- Julie Byrne/Amtrak
- Amtrak is nixing its traditional dining car services on the company’s one-night East Coast routes.
- The passenger railroad service has had dining cars since the start of its service in the 1970s.
- Take a look at the history of the dining car, from Amtrak’s incorporation to 2019’s announced shuttering.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Amtrak is doing away with its iconic dining car on overnight trains traveling on the East Coast, instead replacing them with “flexible dining services” of ready-to-serve food.
The dining cars have been a part of Amtrak since it started service in 1971. The news of the reduction of the number of dining cars in service – as well as the claim that millennials would rather sit in their rooms instead of next to people they don’t know to eat dinner – has caused backlash on the internet.
“Some people really like [the dining car] and view it as sort of a nostalgic train experience,” Peter Wilander, Amtrak’s head of customer experience, told the Washington Post. “Some people, especially our new millennial customers, don’t like it so much. They want more privacy, they don’t want to feel uncomfortable sitting next to people.”
The passenger train company is still keeping its dining car services on long-distance trains, which include its seven overnight routes: California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, the Auto Train, and Texas Eagle.
The new flexible dining services now feature prepackaged meals of red wine braised beef, vegan Asian noodle bowl, chicken fettuccine, creole shrimp and andouille sausage, and a kid’s meal pasta and meatballs. To compare, the original dining cars had options such as steak and crab cakes, salmon, and thyme-roasted chicken breast, which were cooked in an onboard kitchen.
Amtrak anticipates that these changes will save them $2 million annually, according to the Washington Post.
Take a look at the timeline of the iconic Amtrak dining car:
In 1971, Amtrak purchased 140 dining cars for the start of its service. This photo, taken in the early 1970s, shows one of those cars.
- Amtrak Corporate Collection
This photo, likely taken in the 1970s, depicts a steward in the dome lounge car playing a dining car chime to alert passengers of dinnertime. These cars were all retired by 1981.
Around the mid-1970s, Amtrak redesigned the on-board service employee uniforms, which can be seen in this photo taken in 1976. By 1978, female attendants wore navy blue slacks and blouses or turtleneck pullovers, and white vests with blue trims, pictured below. The vests matched the jackets worn by men.
- Julie Byrne/Amtrak
The dining car attendant’s blue coffee pot was a part of a serving set that also included teapots, creamers, sugar bowls, water pitchers, and bud vases, according to Amtrak. They all have angular handles and are a medium blue color, as requested by company.
This photo, taken either late-1970s or early-1980s, shows the kitchen on a bi-level Superliner train car. The kitchen was air-conditioned and lit with fluorescent bulbs and came equipped with electric convection and microwave ovens, an electric grill, toaster, coffee maker, and a warming table.
Welders were working to install a new air conditioning unit under a dining car in this photo taken in 1980.
The dining car in this Superliner train had 18 tables, seated 72 passengers, and had a central serving area. The downstairs kitchen, the original shown two pictures prior, was converted to all-electric when this photo taken in the 1980s.
The Superliner dining car was only a few years old in this photo with the dining car staff of a Southwest Chief train taken in 1985.
- Ira Silverman/Amtrak
Passengers worked and ate in this 2000 photo of the Amtrak Metroliner.
This 2015 photo shows a kitchen that will serve about 300 meals by the time the train reaches New York.
This photo, taken the same year, shows a service attendant on the single-level dining car on a Silver Meteor train traveling to New York from Miami.
This 2017 photo shows a couple eating in the dining car on another Silver Service train between New York and Miami.
By 2017, the seats no longer had the bright upholstery as shown in the 1980s.
This photo, also shot in 2017, shows a typical Amtrak dinner of steak, shrimp, and mashed potatoes.
In the morning, a continental breakfast is served.
In 2019, Amtrak introduced “Flexible Dining” for its east coast sleeper routes which includes a dinner of creole shrimp and andouille sausage…
…and pasta and meatballs on. The “Flexible Dining” menu consists of ready-to-serve choices which can be heated up without the kitchen of the dining car. Instead of being offered in a formal dining room, riders can have their meals brought to their rooms or eat in the lounge car.