Tipping in an Amtrak Dining Car – Why, When, and How Much?
I have a lot of empathy for the people who work in the Amtrak dining cars. Consider the dining car crew on the California Zephyr, for instance. They leave Chicago at 2:00 in the afternoon and they get to Emeryville at 4:15 in the afternoon two days later. That’s if they are on time, of course. They spend that night in a hotel and depart on the eastbound train at 9:10 the next morning, arriving back in Chicago just before 3:00 in the afternoon. Again, assuming they’re on time. (I just checked and, as I wrote this, the Zephyr is running four hours late on its way into Chicago.)
The daily routine is a killer: breakfast service begins at 6:30 and lasts about three hours. Lunch begins around 11:30 and ends well after 2:00. The dinner meal can be a four-hour affair. It starts around 5:15 and it’s usually 9:00 or 9:30 by the time the last person finally leaves the dining car.
It’s really a tough job and it’s beyond me why so many passengers – even (and especially) sleeping car passengers – stiff these hard-working folks when it comes to tipping. From my personal observation, most people tend to leave a token tip of a dollar or two … if they tip at all. Some sleeping car passengers seem to think that they don’t have to tip because their meals are “free”. Unfortunately, the IRS assumes the Amtrak servers are getting tips and they are taxed accordingly.
Anyway, my suggestion here is pretty simple: tip the dining car crew the same way you would tip in any restaurant: start with 15% of the menu prices and go up or down from there depending on the quality of the service.
One other thing: some dining car crews pool their tips and others do not. I‘ve developed the habit of asking at my first dining car meal on any Amtrak trip. If the crew pools its tips – and the best crews usually do – I will sometimes give the LSA (Lead Service Attendant) $20-$30 at the conclusion of my final meal on that trip. Otherwise, I’ll tip after each meal according to the quality of the service.
That covers tipping for the car attendants and the dining car staff. Next time: the lounge car attendant.
If tipping is expected this should be advertised to passengers when they book their tickets with expected amounts to which employees when and how much. Prices aren’t on the menu in the dining car so you don’t know what 20% of the meal cost is. And today not a lot of people carry cash and so a tip is something that requires pre-planning and a trip to the bank or ATM. A lot of people, myself included, have probably thought since meals are included and the room costs $600-$2000 that they have already paid. I only realized I have to tip because I did some Google searching when I was eating. I am feeling bad because I only had $20 which isn’t enough to tip for 3 meals and the car attendant. State these things up front Amtrak we don’t all know the proper ettiquite for trains.
I don’t care for the idea of telling passengers how much they should tip, but I do agree that passengers should be informed that tipping is appropriate.
Always wanted to tour the US of A. I have since been diagnose with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and decided the best way for me to fulfill this dream would be by train. I’ll be departing MIA on the SS to WAS, the Cardinal from WAS to Chi, CZ from Chi to EMY, the CS to Portland, EB from Portland to CHI, the Capitol Limited from CHI to WAS and the Silver Star back to MIA.
Amtrak Management has got to realize that probably more than 90% of cross Country ridership is to experience the scenic beauty of our Country and meals can make or break that experience. To say the least I will be extremely disappointed if, after paying a rail fare of more than 5k, my meals are nothing more than microwavable TV dinners. I read somewhere that amtrak has brought back traditional dining on their cross Country routes. Is this true?
It’s my understanding that traditional dining has returned to Amtrak dining cars. Aloha pumehana ia oe.
Union or Not the best recognition of a satisfactory job well done is by tipping. These people are away from their families days on end, My experience with service workers on trains is excellent and I show my gratitude by tipping .
I couldn’t agree more.
Tip you morons these people bust their butts
For me, the easiest one was tipping on the Amtrak dining car. Even though our meals were included as part of our having booked 2 sleeper cars, it is still appropriate to tip. We have had experiences before where we’ve had free meals, and we typically tip the customary 15-20% on what our meal WOULD have cost otherwise.
