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Royal Caribbean Group CEO thinks crew will serve guests at the buffet permanently

02 Sep 2021
Matt Hochberg

One of the big changes to cruise ships since Royal Caribbean restarted sailing likely is not going away.

Ever since the first Royal Caribbean ship restarted sailing, the buffets onboard moved from self-service to full-service, meaning crew members now serve guests instead of guests serving themselves.

The rule change was one of many new health protocols introduced to lower the chance of Covid-19 transmission between guests and crew members, and this rule may end up being a change that makes sense even beyond Covid.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain mentioned in a recent interview he thinks crew serving guest food at the buffets is just a better approach, in addition to protecting health.

"On board, the buffet, where it's now being served to you instead of you picking up the tongs yourself. And I suspect that for us, that will be a permanent feature, because independent of the health reasons, it's just better."

Mr. Fain said having crew there to serve keeps a closer eye on when refills are needed, so there is less waiting for guests, "What it means is the food ends up being a little bit fresher because we tend to have somebody right on it as the plate gets empty, they go one is another one of that."

He acknowledged that without the pandemic, it was not an idea they would have considered.

Early on in the pandemic, there was a great deal of concern buffets would not be available at all.  While fine dining is a major part of cruising, the buffet is a staple of the experience.

When ships restarted sailing again, the buffet was indeed there, but it had the crew members standing behind the buffet with the tongs in hand.

Drinks in the buffet are also served by the crew.  Crew members hand guests a cup of water, tea, or coffee instead of guests grabbing it themselves.

Guests now walk up to a buffet station, and ask the crew member to serve them a particular item.

Other health protocols implemented in the buffet include scanning SeaPass cards when going in and out of the venue to ensure there is not overcrowding, certain tables blocked off to ensure social distancing, and even signs on the floor to show passengers where to stand while in line for the buffet at a safe distance.

Royal Caribbean also added a reservation system for the Windjammer, where guests could optionally reserve a time in advance via the Royal Caribbean app, although that has not yet been necessary on any sailing so far.

While Mr. Fain did not address the subject of dinner in the buffet, it remains another top question among cruisers.

Currently, the Windjammer is only open for breakfast and lunch onboard.  It is not open for dinner.

The reason why the Windjammer remains closed for dinner is there are simply not enough people onboard the ship.  At dinner, specialty restaurants, the main dining room, and other complimentary dining venues all vying for guests.  With ships sailing with less than half a ship's normal capacity, Royal Caribbean decided to keep the Windjammer closed for dinner.

From what I've heard from Royal Caribbean, the Windjammer will remain closed for dinner until ships reach around 50-60% capacity again.