Well, first of all, let’s make a distinction between the person in charge of the café
on the lower level of the Superliner Sightseer Lounge car and the attendant who staffs the café cars that are part of most of Amtrak’s short haul all-coach trains.
Basically they both serve soft drinks, candy bars and other snacks, and pop breakfast sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers and other pre-packaged items into the microwave. The main difference is the number of hours they work.
The attendant on one of the short-haul trains works for the duration of the journey. For example, on the Maple Leaf running from New York City to Toronto, that’s a little over 12 hours.
But the days are a lot longer for lounge car attendants on a long distance train like the Southwest Chief or the Sunset Limited. He or she is open and serving until 11:00 or later in the evening and is up and back at it the next morning by 6:30. They take a 45-minute break for meals, but those are the only times they close throughout those very, very long days.
As to tipping these folks, the best way to do it is to leave some extra change or a dollar bill whenever you make a purchase, an amount that bears some relationship to the amount of the sale. And, of course, much depends on how you’re treated. Prompt cheerful service is the norm, but every so often, if you get a grouch … well, you know.
By the way, before Amtrak adopted a total no smoking policy, the lower level of the Superliner lounge car was the only place smoking was permitted on the entire train. Of course, all the smokers headed there, took up all the seats in the booths, and puffed away. Those lounge areas were often literally filled with smoke and the poor attendants on all the western trains had to live in that awful environment for two-and-a-half days from Chicago out to the west coast and another two-and-a0-half days back. That was real misery!
There are, in fact, no soft jobs on an Amtrak train.