Who do you tip and how much do you tip when you travel by Amtrak? This page tells about the tipping I have observed from dozens of long distance train trips and what I have learned from books on rail travel.
My first knowledge of tipping came before my first Amtrak trip. To prepare for that trip, I read the book:
I highly recommend that you do obtain and read this book, even if you read no other book about Amtrak. It probably contains more basic information about Amtrak travel than any other book.
Loomis's book says that you DO NOT TIP the conductor, the chief of on-board services, or the dining car steward. The book says that you DO TIP the car attendant, the lounge-car attendant, and the service people in the dining car.
How much should you tip?
The Loomis book suggests that you tip $5 per night per passenger if you are in a sleeping car, $2 more per person per meal if you request that meals be brought to your room. (Side note: If you have limited mobility, the car attendant is more than happy to bring the meals to your room for you and the people that accompany you. I have been told that requests to bring meals to the room of people that can easily walk to the dining car is unusual and can be a problem on trips where the car attendant is very busy with a full car of passengers. You are normally expected to make your way to the dining car unless you do have limited mobility.) The Loomis book also suggests that coach class passengers tip $1 or $2 for a one-night trip and $3 or $4 for a two-night trip, assuming you have been helped with your baggage and received cheerful attention. Most passengers tip the car attendant as they leave the train at their final destination. Others prefer to tip after each special service is provided.
What has been my own personal experience with tipping of car attendants? I've taken many single day trips in the Economy Sleeper. Being a veteran at this, I usually don't need much "orientation" from the car attendant, but I really do appreciate those that keep a pot of coffee on for the whole trip and help me off with my bags (I usually travel heavy, even when I only have one suitcase). For these single day trips I will usally tip $5, even when I don't spend a night on the train. If I spend more than one night on the train, I pretty much follow the guideline of $5 per night. If I'm traveling with more people, usually other members of my family, I'll start by calculating the $5 per person per night. From there, I'll either increase or decrease what I give as a tip depending if what little we ask of the car attendant is taken care of in a reasonalbe time and cheerfully. I've seldom been disappointed with car attendants, so I often go with the full tip (See below for changes I have made to my own personal policy regarding this. On a 6-day round-trip with a whole family, I have found that exactly following the policy in the Loomis book would be extremely expensive and overly generous, even for excellent service).
I've gone on long trips with just two of us in a sleeper and short trips with my whole family of four. Somehow, when I'm not traveling alone, the tip almost always seems to work out to be $20 to $30 for the whole trip. I'm about to embark on a trip that will put my whole family on Amtrak for a total of 8 days round trip. Somehow, I don't see myself giving a tip of $80 each way! I can see myself tiping something in the $40 range each way.
I can't honestly tell you what other people tip. It is usually done discretely and is not easy to observe. I do see a lot of people tip, but I also see a lot of people that don't tip. I usually give the car attendant their tip when they make their final rounds to ask if I'll need help with my bags. It may be my imagination, but their eyes usually widen and the friendly service becomes a bit more friendly after I have given them the amount of tip suggested by the Loomis book. It does lead me to believe that the amount suggested by the Loomis book is either much higher than that paid by the average passenger, or the number of people that give any tip at all isn't what it use to be. I don't know which is right, but I do know that following the Loomis book suggestion will yeild a highly appreciative car attendant! If any of you that are reading this are car attendants or have further knowledge of this subject, be sure to e-mail me at: email@example.com
According to the Loomis book, if you purchase items from the cafe or lounge, extra change left behind on the counter after each purchase is appropriate. However, you need to use your own judgement here too. If you purchase many items and end up with 10 cents change from a $20 bill, I don't think that is adequate. However, leaving all the change from $2.00 for purchasing an item that costs $1.15 is probably a bit too generous! The suggestion from the Loomis book is simple and works most of the time, but be reasonable when you use it. Personally, I always leave tips for food and beverage items but never for the purchase of souveneirs.
Now for the Dining Car!
The Loomis book suggests tipping just as you would in a restaurant. That is, start with 15 percent and move up or down according to whether you receive really good service or inadequate service. If you are in a Sleeping Car, your meals will be complementary. However, you should still tip the Dining Car service people. Loomis suggests to use the same 15% rule based on what your meal would have cost if you had paid for it.
