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'Packaged' breakfasts could become part of the new normal in cruise dining

Goodbye ‘cherry picking’, hello served bar service

No more buffets or cherry picking from menus, and less interaction between passengers and crew in dining areas were the key takeaways from the most recent Seatrade Cruise Talks webinar, ‘How COVID-19 will affect the future of food and beverage, and hotel operations’ moderated by Ryan Stana, ceo, RWS Entertainment Group.

Dining

À la carte menus replace buffets, with ‘cherry picking’ items from menus no longer possible. ‘Packaged’ breakfasts – for instance ‘continental’ or ‘healthy’ – will need to be selected, with in-cabin dining made available to all passengers. Mealtimes will no longer involve extensive interaction between staff and passengers.

AmaWaterways’ river cruise vessel, which is currently in operation in Germany, has a restaurant with the capacity to hold 100 people at one time, but is now restricted to holding 60 people because of social distancing guidelines. Less than 40 members of catering staff are now on board, despite a served bar service replacing the typical service. ‘Anytime there is a served situation, now we have to have staff standing there to deliver it’, said Jon Burrows, vp operations AmaWaterways.

‘It’s gone incredibly well… setting their [passengers’] expectations before they arrive’.

Logistics

Alia Abou-Assali, vp purchasing and logistics, The Apollo Group explained the difficulties in taking back F&B as the pandemic unfolded, ‘Many countries were on lockdown, customs were not working or working very minimal hours, there were curfews on shipping lines, so it took some time to return the containers back’, she commented. 

She went on to say that owing to ships’ distant locations, many products had expired and needed to be thrown away by the time they were returned to port. Products with a long shelf life – liquor, wine and dry staple items – were welcome, with items such as gloves and toilet tissue being resold by The Apollo Group. Some bulk foods were donated to kitchens. 

Environment 

‘There will be more introduction of plastic items now because of the virus’, said Abou-Assali, amid discussion on reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission on board vessels. 

Burrows went on to add, ‘We made the decision to use plastic bottles, but we’re aware it’s not very environmentally friendly’. 

Staff 

For staff, capacity in shared cabins will move from four to two people, each coming from the same family or having a similar function on board the ship. Surgical masks – and in some instances gloves – will need to be worn and all times, with temperature checks compulsory throughout the day. The numbers of waiting staff will be reduced, and there will be less interaction between them and the guests. 

Changing clothes is required by kitchen staff on collecting food deliveries. 

Public health

Abou-Assali said there was a preference for contactless and touchless operations moving forward, while Burrows discussed the efforts taken so far to prevent the spread of pathogens, including: Perspex glass separating seating areas, thermo screening, temperature checks, hand sanitizer and health questionnaire forms for those boarding. Every cabin has its own cleaning equipment, with full cleanings in cabins increased to two per day. Cleaning is otherwise on continual rotation throughout the ship every day, with public restrooms closed.

‘Traditionally we would clean when the guests weren’t around, now it’s in the face of the guests to get the confidence levels’, said Burrows.

He went on to add that river cruising is at a unique advantage owing to the non-recirculation of air on board. 

Abou-Assali commended the efforts being taken by cruise lines to boost public confidence.  

Contracts

Stana put the question of contracts to the speakers, asking how companies and cruise lines can make plans for F&B without indication on accurate ideas of volume.  

‘We’re trying to take last year’s usage figures to get an idea, but no one expects more than 50-60% for the first few months’, said Abou-Assali. Recalling the travel environment that came post-9/11, she added that ships are unlikely to ‘have maximum capacity at the moment’ and that there will be a need to ‘protect against fluctuations in the market because everything is uncertain’. 

Although this year was allegedly the highest booking month in AmaWaterways’ 18 year history – albeit owing to some would-be passengers moving their cruising dates – Burrows said that its fleet will continue to be reduced next year, so caution is important. Advantageously, the company’s ships ‘can be up and running in six weeks’, meaning decisions regarding F&B can be taken at the last minute.

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