It’s the Tipping Question Again.
Q: Jim, I’m going to be traveling overnight on the Silver Meteor from Philadelphia to Miami next month. It’s my first overnight ride in an Amtrak sleeping car. What in the way of service should I expect from the car attendant? And how much should I tip?
A: Well, starting when you first board the train, you should be treated in a friendly, but respectful manner. Shortly after you board, the car attendant should stop by your room to explain all its features: the light switches, the call button, how to control the A/C, etc.
At dinnertime, he should ask if you would like him to make up your bed while you’re in the dining car. Likewise, when you leave your room for breakfast the next morning, close your glass sliding door, but leave the curtain open so the attendant can see you’re not still sleeping. The room should once again be in the daytime configuration by the time you get back from breakfast.
A conscientious car attendant will check in on you once or twice during the day, but will be very low-key about it. I once had an attendant who poked his head into my room several times a day asking if I would like another bottle of water, even though there was water in plain sight. It was clear to me that he was angling for a bigger tip by giving the appearance of conscientious service.
Finally—and this is kind of the acid test for me—the car attendant should offer to assist you with your luggage when approaching your last stop.
As for how much you tip, I think that depends on how the attendant measures up according to your criteria. Did he or she anticipate and take care of your needs in a friendly-yet-professional way? Good. Then I suggest $10 per night per person. (That’s my rule-of-thumb for all long-distance train travel on Amtrak.) In other words, if there are two of you traveling and you’ve had good service, the tip should be $20. Increase that for any additional service you might have required—for instance $5 per person each time you asked the attendant to deliver meals to your accommodations.
Some passengers don’t tip at all; others only when they ask the car attendant to bring meals to the rooms. But it’s a tough job on a long-distance train like the Meteor. Your car attendant will be pretty much on duty for 31 hours, catching a couple of hours sleep here and there on the ride from New York. The crew will get a night’s sleep in a Miami hotel, then it’s another day and a night and a day taking another load of passengers back to New York. The good car attendants work hard at a tough job. I tip accordingly.