What happens in real life? I've made a habit of almost always being the last one to leave the table after each meal. I've also glanced at every table that I have passed where the diners have just left. I've eaten hundreds of meals in the Dining Car. I've sat and dined with many strangers on Amtrak trains. I always wait till last to put down my tip, just so that nobody tries to follow my lead. I purposely want to observe what people tip, especially the older more experience Amtrak travelers. To be totally honest, I've never seen anyone ever leave more that a single dollar after breakfast or lunch! I have encountered many people that have not left tips at all. At dinner, most people also leave just $1 per person or nothing, but I have also seen some people leave $2. Rarely have I ever seen anyone leave more than that or attempt to calculate a 10, 15 or 20% tip based on the price of the meal. I'd really like some feedback from dining car staff and other travelers to dispute my observations on this one. I certainly think the 15% to 20% rule of thumb is fair, but only a tiny number of people seem to use that method to calculate the tip for meals on the train.
Originally, I did tip as the Loomis book suggested and left 15 to 20% tip after each meal. I started questioning the book's suggestion when I began to observe that seldom did anyone leave more than a $1 tip for any meal! For breakfast and lunch, the $1 tip comes close to the 15% suggested by the Loomis book. Breakfast and lunch will run you about $5 each (but no charge to sleeping car passengers), maybe a bit more when you add in your beverages, desert, coffee, etc. Dinner, however, can easily add up to $20 or $25. But still, many people just leave $1 per person, even for the dinner tip. I'd be happy to hear some Amtrak staff tell me that I must be riding some unusual trains, but I've as yet to see or hear anything to dispute these tip amounts. Let me know what you have observed while you were on Amtrak. I usually tip 20% in restaurants and wouldn't mind doing the same on Amtrak. If I'm traveling alone, I'll usually tip $2 for dinner. If I'm traveling with other members of my family, I'll usually tip $1 for each of us plus an extra $2 to $4 total depending on the service. From current observations, however, leaving a 20% tip would often be more money than the tips left by everyone else at my table! I'd be very uncomfortable and embarassed leaving that large a tip, especially since it is the same dining staff that I'll see time after time at each meal during the entire trip.
My own observation is that leaving more than just $1 per person at dinner time is a tip above the norm. I always do that and the dining car staff almost always seems to remember me and be very freindly every time I return. Is it because I truly am leaving a tip that is more than the average? If I'm out of line and am leaving a below average tip, I would almost expect to often receive some bad service, or at least get the cold shoulder. Instead, from my own perception, I seem to almost always get "extra" friendly service!
Just as another side note, as a sleeping car passenger, it seems you are welcome to order as much as you would like without charge. It is not ususual for such passengers to order a salad AND soup before each meal, the main selection and a beverage, and then follow up with coffee and desert. There is no extra charge to a sleeping car passenger for all that! If you are a coach passenger, beware! Most of those items are "al a carte" and ordering all of them may produce a bill much larger than you expected! As a consolation, Amtrak does accept most major credit cards.
I'm going to continue my observations because it just doesn't seem right to me that the dining staff should only be tipped $1 per meal, especially at dinner time. They certainly have a job that is just as hard as any restaurant waiter or waitress. If anything, their hours are longer and their job is much harder than what it would be in a normal restaurant. Please do send me your observations and feedback on this matter. Most of the travel I have done is on the Coast Starlight up and down the coast of California. Maybe Californians don't tip as well as people in other parts of the country, but that hasn't been my observation in restaurants. I have taken a number of trips on the Sunset Limited, the Southwest Chief, the Pioneer, and the California Zephyr and the tipping behavior of passengers seems to be about the same on all of them.
Tipping is always a problem topic, except for the most veteran of travelers. I've received about as many e-mail inquiries on this one as I have on Amtrak ticket prices, which is quite a few! Amtrak does not have any official policy on tipping except that the staff are prohibited from actively soliciting tips. They are certainly welcome to accept your tips. You may think this strange for a quasi-governmental operation. Tipping on the train has a very solid historical foundation. At one time, it was the ONLY income for car attendants! Today, car attendants receive a reasonable salary ... but income from tips is something that one expects when calculating the total income expected from the job. Unfortunately, the IRS figures this in too!
As veteran rider of AMTRAK, I use $2 bills when tipping in the dining car. When my wife and I travel, we tip $2 for breakfast and lunch and $4 for dinner. If the service is superb then up to $8. The $2 bills are unique and seem to be remembered by the staff. Try it! As for the sleeping car attendant, you are right on. For two people, $20 if the service is up to snuff - for most long distance trains. As you say $10 a night is what I use. I love your web page - it's in my bookmark. Will keep dropping in every now and then. Looking forward to your review of the new Viewliner Sleeping cars. Bob Conery
I really like your idea of using $2 bills for tipping! One thing that was not clear to me though: Do you tip $2 for the both of you ($1 each) or do you give a $2 bill from each of you (for a total of $4)? I am going to guess that you give a single $2 bill for the 2 of you for breakfast and lunch. That would be about normal tipping since the dollar value of breakfast and lunch runs about $5 or $6 each. A $1 tip would be about a 15% to 20% tip on a $5 or $6 meal and is what I usually see everyone tip for those meals.
