Have you ever fantasized about riding in a train and having a meal in the diner car, just like they do in old movies like “Murder on the Orient Express,” “White Christmas” and “Strangers on a Train”?
If so, you’re in luck. Amtrak brought back their diner cars earlier this year, so if you’re taking a trip by rail in the future you may be able to enjoy this perk.
In 2019, Amtrak announced plans to retire their dining car. Presumably, they were seeking to lower costs by only serving ready-to-eat meals instead of allowing riders to order from a made-to-order menu.
In addition, the traditional white linen tablecloths that elevated the diner car into something special were discarded. Instead, only premium riders were able to access the dining car, which only had simple booths instead of elaborate tableware.
“We want to simplify the process,” Amtrak’s head of customer experience, Andrew Wilander, told the Washington Post in 2019. “On the single-overnight, long-distance trains, we have a mandate from Congress to take the loss on the food down, and we’re going to keep driving that down. The simplest way to do that is to go to a single food car and then have choice for customers.”
Unsurprisingly, Amtrak aficionados hated to see the traditional dining car fall by the wayside. In one negative review of the “new” dining car and food ordering system, Insider writer Graham Rapier confessed he hated the food and the new setup, as did most of his fellow riders.
Luckily, Amtrak finally listened to rider complaints and announced earlier this year that they were bringing back the dining car, at least for certain journeys and certain passengers. There’s still a catch, though: you need to book a private room on board to get access.
A few select Amtrak trains now retain the glory of this tradition, including the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle (for service between San Antonio and Los Angeles). This also means the return of chef-prepared meals, white linen tablecloths and fine cutlery.
Dining car service resumed on June 23, 2021, with children’s selections, appetizers, a complimentary alcoholic drink with dinner and even the return of ceramic tableware. You can find sample menus here.
“Amtrak is making many important investments to improve customer satisfaction, including restoring and reimagining our popular onboard dining experience with a service our customers will enjoy and our employees will be proud to offer,” said Robert Jordan, vice president customer service stations and onboard, in a press release at the time.
And it looks like the move is working. Trains.com notes in a review of the new setup that Amtrak has put major effort into the reinvention of its dining cars, upgrading food quality, selection and freshness. And according to feedback the company is getting, guests riding Amtrak trains have been much happier with the return of the dining car.
“Our customer satisfaction index has jumped 20%,” Robert Jordan, Amtrak’s vice president of customer service stations and onboard, told Eater.
Sounds like the perfect time to start planning an Amtrak trip!