Good Food, But Fewer Options: Crew Members Describe Their Cruise Food

food crew

Food is a crucial part of the cruise ship culture and one that many guests look forward to the most before sailing. But how does the food rank for crew?

Cruise Industry News has talked to crew members from several cruise lines to find out. They answered food questions on the grounds of maintaining their anonymity.

Food Places

Regular crew members can only eat in the crew mess, said all cruise employees Cruise Industry News had talked to. Staff and officers get more privileges and choice.

“There are a few places to eat onboard, depending on your rank,” said a crew member who’s worked for several major cruise lines. “Basically, you get separated into three groups: officers, staff and crew. To avoid congestion and overcrowding, you have separate dining rooms with the same food.

“Officers are able to eat in any dining room. Staff can only eat in staff or crew mess and crew in crew mess... They are not strict about the crew and staff eating in either mess,” he added.

This was confirmed by other crew members.

“The officers can eat in other restaurants, together with guests, but this has to be approved as guests come first,” said a crew member. “If the restaurant is busy, then they may be denied. There is only one restaurant onboard where all crew can book and dinner only. This still depends on how busy the restaurant is that day.”

Food Options

The crew members said that in crew messes they receive their food buffet-style, in line.

“You normally have a lot of food choices from different nationalities to accommodate for all crew. Usually, you have three types of meat with your choice of pasta, rice, potatoes, and so on,” said a crew member who’s worked for different major cruise lines.

“There is a salad bar and dessert line. If you are vegan, vegetarian (or have other special dietary requirements), you don't have a lot of choices. However, the chefs are always willing to help where possible,” he added.

The officers’ mess offers food restaurant-style.

“(Officers can) sit down, menu-style, and order food from a waiter. This takes longer, so if you don't have much time to eat, which is usually the case, you would eat in the self-service mess,” a crew member told Cruise Industry News.

“There is a menu every day for every meal, and you can choose whatever you like. There are usually four to five options given,” said another crew member.

All the crew members Cruise Industry News spoke with said that the food is free for them, and there’s no shortage of it.

“To dine in restaurants onboard – like the specialized dining rooms – you will need guest area privileges, which most staff and all officers have,” said a crew member who’s worked for several large cruise lines.

“You are then able to book and pay to go to a steakhouse or Italian restaurants, for example. There is no discount for the crew in guest restaurants. Access to guests' restaurants will possibly be changing for now until things get back to normal. If you are crew without guest privileges, you will need special permission for access,” he added.

A crew member working on an older vessel ship said that his food was free and there were no options to get paid food. Another crew member on a major cruise line noted that all food is free of charge for staff – including most specialty restaurants.

“There is only one specialty restaurant where food needs to be paid for, but for crew members (the pay) is something symbolic only,” he explained.

Food Quality

The food standard for crew members is normally similar to that served to guests, most crew members said.

“Guests get more of a variety and more in-front-of-you cooking, which is understandable as crew members usually come in to eat quickly and don't have the time to wait for an omelet to be made, for example,” described the difference of another crew member.

“The quality of the food depends on the ship: the food manager and captain. The last four contracts I have been on, on four different ships, I have seen food from being terrible to brilliant. In general, I would still say the quality is good. (But) guests, when they are onboard, get better food than the crew,” said another source.

He added that the pandemic – and the absence of guests – has improved that food quality considerably.

The crew member working on another ship said that the food served to crew members on his ship is of a “very low standard” with not many different options on offer.

However, none of the crew members Cruise Industry News spoke with had said that they were unhappy with their food.

“It’s okay. I know I can’t expect amazing food experiences,” said one crew member. 

“At times, you will wait until the end of the line and not find what you would eat, so you have to settle for what there is or eat toast with a hotdog (instead),” said another crew member in a written response. “If you are someone looking for gluten-free, unsalted dietary-fiber-filled croissants for morning tea, a cruise ship is not the place for you.”

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