Observing what people leave for a tip for dinner is what baffles me. So far, all I have seen most people leave is $1 each even for dinner, and I have had dinner dozens of times on the train. Dinner on the train usually runs between $15 and $20 if you include the cost of beverages and desert. That would mean a tip somewhere between $2 and $4 per person to leave 15% to 20%. I just seldom see that. I'm going to assume that you do mean that your leave between $4 and $8 for dinner to again mean that is for both you and your wife, thus leaving a tip between $2 and $4 each for dinner. That is right in the correct range if you are trying to tip the same as in a restaurant. Please correct me if I am wrong.
I personally feel that the Dining Car server deserves at least the same tip that is left for servers in regular restaurants. If anything, their job is a lot more difficult and it is a lot easier to end up with an unhappy customer for circumstances beyond the control of the server in a train. More often than not, it is necessary to go beyond the call of duty to keep customers happy and I often see the dining staff do this without complaint and with little reward.
My only problem is that I feel very uncomfortable and also make everyone else at my table uncomfortable when I leave a $3 or $4 tip for dinner. From my experience, that is a tip greater than the rest of the table put together! Using $2 bills may be an easier way out of this dilemma. It is easy for everyone to see how many bills you have left on the table, but not as easy to see what they are unless you pick them up! Now my only question is, where do you get those $2 bills? Does every bank just keep a supply of them?
As far as being remembered by the staff, don't try that $2 bill trick with Susan B. Anthony $1 coins! I tried that and only ended up with a confusing disasters as a result. Probably one of the reasons that coin was a total failure. If you leave Susan B. Anthony coins for tips, they will most likely get shuffled into the attendants pocket without looking and he will assume that you only left him a 25 cent tip!
I once tried to pay for a glass of wine on a plane with a Susan B. Anthony $1 coin. The attendant did not know such a coin existed and had to check with her supervisor to see if they were allow to accept it!
Thanks for confirming what I have read to be the practice of tipping the Sleeping Car Attendants. That once is even more of a mystery since I can only acquire this knowlege from books and from other people that I have asked. It is not as easy to observe as what others do for tipping in the Dining Car.
Thanks again for your input! Sorry about being so long in my reply, but I'm going to post your input along with this reply to the web pages about tipping. I feel that passengers can use all the feedback they can get in this area.
The tipping issue is actually a much more serious issue than Amtrak might imagine. I have received e-mail from several people who have told me they have explicitly avoided taking the train because they did not want the embarassment of not knowing how to handle themselves on the train. That is, not knowing who to ask for help and who not to, and who and how much to tip and who not to tip!
This is understandable. Most Conductors will attribute to inexperience a passenger's attempt to tip them or to ask them to do some housekeeping chore. But some Conductors will take this as a direct insult and will educate the passenger in not the most polite manner of their ignorance. How a first time passenger is suppose to guess that the Conductor is the most senior person on the train, even above the Engineer, is beyond me. Collecting tickets and helping the Car Attendants with baggage doesn't help clarify that the Conductor is in a position "above tips" either! If I hadn't prepared myself with a stack of books on rail travel, I wouldn't have been aware of these facts before my first trip either!
With continued input like yours, we will hopefully all become educated about the Amtrak tipping issue. Since Amtrak cannot say anything official about tipping other than to state that it is not prohibited, we are all left in the dark. Where is Emily Post when you need her?
From continuing observations I have updated my opinion about what people tend to tip Car Attendants and have modified my own guidelines for tipping Car Attendants. Feedback from a real Amtrak Car Attendant on my observations would be great, but still could not be taken as the gospel truth since self-interest could easily influence such comments.
For short trips with one or two people, I think the $5 per person per day tip is about right, especially if you ask for more help than the average passenger. However, if you travel with a family of four on a three or four day trip and seldom ask the Car Attendant for anything, maybe even putting beds up and down yourself, then I think a $60 to $80 tip is far out of line! The $5 per person per day guideline seems to be overkill for long trips with a number of people.
