The cruise ship buffet may be the first thing many people think of when they envision taking a cruise. It’s a staple of cruising that has always represented the best and worst of people.
On the one hand, buffets give you a chance to sample new foods, have a little bit of something decadent, and eat a very varied meal. On the other, buffets also lead to a person stuffing his or her plate with foods that don’t go together in quantities well beyond a normal meal.
On Royal Caribbean (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report ships, the Windjammer serves as the main buffet offering everything from an incredibly broad array of breakfast choices in the morning to lunch and dinner which often has a loose theme (like Mexican favorites or American classics) along with dozens of staple items aimed at keeping everyone happy.
When the cruise line returned from its pandemic closure, it had to change the rules at its buffets and self-service eateries (including Solarium Bistro as well as Windjammer) to have cruise line personnel serve people at the buffets. That did have the strong positive of making it less likely that someone else had touched your food or used a utensil in an unhygienic way, but it did slow things down quite bit.
Now, in news first reported by Matt Hochberg on the Royal Caribbean Blog, the cruise line has officially brought back self-serve buffets, albeit with a twist.
Meet the New Royal Caribbean Buffet
News of select Royal Caribbean ships bringing back self-serve buffets began appearing on social media a few weeks ago. It was clearly happening, but on some ships, including Freedom of the Seas, which sails out of Miami, the company tried self-serve and then went back to crew-served.
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Now, the cruise line has confirmed to Hochberg (whose blog is not affiliated with Royal Caribbean) that it does plan to bring back self-serve buffets. It won’t, however, be doing so in exactly the same way it offered them in the past.
“On cruises departing on or after April 2, 2022, Royal Caribbean International will bring back self-service dining in guest-favorite venues on board, including the Windjammer Marketplace, Solarium Bistro, and at private destinations,” the company told the Royal Caribbean Blog. “Grab-and-go dishes and single-serving portions will continue as a permanent offering – they have become popular options, and keeping them is among the top requests from our guests.”
That sounds like some areas of the buffet will still be served by crew members. The company did not explicitly state that, but many buffet dishes do not easily translate to single-serving portions.
This Marks a Major Change for Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean Chairman and former CEO Richard Fain said in a 2020 interview that he expected that crew serving passengers at onboard buffets would be permanent.
“Onboard, the buffet, where it’s now being served to you instead of you picking up the flip flops yourself. And I suspect that for us, that will be a permanent feature, because independent of the health reasons, it’s just better,” he said .
Fain said that he preferred having crew members serve people at the buffet but acknowledged that the company would not have considered making the change were it not for the pandemic.
Now, Royal Caribbean has revisited how the buffets work and it’s likely to be a work in progress. The true test will be how customers react, as what was once considered normal before covid, may not seem that normal anymore (try coughing in a public place).