She’d Rather Dine Alone.

Q: I’ve been informed by my physician that I should no longer fly. Therefore, to attend a family event in early November, I have just booked a roomette from Chicago to Seattle on the Empire Builder. 

I’m basically a shy person and am not looking forward to sharing a table in the dining car with three strangers. I will probably choose to take my meals in my room, but I was told I should tip the car attendant $5 each time for this service. That seems excessive, since I was planning to tip $20 at the end of the trip, assuming good service en route.

A. As a sleeping car passenger, your meals are included in your fare. But if you don’t wish to share a table with your fellow passengers, the only other real option is to have your car attendant bring the meals to your accommodations and it is customary to tip for that service with $5 being the norm.

 You wrote that a $5 tip “seems excessive”, but every meal taken in your room requires three trips to the dining car by your attendant: (1) to deliver your order to one of the servers in the diner, (2) to pick up your meal tray when it’s ready and bring it to your room, and (3) to return everything to the diner when you’re finished.

And chances are, when your morning and evening meals are ready for pick-up, your car attendant will be in the middle of restoring a couple of dozen rooms to daytime configuration or trying to get berths ready for 30-plus passengers who want to turn in.  If you ask me—and you did—having to make three trips to the dining car in the middle of all that deserves a $5 bill as a “thank you.”

 But, seriously now, please don’t cheat yourself out of what most of us believe is almost always the best part of any long-distance train ride: sharing a meal with some of your fellow passengers. 

When you’re shown to a table, just sit down, smile, and say, “Good morning! My name’s Jim. Where are you folks headed today?” I promise you: an hour or so later, the attendant will have to politely ask you to move your conversation into the lounge car because the table is needed for the next group of hungry travelers.