Keep it Fresh: Onboard Food and Beverage Innovation
10 May 2011 Frank Weber
High standards of quality food and a wide-ranging menu play a huge part in passenger satisfaction on cruises. Andrea Ashfield talks to Royal Caribbean's Frank Weber and Holland America's Steve Kirsch about the strategies their lines use to ensure onboard food and beverages remain innovative and exciting.
Cruise ships typically offer a wide range of food and drink options, and with passengers eating the majority of their meals onboard, it is important to provide a selection of different styles. Many operators choose to vary their menus according to itinerary, and constantly innovate to ensure that passenger interest remains high.
Frank Weber, vice-president, food and beverage operations at Royal Caribbean, thinks the quality of meal options available onboard is second to none.
"We pride ourselves on providing freshly cooked meals, even in the high-volume restaurants," he explains. "We are a trans fat-free operation and produce our food using traditional French cooking techniques."
The company follows onshore trends and provides its passengers with a choice of Asian, Italian, classic American and continental cuisine across its many restaurants. In order that menus remain fresh and exciting, Royal Caribbean varies its offerings according to itinerary.
"Our menus are based on the operating deployment of the region they are in, the products we have access to in these areas and the guest nationality mix we serve onboard," says Weber.
This means that passengers travelling on Splendour of the Seas, which is based in Brazil with mainly Brazilian passengers, will experience a very different selection to those onboard Independence of the Seas, which sails from Southampton, UK, to the Mediterranean and has mainly UK passengers. There is also growing demand for healthier food options, according to Weber.
"On our main menus we offer a three-course, 800 calories-or-less option, as well as vegetarian choices," he says. "At the buffets, we mark healthier food with our Vitality logo and we also have a dedicated spa restaurant onboard Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas."
Geographically inspired menus
Passengers sailing with Holland America will also experience food according to geographical location.
"We change our menus by itinerary," explains Steve Kirsch, director of culinary operations. "At the moment we are getting ready for our Alaskan itineraries and will be featuring food from that region. Because it will be summer, produce will be abundant."
The company analyses and tries to match trends within the onshore restaurant industry, and Kirsch works closely with Holland America's master chef Rudi Sodamin in order to develop new and exciting menu options.
"We try to come up with unique ways to showcase and present our food," says Kirsch. "We like to add a different twist, and Rudi works hard to develop flavour and appearance."
Holland America recently introduced new initiatives to boost its food and drink offering. In October 2010, it created its own Culinary Council, composed of well-known international chefs including Jonnie Boer, David Burke and Charlie Trotter. Set to meet on a regular basis, the council is tasked with enriching the cruise line's culinary initiatives and will devise signature recipes that will eventually be rolled out across the entire fleet of 15 ships.
In addition, the operator offers its guests an array of high-quality dining options on its most recent ship Nieuw Amsterdam, including the exclusive Master Chef's table. The table will seat up to 18 guests, and each of the seven courses on offer is enhanced with specially selected wine pairings chosen by the ship's sommelier.
The food and beverage team has also partnered with Le Cirque restaurant to offer 'An Evening at Le Cirque' nights across its fleet.
Food and beverage trends
Royal Caribbean's food and beverage team also works hard to give customers a taste of the latest culinary trends.
"We carry out specific market research, visit trade shows and continuously review new restaurants, nightclubs and bars," says Weber. "Key trend makers in food and beverages are located in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris, as well as more exotic locations such as Tokyo, Sydney and Buenos Aires. Since we operate on a worldwide basis we visit these locations regularly and meet with local chefs and restaurateurs, sometimes creating partnerships for specific concepts onboard."
Weber's aim is to match the standard of food and drink served to that of the shoreside industry, and he feels the company is succeeding in its aim.
"We offer a very similar experience to that of a land-based hotel," he says. "However, there is a difference in that a hotel guest will have a choice of off-premise restaurants, too. In our world, we typically sail to the next port during the evening. This means all guests are onboard and the expectations are very high to deliver an exciting, high-quality product that offers a daily variety to keep things interesting even on longer cruises."
Weber also thinks this offers the cruise industry the opportunity to develop higher standards of personalised service.
"This unique bonding of the service staff with guests is mostly lost in a land-based hotel or restaurant," he adds.
Watch and eat
Royal Caribbean recently unveiled a range of new innovations, including partnerships with chefs Maureen Brandt and Daniel Fein on Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas. In addition, the cruise line's signature wine bar offers a new tapas selection with an iPad-based menu.
"Not only are guests able to review the menu, they are also able to see the preparation of food via embedded video," says Weber. "They can order their food and wine via the device and can send messages and chat with the server. It's very cool and interactive."
In the future, Weber and his team will work to develop and move forward.
"We continue to be closely connected to food and drink trends in land-based hotels and restaurants – that is where our target is," he says. "It is critical that we offer consistent quality and variety in our menu and restaurant concepts."