I have taken Amtrak to my sister in Seattle several times and my daughter in Portland, from Portage, WI. Food service was very good, and even if wait staff is well paid, the round trip entails somewhat gruesome hours, encourages me to tip, as a restaurant worker years ago.
I couldn’t agree more, Mary. On the western trains like the Builder, the dining car crews essentially work 13-14 hour days six days in a row. I tip he dining car crews generously, assuming the service reasonably good.
To me as a German one important question is: how to tip? Do I have to carry along cash for tipping. Or does tipping work with a bank/credit card as well?
A tip can be added to any charge put on your credit card–dining car meals or something from the snack bar. Tip your sleeping car attendant with cash.
Tipping is appropriate for they are providing a personal service . I tip 20% after every meal and give the sleeper car attendant $20 at the end of my trip. The Amtrak employees ate hard working and ate extremely eager to please.
Their tips are well deserved
Good for you, Lisa. I agree!
Tipping, for what, these are well paid union employees, doing what they are paid for deserved no tipping
That’s your choice, of course. Done right, however, it’s a very demanding job and it is MY choice to recognize that and show my appreciation when I find it.
I was a well paid union worker also. (different union) Why does that matter? Put yourself in their place. Wouldn’t you like to receive a tip for doing a good job. Don’t be a cheapskate.
I’m really confused. I advocate generous tipping for good service notwithstanding the fact that dining car employees are union members and as such receive much higher pay than workers in regular restaurants. How does that make me a cheapskate?
Jim, I hit the wrong “reply”. My comment was meant for Stan Hrin. Sorry.
Exactly!! They start at $20 an hour
The day Amtrak removes the toilets in the roomettes is the day I learn to fly. I can’t afford the bigger room and I don’t want to share a toilet with someone I don’t know.
I googled and got here because I wanted to know generally how much to tip Amtrak service employees (room attendant and restaurant server). Reading Mr. Loomis’ article and then Mr. Hale’s comment — I find the article “misleading by omission”!
I think an article that states both the tough job and the relative high union pay (as compared to ordinary restaurant servers) would have been fairer, more balanced and more objective.
I’m sorry … what’s your question?
I agree with Mr. Hale. Amtrak wages are much higher than restaurant workers. As a former Amtrak maintenance employee I always wondered why they got tips… It was Amtrak’s policy that tips at the Café Car were not allowed yet every trip I took a makeshift cup with the title “TIPS” was there on the counter. I do understand the difference between Café Car and Dining Car.
I did a great loop last year. LSL, EB, CS, SL and Crescent on a two week pass. Did coach on the LSL and had a roomette on other legs. I left as you say a token tip. There is a huge difference between dining car employees and servers in a restaurant. Servers in a restaurant make a very low, below normal minimum wage in most cases base hourly pay. THey make their money from tips and probably have lousy benefits, no reitrement etc. Dining car employees are members of a union, get railroad salaries, benefits and retirement. I don’t fault them for havin a well paid job with great benefits but their livelihood and survival is not dependent on tips. I see no reason that their tip should be the equivalent of a waiter at my local applebees.
For those less familiar with Amtrak travel, the trains referenced are Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, Empire Builder to Seattle (or possibly Portland), Coast Starlight to Los Angeles, Sunset Limited to New Orleans, and the Crescent back to starting point.
Bottom line is that customers should not be responsible for company employee’s salary. I’m saying this as a former waitress for 10 years. It is not fair for the consumer to feel like we have to spend extra money when we already paid for the service just to get good service??? Companies, just pay your employees a fair wage so they do not have to rely on a tip to make ends meet. Tipping should be banned period!! except if you are providing a self device.
This was confusing for me when I travelled on Amtrak. Coming from Australia, where tipping is not customary, I had just got into the habit of tipping at restaurants, now I had to work out how much to tip where they gave me my food for free! Too little and I caused offense, too much and I blew my budget for the day.