I generally follow the $5 per person per day guideline but stop at a maximum of $20. There is one exception to this rule. The Sunset Limited changes crews in New Orleans and I will tip both Car Attendants up to $20 for good service. From the reactions that I get from most Car Attendants, I suspect that any tip over $5 for any party on any length of trip is above the norm. After giving the Car Attendant their tip, they have gone so far as to help us with our luggage all the way to the taxi, even though they risked not getting back on the train before it left the station!
If you require meals be brought to your room, which is generally discouraged unless you have limited mobility, or have other reasons to need more than usual help from the Car Attendant, then the Car Attendant should be tipped at least $5 per day per person and possibly more.
You will find that some Car Attendants are real "characters" and "entertainers". I don't feel that a Car Attendant has to be a "character" or "entertainer" to earn the maximum tip that I will give, but it certainly does bias my decision! What really wins my opinion about a Car Attendant is if I can see by what they do that they are really trying to make the journey comfortable and enjoyable to their passengers. They don't have to do a lot to show me that they are concerned about their passengers. Just having the coffee urn turned on along with the supplies needed to make a cup of coffee in the morning goes a long way to keeping me happy!
I'm sure there are many other items that are the responsibility of the Car Attendant, but the above is all I could think of off the top of my head. If a Car Attendant does see to at least those items, then they are pretty sure to get the appropriate tip from me.
Many times Car Attendants have gone beyond the call of duty. This will absolutely guarantee them the maximum tip from me, even if they have slipped up in other areas. Some of the items I can remember include:
To be fair, I should also list some of the things Car Attendants do that I dislike. This will not necessarily reduce their maximum tip, but it can if the Car Attendant has come up short on a number of items:
I have been very pleased with the service that I have received from most Car Attendants and usually give my maximum tip amount. Even if they don't do everything they are suppose to do and do an item I don't like, the overall experience usually leaves me with the feeling they have deserved the maximum tip. There have been a number of times, however, where I felt the Car Attendant either had a "I don't care" attitude or acted irresponsible enough to reduce the pleasure of my trip. In those cases, I've had no hesitancy to reduce the tip. In all my travels, I can only remember two times in which I gave no tip at all. In one of those cases, the Car Attendant didn't even show up at the door to let me off the train! If he wasn't around to get a tip, then I figured he couldn't have wanted one. I had to exit through another Sleeping Car.
March 1997: I have just taken my first trip east of Chicago other than the coast to coast Sunset Limited. This trip was on the Amtrak Crescent. So far, everyone who I have seen leave a tip has left $2 per person. That is contrary to what you will read of my experiences below. A couple at dinner last night left $2 per person and the person I had lunch with left $2. This is two few observations to say there is a trend, but it does bring up the possibility that there are some differences between train travelers east of Chicago vs. west of Chicago.
June 1997: Traveling on the Cardinal from Chicago to Washington,D.C., I have eaten with 3 other individuals at dinner last night, 3 other individuals at breakfast this morning, and 2 other individuals at dinner this evening. I tipped $2 at each dinner and $1 at breakfast, but didn't observe anyone else leaving a tip at all! This could be because this is only the fourth trip of a dining car being on this train. Maybe it isn't custormary to tip for tray service when there is no dining car on the train. In any case, a proper tip would not need to be very much. This train is serving a menu that doesn't seem much different than what it offered when it only had tray service. For example, lunch as wither a cheeseburger or an individual pizza, each selling for $4 or $5. At each dinner, I was served wine without charge. I don't know if that is suppose to be the official policy, or if they just haven't figured out they are suppose to charge $3 per serving like the other Amtrak Dining Cars. In any case, I felt that I got excellent service and the server deserved a $2 tip from each person at dinner even if the meals aren't yet as expensive and extensive as in other Amtrak Dining Cars. Continuing my journey, tipping got a bit better in the Capitol Limited and Southwest Chief where some people tipped $1 at some meals sometimes. However, I still didn't see anyone tip more than $1 at any meal and saw many people not tip at all. Someone sent me e-mail stating that Amtrak payroll tax withholdings for Dining Car service staff is calculated with the assumption that such staff receives an average of 8% of the price of the meals as tips, just as the IRS requires for restaurant serving staff. If that is true, that is a great overestimation of what the dining car service staff receives from my observations and someone should demand an investigation and new method of estimating thier income from tips for the IRS. This might be a fair estimate of their tip income if only tips from non-complimentary meals is included. People that come to the Dining Car from the Coach Car are likely to be more conscious of leaving a tip since they actually have to pay for their meal. That puts the whole Dining Car experience more into the real of something familiar: eating and paying in a restaurant. I think Sleeping Car passengers sometimes either don't know they are suppose to tip or just forget to tip or don't know how much to tip because they do not receive a bill for the meal.