Amtrak to Phase Out Traditional Dining Cars
Say goodbye to those white tablecloths.
No one claims that riding the rails is what it used to be, but for those interested in the nostalgia of traveling America by train will have to go without one of Amtrak’s signature services: the company is phasing out its traditional white linen dining cars, and doing away with its kitchens in the process—opting instead to give long-haul travelers a more “contemporary” dining experience of prepared meals.
The new, more “flexible”—and less social—service is being rolled out this fall on one-night routes east of the Mississippi River, according to The Washington Post. Part of the change is aimed at saving money—reportedly about $2 million per year—but Amtrak also suggested that younger generations simply didn’t want a dining setting where they might be expected to talk to neighboring passengers.
“It is part of an evolution,” Peter Wilander, Amtrak’s vice president of product development and customer experience, told the Post. “The concept is to provide service the way our customers want rather than have everybody conform to one service delivery. Some people really like [the dining car] and view it as sort of a nostalgic train experience…. 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’ they don’t know.”
Those who haven’t taken an overnight Amtrak ride recently might be surprised to hear that the train company even still had full-service dining cars, tablecloths and all. Travelers could get things like eggs for breakfast or steak for dinner, all cooked to order—and also needed reservations for these meals. But now, meals will be prepackaged—the Post provides the examples of red wine braised beef and chicken fettuccine—and breakfast will be more continental and served buffet-style.
These changes are part of a larger overhaul that Amtrak is working on to attract customers. “We haven’t forgotten the long distance,” Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president of marketing and revenue, was quoted as saying. But the problem is that there’s only so much you can Instagram on a 20-hour train ride.