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Amtrak Coach Passengers Can Access Dining Car on Select Trains

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James Larounis

James Larounis

Senior Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 30U.S. States Visited: 35

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in...

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If you’re traveling in coach on some of Amtrak’s long-distance train services, you’ll now have the opportunity to use the dining car onboard.

Coach passengers will now be able to enjoy full-fledged meals for an additional cost in the dining car, which was a beloved service removed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s what you should know!

What To Expect on Amtrak’s Dining Car

To provide context, Amtrak utilizes 2 dining options for its long-distance journeys, or trains that are 1 or more nights in length. Most trains utilize a to-go style dining service with pre-packaged meals, and these are traditionally served on most trains of only 1 night in length.

Then, on longer trains, a full dining car is used with actual sit-down meals. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, coach passengers could use the dining car on all trains and purchase meals à la carte.

Now, Amtrak is bringing back this luxury concept on the following trains:

  • Empire Builder
  • California Zephyr
  • Southwest Chief
  • Coast Starlight
  • Sunset Limited

With the exception of the Coast Starlight, which goes from Los Angeles to Seattle, all trains on this list are 2 or more nights in length.

Coach passengers will now be able to purchase meals in the dining car. Image Credit: Amtrak

Each train will have a limited number of coach passenger seatings for each meal period, no longer restricting you to just the café car.

Sleeping car passengers have their meals included, so these passengers will get first priority at meals and will always be able to be accommodated. However, leftover spaces will be released to coach passengers. Since sleeping car passengers usually reserve times for lunch and dinner, presumably, the coach times would be able to access remaining meal services.

Here’s the pricing for meals:

  • $20 for breakfast
  • $25 for 2-course lunch
  • $45 for a 3-course dinner
  • $20 for all kids meals, no matter the meal time
I enjoyed a salad onboard Amtrak’s dining car. Image Credit: James Larounis

The dinner meal includes 1 complimentary alcoholic drink, and all meals include unlimited complimentary non-alcoholic drinks.

These prices are undoubtedly expensive — but on a train where limited amounts of food available, the rates are adjusted accordingly. Meals in the dining car are similar to restaurant service, and you’re paying for better-quality food that would be available in the to-go cafe.

Hot Tip: If you’re planning to explore the U.S. on the rails, read through our ultimate guide to Amtrak’s regional and long-distance routes!

Final Thoughts

It’s great to see dining car meals once again available for coach passengers at a per-meal cost. The latest move by Amtrak brings back a major service element that was removed during the COVID-19 pandemic, making the coach experience much more enjoyable for passengers on select long-distance trains.

About James Larounis

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in dozens of travel publications.


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Dee Rush

April 16, 2023

This is RIDICULOUS! It seems as if Amtrak is trying to discourage Coach passengers from eating in the Dining car with these set (and high) prices. When did Amtrak become so ridiculously elitist?

Philip Armstrong

April 23, 2023

I’ve been waiting for the dining car to return for coach passengers and I don’t agree with the description of this as “a luxury concept” on a train that I’d be on for 14 or more hours. I recently stopped using the Coast Starlight in favor of the shorter mixed service trips because they no longer served cheese pizza in the cafe car and the other options for vegetarians were not appetizing to me. I had been told that the reason for not letting coach passengers use this service is because Amtrak didn’t have a way to charge coach passengers. I support bringing back a la carte meal prices in the dining car for coach passengers as a way of fulfilling Amtrak’s mission, which I see as providing a comfortable alternative to travel by private vehicle, for people of modest means whose income has not kept pace with inflation.


April 23, 2023

It is a bit expensive but as I will be a captive audience I am grateful to have the option of some real food on my upcoming cross country trip without having to spend even more money on a roomette.

Royce Sorensen

May 28, 2023

The dining car experience for all passengers was a major highlight of train travel. With its loss and limitations coupled with non-daily train frequency and limited routes I’m almost ready to give up on US train travel after so many years of support!


June 16, 2023

I just took a coach trip on the Southwest Chief, and I thought the dinner for $45 was about what you might expect to pay for a steak, appetizer, side dish, dessert, glass of wine and coffee. Everything was very good. Buying the items separately was not an option. It was a nice dining experience, and I am glad they are offering this option to coach again. The other meals and the kid’s option don’t seem like as good a deal for $20 and $25.


August 02, 2023

Absolutely ridiculous that for this length of a trip with possible major delays we can’t access a hot meal. Makes flying almost seem like a better option.

Gus D

September 02, 2023

A bit pricey, but no one forcing me to eat there.

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