The job of managing dining operations aboard cruise ships has changed enormously in the last decade. F&B directors who used to govern the one main dining room of cruise ships past, now find themselves in charge of a dozen restaurants on each ship, each with different menus, ambience and even clientele.

Here’s how Frank Weber, vice president of food and beverage operations for Royal Caribbean International, describes the operation: “We operate 21 ships, so this means 13,000 employees, 170 restaurants, about 350 bars and financial responsibility of about $500 million.”

On top of that, Royal Caribbean plans to roll out a flexible dining program, called My Time Dining, on its entire fleet.

Testing New Menus

Carnival Cruise Lines’ Corporate Chef, Peter Leypold, said new menu items are tried out aboard one ship, and if they catch on, implemented aboard the whole fleet.

“Eight or nine years ago we tried sushi on one ship, and it was so successful, we now have it on every ship,” Leypold said. Carnival’s Mongolian grills are another idea that took off, helping open the line’s menu to all sorts of Asian dishes.

Offsetting lobster and prime rib with noodles and salads saves money, but training kitchen staff to prepare menu items from around the globe can be a chore.

Carnival gives new galley staff three-week courses – half hands on, half theoretical, Leypold said. And there is constant in-house training.

New equipment can save time and reduce waste, said Frank Meissner, manager of food and beverage services at AIDA Cruises. “But well trained staff is absolutely required in order to use the whole features of these technologies. We are constantly training our staff to enable the best possible use of this modern equipment.”

At the luxury end of the market, Seabourn Cruise Line has introduced a tasting menu that offers a sample of 15 or so different dishes in one sitting, said Tony Egger, director of culinary and beverage operations at Seabourn.

Recruitment and Prices

Recruiting staff is on everyone’s mind, said Celebrity Crusies’ Jacques Van Staden, vice president of food and beverage.

“It’s very difficult to find people. You find out that the Philippines has 5,000 people (wanting work) and, boom, they’re gone. Everybody is recruiting,” he said.

There is also the issue of the rising price of ingredients, how long they will last and their long-term supply. All this adds up to careful planning.

“Cost is really a valuable part of planning,” said Weber. “We really have to be careful in selecting what products to use and how to use them and in what quantities, and of course we have to consider the cost.”

AIDA is also cost conscious, but Meissner said guest satisfaction has to come first.

“Of course we are meeting the challenge of increasing prices for foodstuffs worldwide. But cooking is like fashion that’s permanently changing – so there is always a need for trendsetting,” he said. “Each and every product within the menu must be carefully checked and questioned. But guests’ satisfaction must always be the focus.”

Visual

There is much more to dining than taste and smell. Seeing good food can be just as important.

Van Staden said the new Celebrity Solstice will add square and oval plates, not just circles, to better display the new menu to be rolled out on the ship.

“You need a different type of canvas to do a different type of painting on,” he said. “With this plate perception, I can also cut that 12-ounce steak down to 9 ounces by slicing it, fanning it out, and making it look bigger. This helps cut costs while improving aesthetic charm.”

Excerpted from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2008