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Spotted: Cruise ship passengers serving themselves in buffet again

22 Mar 2022
Jenna DeLaurentis

Since the restart of the cruise industry in June 2021, Royal Caribbean crew members have been serving guests at all buffets onboard its cruise ships. Cruisers on some Royal Caribbean ships this week have reported guests are now serving themselves at the buffet.

Photo credit to Lin Pojeta

The move from a self-service to full-service buffet was one of Royal Caribbean’s health protocols introduced to prevent the spread of Covid-19 onboard. In the past, passengers would grab tongs or serving spoons and serve themselves at the buffet, but the new protocol meant that only Royal Caribbean crew members would serve food to guests.

This protocol was present at all buffets onboard, whether at the Windjammer Marketplace or smaller buffets like Solarium Bistro, and was one of the changes Royal Caribbean made that many passengers appreciated the most.

In the previous month or two, however, Royal Caribbean’s buffet service protocols have been getting noticeably more relaxed. Drinks like coffee, water, and juice, which were once served by a crew member, moved to self-service stations earlier this year. In addition, I noticed select food items, like bagels and pita bread, moved to self-service at Solarium Bistro on a recent Wonder of the Seas cruise.

While most ships are still having crew members serve guests at the buffet, a handful of ships changed to self-service for guests.

In a Facebook group for Pinnacle members in the Crown & Anchor Society, several cruisers posted about the return to a self-service buffet. Passengers onboard Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, and Freedom of the Seas mentioned their sailing has returned to self-service, with crew members no longer serving guests at buffets.

Photo credit to Lin Pojeta

Currently, the move does not appear to be fleet-wide, as a guest on Grandeur of the Seas this week noted her ship was still operating a full-service buffet. 

UPDATE: Royal Caribbean crew members continue to serve guests at Windjammer across the fleet. While there was self-service on some ships today, crew will be serving guests tomorrow again in Windjammer.

A change in direction

The transition back to self-service buffet is a change in direction from what cruise line executives said a few months ago.

In September 2021, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain mentioned he thinks crew members serving guests at buffets is a better approach altogether, in addition to protecting the health of guests onboard.

“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 health reasons, it’s just better.”

Mr. Fain also mentioned that when the crew members serve guests at buffets, the food ends up being fresher due to the fact that a crew member is able to realize the container is empty right away and grab a fresh one.

Aside from the health benefits of only a few crew members touching buffet tongs and serving spoons as opposed to hundreds of guests, there are a few more advantages to note.

Many guests feel there is less food waste created when crew members serve guests at the buffet, as they are more likely to give a reasonable portion size compared to guests filling their plate.

And while perhaps moving to self-service may not have an impact on Covid-19 transmission onboard, many guests still feel a self-service model is less sanitary than a full-service model, despite the fact that guests must wash their hands upon arrival to the buffet.

Photo credit to Lin Pojeta

CDC requirements

Royal Caribbean may have made the change back to a self-service buffet in response to the Center for Disease Control’s latest requirements for cruise ships.

In the Operations Manual for cruise ships operating in U.S. waters, the CDC states that “food and beverage stations may be operated as self-service at the cruise operator’s discretion”.

The move to a self-service station is subject to a few requirements listed by the CDC, the majority of which involve promoting physical distancing at the buffet. Cruise lines must encourage distancing through physical guides to direct the flow of passengers, provide signage for social distancing, and provide an appropriate number of staff to monitor distancing.

In addition, cruise lines must provide hand sanitizer at the entrances to food and beverage stations, ensure adequate supply of high-touch materials (serving spoons, tongs, etc.) to minimize sharing of the utensil by many guests, limit seat capacity at the buffet, and install physical barriers where it is difficult for guests to maintain a proper physical distance.

Royal Caribbean appears to be following the CDC’s guidelines to allow for a self-service buffet, even if this is a move not welcomed by all cruisers.

Moving back to a self-service buffet has been a highly contested topic for Royal Caribbean cruisers since the restart of the cruise industry. Those in favor of crew serving guests have mentioned the increased cleanliness and lack of food waste as major reasons why they would like to keep a full-service buffet.

Photo credit to Lin Pojeta

Those in favor of a self-service buffet, on the other hand, enjoy being able to serve themselves exactly how much they would like of each item without having to go through a crew member to do so.

Royal Caribbean’s health protocols are constantly shifting, so only time will tell whether the buffet fully transitions back to self-service or not. As of now, the change only seems to be on select ships but not fleetwide.

How do you feel about a self-service vs full-service buffet? Would you like to see Royal Caribbean crew members continue to serve guests at buffets onboard? Let us know in the comments below.

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