew our own chefs in from Seattle, LA, and Chicago, once we were down to a near-final menu,” he says, “and they didn’t change a thing, which was a real ring of endorsement for us.”

The final menu features a mix of signature Amtrak items (Railroad French Toast, an Angus Beef Burger, and Flatiron Steak) as well as new entrees. Jordan says it reflects “a lot of experimentation, a lot of tasting, a lot of feedback from a lot of experts in the field.

“Overall, we wanted healthy items, whole food items — fairly traditional, but we wanted to simplify it to some extent, as well,” he says. “Our previous menu had 18 items; this one has, not counting the appetizers, 12 items. So customers are not overwhelmed by the choices and it makes it easier for our chefs to prepare these.”

20 thoughts on “Amtrak plans to offer dining-car service to coach passengers, return traditional meals to eastern trains

  1. Fast forward to December of 2022 and Amtrak still does not allow coach customers to eat in the dining car. Wouldn’t hold my breathe that it will happen. Bought a sleeping car and the steak was very good although the sides were good on the first part of the trip and withered and meager on the return trip. On both legs unfortunately the appetizers were really disappointing. Had the empananda first and the shrimp second and both were basically gas station microwave food. Like come on have some pride in your company.

  2. I ate a flat iron steak when I was conductor on Amtrak’s “Crescent” in the 90’s or early 2000’s and it was tasteless and tough as leather. Give me rib eye or give me death!

  3. The critical items omitted from the new traditional dining breakfast menu are pancakes with pure unadulterated maple syrup. I can only hope that refinement to the menu will include this legendary dining car fare.

  4. In FY19 Amtrak lost $41.5 million on its food and beverage services. In FY20 the estimated loss was $54.7 million. According to the company’s IG, approximately 95 percent of the losses are attributable to the long-distance trains.

    Just why the taxpayers should underwrite the cost of eats and drinks on Amtrak’s trains is a mystery.

  5. Don’t be celebrating too soon fellows. These changes will cause the losses to skyrocket and when the next president and congress get voted in there goes all the “nice to haves”. Even some of the democrat commentators are saying that Biden is one of the worst presidents ever and when the public gets tired of footing the bill for all of this stuff out he’ll go. Hopefully sooner rather than later. So, the old saying “rid’em while ya can” still applies.

    1. Actually, this costs four dollars less than the previous garbage. Also, Congress, both Republican and Democrat have agreed that Amtrak needs good food.

  6. Great timing for my Chicago to San Francisco round trip in July! Bucket list trip for the wife and me!

  7. Can anybody possibly explain why coach passengers were excluded from the diner? All I can come up with is that whoever invented PSR for freight railroads also brought the idea onto the passenger train. He decided that less revenue, fewer customers, and the more the customers loathe you, is a great idea.

    1. Charles – I can think of two possibilities: 1. Payment. Sleeper passengers tip, but do not have a cash or credit transaction with Amtrak. Maybe couldn’t be bothered to set this up. 2. Capacity. Are masks still required, along with social distancing? No unaffiliated seatmates in the diner? If so, might need a twin-unit (they are obsolete) or a triple-unit (also obsolete, SP had them).

  8. Have tickets on Crescent and Cardinal for late August. Hope peasants are allowed in the diners by then.

  9. It is awesome to see real dining returning to long distance trains, one of the best features of traveling by train. Good job Amtrak.😀

  10. Super news! Saner brains are taking over I guess. I hope the stupid single food service car idea is dead.

    1. I had to check the calendar. No it is not April first. Some good news for Amtrak long distance trains. I can hardly believe it.

    2. Biden and Democratic bigwigs will be good to Amtrak, and Anderson and his airline ways are out. Thus Amtrak can once again improve customer service.

  11. Traditional dining service is a major reason for me wanting to travel Amtrak again after many years.

  12. Yes, I’m surprised and delighted with the recent good news. Count me as one less airline ticket and one more sleeping car ticket when I travel from NY to FL this autumn.

  13. It’s about time. Why the new china? Amtrak has(or should have) china that was used years ago in storage.

    1. I, too, remember real dishes (Corelle?) before the disposable plastic ware was introduced ten years or so back. Where is it?

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