The key to creating a memorable dining experience for passengers is training, according to Natko Nincevic, senior vice president of hotel operations at Carnival Cruise Lines.

“With 20,000 crewmembers and a turnover of some 4,000 a year, if you do not have training programs it would be very difficult to run as smooth an operation as we do.

 “People may view the entertainment we offer as great and the itineraries as good, but they cannot live without food,” Nincevic said. And, food becomes the most important part of their cruise experience.

 But the food must be prepared and served right – which brings him to the training aspect again.

"There are no secrets involved," added Franz Rom, vice president of food and beverage at Princess Cruises, "but dedication, hard work, and attention to details.

"A lot also has to do with the little things,” he continued, “like pulling up the chair when people sit down and remembering that a smile goes a long way.”

At Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), Manfred Ursprunger, senior vice president of hotel operations, said: “The key is timing and presentation. We are not a banquet operation anymore but a restaurant operation.

“We also look at individualizing the dining experience – providing a different experience for people with different lifestyles and different needs.

“Food is the number one driver in people’s minds – a reason for choosing a cruise,” Ursprunger added.

“It starts with the ambiance, the color schemes, decorations, welcoming service, the quality of the food, and the presentation,” added Dietmar Wertanzl, senior vice president of fleet operations and managing director for X-peditions for Celebrity Cruises. “It is about execution and service, style, and making the experience entertaining as well.”

There is not a single key to success, according to Thomas Mazloum, vice president of hotel operations at Crystal Cruises. “It starts with the company culture,” he said, "the company’s commitment to provide quality. Then, you must have the human resources and the raw materials to deliver."

 At Royal Caribbean International, Frank Weber, director of food and beverage operations said: “Guests do not come onboard to go on a diet. Most come to indulge, while some also look for a balance.

"You cannot drive the company based on numerical decisions. The customer is not a number. The customer will decide whether we succeed or not." - Larry Rapp, Seabourn Cruise Line. 

“We are listening to our guests, and we look at successful restaurant concepts ashore such as the Cheesecake Factory, Applebee's and the Outback steakhouses. We also look at other markets such as Las Vegas which has transformed itself from gambling to a hospitality city and the biggest revenue generator is food and beverage,” Weber said.

"The demographics of our guests have changed, and they compare us to the experiences they are used to. We have to take a global view of what our passengers want," he continued. "We have a very broad market with different expectations – from experienced cruisers to first-timers.” – Oivind Mathisen

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2005