After months of having to endure mostly cold boxed food—what some critics dubbed “Unhappy Meals”—on two Amtrak long-distance route, the New York-Chicago Lake Shore Limited (Trains 48/448 and 49/449) and the Washington D.C.-Chicago Capitol Limited (Trains 29 and 30), sleeping car passengers on those trains now have can choose from several hot food choices on the menu.
When Amtrak, under President and CEO Richard Anderson (a former airline executive whose reputation with employees and customers was, according to some accounts, less than favorable), instituted cold food in a box soon after he took office and called it “Contemporary Dining,” there was a huge outcry. Apparently, the often-vocal complaining, which involved Amtrak unionized employees, worked. What Amtrak is now calling “Contemporary Dining Improvements” includes three hot entrées and “deluxe breakfast choices,” up from one hot-meal choice brought back in July 2018.
Sleeping car customers can now choose the following, with meals delivered to their Bedrooms or Roomettes, “or eaten in their private dining car,” Amtrak said. Lunch and Dinner hot items are Chicken Penne Alfredo, Beef Provencal and Asian Noodle Bowl (there is a chilled item, an Antipasto Plate). Deluxe Continental Breakfast hot items are Oatmeal and a Breakfast Sandwich. (Chilled items are Muffins, Yogurt, Fresh Fruit, Hard-boiled Eggs and Cereals. Customers are also offered unlimited soft beverages, a complimentary serving of beer, wine or a mixed-drink during their trip and an amenity kit, all included in their fares. A Kosher meal is provided with advance notice and children’s meals are also available. Menus for both trains are on Amtrak.com.
“We continuously improve and enhance our offerings,” said Peter Wilander, Amtrak Vice President, Product Development and Customer Experience. “Our customers say they want high-quality food with good variety—and we are listening.”
Editor’s Note: Railway Age, taking note of the term “their private dining car” for sleeping car passengers, has asked Amtrak whether Coach Class passengers will be allowed to purchase hot meals in the dining car for an extra charge. Spokesman Marc Magliari responded: “Coach customers are invited to use the café car, where hot and cold items are available for sale. The dining car being used for the menu in the news release is solely for sleeping car customers, for whom the meals are included in their fare. Some of the customer feedback from sleeping car customers has been an appreciation of that fact. As you can see, we are continuously working to improve this model, and coach customer access to that menu is a future consideration.” This policy has been in effect on just the Lake Shore and the Capitol Limted when the new, reduced menu was instituted last year. On other long-distance trains with full-service dining cars, coach passengers are still welcome to purchase meals in the dining car.
Also, we have asked if the hot meals are cooked fresh in the dining car, or are pre-packaged meals heated in a microwave oven. “The food preparation takes place off-site, with some heating, some plating and presenting taking place on these trains,” Magliari explained.