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7 cruise ship main dining room rules to follow — Plus 1 to break

29 Nov 2021
Matt Hochberg

Despite all of the changes over the years, the main dining room on any cruise ship is still an institution of the cruise experience.

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While the experience may not nearly be as formal as it once was, there are still plenty of faux pas' to avoid while dining there, and every guest should be aware of what they should or should not do while eating there.

Etiquette at the main dining room on a cruise ship is not all that different from a land-based restaurant, but there are a few nuances that first time cruisers may be unaware of before they step aboard.

Here is my list of 7 main dining room guidelines you should know, as well as one well-known supposed rule that I think you can disregard.

Dress appropriately

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Dress codes do exist for the main dining room, although they are far less regimented as you might think.

While Royal Caribbean is fairly ambiguous on if shorts are allowed, there are some basics related to the dress codes that are usually enforced.

Each evening, the dining room will have a dress code.  Usually it is either casual or formal.  On some longer sailings, they can work in smart casual, which I admit I have trouble distinguishing from regular casual.

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First and foremost, respect the fact there are dress codes and as a courtesy to your fellow guests, observe the spirit of the dress code.

On casual nights, a collared shirt and slacks/jeans for men will suffice. Ladies can wear jeans and a blouse, dress, skirt, or pretty much anything else you might wear to somewhere that is not the beach or pool.

When it's formal night, you want to step it up just a little bit.  While there will be some people wearing tuxedos and ball gowns, most guests wear something a little nicer than the other nights. Jackets and ties for men are optional. 

The major things to avoid are swim wear, tank tops, or bare feet.

Be on time

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If you are seated in traditional dining with an early or late seating, be on time for dinner.

The traditional dining rotations are prepared for guests to be on time and enjoy the same courses at roughly the same time so that the restaurant can turn over the tables for the next seating.

Not only does it delay ordering for others at your table if you're sharing one, but it also forces your waiters to rush you through your meal in order to get you in and out within the allotted timeframe.

If you booked My Time Dining, showing up at the wrong time from your reservation may mean you may not have a seat.

Avoid controversial topics with tablemates

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If you are seated with other guests, you should feel free to strike up a conversation, but avoid the "third rail" of discussion: religion and politics.

Everyone has different viewpoints, and the last thing you want to do is get into a heated debate with people you don't know just to pass the time.

Instead, talk about what you did onboard that day, plans for the next day, the weather, favorite sport teams, and pretty much anything else that steers clear of an issue that could lead to yelling, anger, and awkward silences.

Be considerate to waiters

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This may seem obvious, but don't be rude to the wait staff.

Besides the general courtesy of learning to pronounce your waiter's name, keep in mind mistakes can happen. A forgotten drink, a missed ingredient, or even the wrong dish can happen. Waiters work long hours and have likely been serving other guests throughout the day.

If there is bigger issue that is not so easily overlooked, first try to take the issue politely up with the waiter. If that doesn't work, then ask to speak to the head waiter so they can address it.

The bottom line is you are far more likely to get any issue resolved while being polite, rather than being rude.

Be mindful of general table manners

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Good table manners are appropriate for all dining occasions, not just cruise ships.

Not only do good table manners reflect positively on you, it shows respect to your waiters and the people you dine with.

  • Don't eat with your hands
  • When ordering, it’s more gracious to say, “May I please have the…” rather than “Give me the…”
  • Don't talk with your mouth full
  • Don't twirl your napkin 

Take the after-dinner talk elsewhere

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This is something I think some may not think about, but the main dining room is on a schedule.  After you've had dessert, coffee, and anything else you ordered, you should work on moving away from the table so the wait staff can clear the table and prepare it for the next guests.

The easy clue to that dinner is over is after dessert when your waiter comes by to give you a rundown of what to expect the next day.

If you have a request for more food or drink, you should absolutely feel free to do so.  Just try not to linger while many other guests have already left the dining room. 

Going back to the idea of being courteous to the wait staff, they need to clear the table for the next meal.

Don't be wasteful

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And that one rule you can feel free to break? It's okay to try foods if you have no intention of finishing it, just don't abuse the food you can order.

Nearly all the food in the main dining room is included with your cruise fare, and that means you can order more than one appetizer, entree, or dessert. However, that is not carte blanche for wasting food.

Food waste is about being responsible. So it's okay to order two different dishes, but don't order something you know you won't actually eat.

Royal Caribbean working on new main dining room menu | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you are too full for dessert, or just want to nibble on an appetizer, it's okay to say you want to skip a particular course.

However, I do think once in a while it is perfectly fine to order something with the intention of trying it out. I think sampling new foods on a cruise ship is a great way to expand your palate, so tell your waiter you want to order a dish to give it a go. In that scenario, taking a bite and then leaving the rest is fine. You just want to avoid leaving a lot of food on your plates because you ordered too much for a more foolish reason.

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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