Passengers traveling by rail in the United States before the widespread adoption of dining cars were required to visit roadhouses near the railroad’s water stops if they wished to have a meal during their journey.
The cost of the trip may cover low-quality food such as spoiled meat, unheated beans, and stale coffee. These unsatisfactory conditions dissuaded numerous individuals from embarking on the journey.
Railroads started serving meals on trains even before the First Transcontinental Railroad. By the mid-1880s, dining cars were commonly present on long-distance trains from Chicago heading west, except for the Santa Fe trains that depended on the first interstate chain of restaurants to feed their passengers.
The famous “Harvey Houses,” situated strategically along the rail line, provided excellent meals to railroad customers during planned breaks and were preferred over onboard dining facilities for all trains traveling to points west of Kansas City.
As competition between railroads grew, dining car service improved significantly. The Santa Fe railroad introduced its “Pleasure Dome”-Lounge cars in 1951, which included the Turquoise Room. The room could seat up to 12 people and be reserved for private dinners, cocktail parties, or other special events. Celebrities and dignitaries frequently used the Turquoise Room while traveling on the Super Chief during that time.
Many dining cars on trains have a common layout where one end of the car has a galley and a side aisle, while the other end has table or booth seating on both sides of a center aisle.
Trains that require high demand for dining services sometimes use “double-unit dining cars,” which are two cars functioning as one entity. One car would have a galley and seating, while the other would only have seating.
In Amtrak’s bilevel Superliner trains, the upper level mostly consists of booth seating on both sides of a center aisle, while the galley is below. Food is transported to the upper level using a dumbwaiter.