Some time in the early 1980s–I think it was about the time Amtrak inaugurated the Portland section of the Empire Builder–Amtrak cut back on its dining car service. Many of the hot meals, even such things as French toast, were pre-prepared and microwaved on the trains. Ceramic plates were replaced by plastic dishes and trays. I previously derided Amtrak food of the 1970s as a cut above Denny’s, but after these cutbacks it was far worse than Denny’s.
This 1985 menu illustrates that the menu selection was cut way back–only four or five choices for each meal and no a la carte sections–which in turn symbolizes the parallel decline in quality. To ease the pain of the transition, Amtrak offered free coffee to all its riders, and I recall an Amtrak executive saying he approved of the changes because it meant a higher percentage of riders would get to enjoy food services. The free coffee didn’t last long, but the inedible food did.