Dining Out at 79 Miles-An-Hour.
One of the duties of an Amtrak sleeping car attendant is to bring meals to your sleeping car roomette or bedroom should you decide to dine in. But outside of being ill or unable to walk on a moving train, why anyone would want to miss the dining car experience is a mystery to me.
And yet, veteran dining car LSAs—that’s Amtrak speak for Lead Service Attendant—have told me that on almost every trip there’s someone who asks to be seated alone and, when they discover that cannot be done, leaves the diner and has the car attendant bring meals to their sleeping car accommodations.
Most Amtrak passengers will tell you that sharing a table with strangers in the dining car is one of the real attractions of long-distance train travel. A reporter friend of mine says everyone has at least one interesting story to tell and the fun is in finding it. Apply that idea when you sit down for a dining car meal and you’ll almost certainly end up with two or three new friends. (The photo above is of Amtrak’s new Viewliner dining car.)
OK, now here’s the rest of Amtrak’s dining car etiquette:
Breakfast is first-come, first-served and usually begins at 6:30. Whenever you’re up and ready to eat, just head for the diner. If it’s full, the LSA will take your first name and call you over the trains PA system when there’s a table: “Jim, party of one. Jim, party of one.”
Lunch, depending on the train, will either be the same system or someone from the dining car staff will go through the train around 10:30 and assign seating times. Specific seating times are always given out for dinner.
When you enter the dining car, wait right by the door. Dining car staffs are very fussy about that because it’s hard enough carrying a tray full of meals to a table-for-four without having to work around passengers wandering into their way.
Meals for sleeping car passengers are included in the fares and some passengers think that means there’s no need to leave a tip for the server. Not so. As in any restaurant, I tip 15% of the menu price for whatever I’ve ordered, my rationale being the same that I apply to the car attendant: It’s a very tough job. On a long-distance train like the Southwest Chief of the Zephyr, it’s three 18-hour days, an overnight in a hotel, and three more 18-hour days on the way home. Good heavens! If the server is friendly and does a good job, it’s just not right to stiff ‘em!