It's official: Royal Caribbean will revamp its main dining room menu with a look and offerings beginning in January 2023.
After a few weeks of testing on Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has confirmed a new menu will replace the existing menu, beginning in January.
This is the first new dining room menu in over five years for the cruise line.
Royal Caribbean cautioned that the exact menu selections may change, so test menus that have been used so far may not be the final product.
New menu arrives in January
Royal Caribbean had been quietly testing a new menu on Symphony of the Seas, which was first spotted in November.
Over the last few weeks, the cruise line sought to capture guest feedback about the changes and make appropriate tweaks.
Speaking at the naming ceremony on Wonder of the Seas this weekend, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley confirmed the new menu changes are going to proceed forward.
"We got all the written feedback. I think the food and beverage team has done an amazing job in making sure we're responsive to that. Our plan is to is to roll out the new menus starting in January," Mr. Bayley said when a travel agent asked for further information on the test.
Mr. Bayley also talked about hesitation related to a new menu.
"We're very thoughtful and conscious about any changes that we make. But we do think that where we're heading with the new menus is going to be better and more enjoyable."
In an exclusive interview, Linken D'Souza, Global Vice President Culinary, Dining & Beverage, talked in greater detail about the new menus. He added that the current plan is to begin the new menu deployment in January, and by early February, it should be available on all ships across the fleet.
"We'll get that data back really probably by the end of December. We'll review that over the holidays. And then as we come back, post the New Year's week, we will start a deployment on the new menu across the fleet."
"It'll probably roll fairly quickly because we want it to be consistent across the fleet as quickly as we can."
Making dinner faster
Why the change? The top reason according to Royal Caribbean is swiftness of service.
In responding to a question about the new menu, Mr. Bayley said that a top complaint from passengers has been how long dinner can take some times.
"It's also fair to say that we get a lot of feedback from customers who do want to have a slightly faster service."
He was quick to add dinner is not planned to become as fast as possible either, "I would say there is no intention to rush somebody through that dinner."
"It's your choice and all you have to do is tell your waiter, 'I don't want to rush service. We want to enjoy our time.'"
Adding to Mr. Bayley's point, Mr. D'Souza explained the issue with how long dinner can sometimes take, "today, our dining experience takes 120 plus minutes, in some cases for larger parties, at least 95 minutes for a party two. That's a really long dining experience."
So how long should dinner take? Royal Caribbean thinks the magic number is around 75 minutes.
"The first thing will help us do is improve the speed of the pace of the meal," Mr. D'Souza explained.
"Not hugely, but let's call it about 15 minutes is what we're seeing, which is a significant reduction, gets us much closer to that 75 minute target for what our guest experiences is really what what we have looked at in the research. And they said that's kind of what the guest ideal dining experience time."
"Hotter, fresher, more consistently plated, beautiful food"
Besides speed of service, Mr. D'Souza thinks this new menu will result in a better experience for guests.
"I think holistically, when you look at both the service experience we create with the theming of the nights and then the food that's layered in and then the consistency. And quality improvements that you're going to see hotter, fresher, more consistently plated, beautiful food."
He admitted up until now, that has not been the case and it bothered him, "my frustration with that is I want to deliver a more consistent and great quality experience for our guests versus a hit and miss experience."
An updated menu also allows the dining experience to be more consistent, which is a major concern for Mr. D'Souza.
"You make a French onion soup that doesn't taste the same on every ship or look the same, and frankly, that's not acceptable to me."
"I would rather our guests have a very clear understanding and expectation of what they're going to get. And they either love it or hate it. That's okay. But if you love it, I want it to be the same amount of love for that dish. Whether you came today and you came 16 months back and you ate once in the Caribbean and next time in Europe, it should taste exactly the same."
Easing the load on crew members
An ancillary benefit of the menu is the realities of the legacy menu and its impact on the workload for crew members.
"Frankly, the workload for the crew, it's not manageable anymore with the amount of special requests."
"We're putting some structure on the process to really be more diligent in how we how we operate the dining space."
He also acknowledged that there are a lot of new crew members, and the restart process since 2021 has been a challenge that didn't exist years ago.
"We have more what we call new roles in our business than we've ever had. And these are new employees who have the depth and length of experience. So we've got a lot of new employees who simply are still learning."
Final menu not set yet
While the plan is to have the dinner menus change across the fleet beginning in January, the exact menus are not set yet.
Mr. D'Souza talked about the timeline for finalizing the menu, "The menu that is currently on Symphony will go through some iteration from the themes themselves to the items that guests like."
"The theme nights you've seen are not necessarily theme nights that you're going to see when we launch. So there may be some modifications based on the feedback."
In fact, there will be additional themed nights for longer sailings.
According to Mr. D'Souza, they are also working on menus for 8, 9 and 10 night cruises.
Feedback so far from guests
Royal Caribbean has received lots of reviews of the menu changes from its passengers, both loyal cruisers and first timers.
According to Mr. Bayley, consumer research teams were sent onboard Symphony of the Seas during the trial to talk focus groups of customers.
"We always do find that when you do these changes, you get, especially with our loyal customers who are very much used to their routine, we do get more feedback and sometimes negative feedback from our loyal customers because they like, they enjoy the way it was," Mr. Bayley explained when talking about the menu change.
"But we also find that our new customers and new to cruise enjoy the new menu."
"We're working our way through it. We're very responsive to the feedback."
You might be curious what the feedback looks like, and Mr. D'Souza provided additional context.
Royal Caribbean has a team of six people onboard the ship that are doing in-person meetings with guests, along with the email surveys that have been sent out to many more. The team onboard has met with at least 30-40 guests every day of the cruise to get their opinions.
"Overwhelmingly, the feedback for all of the teams, has been exceptionally positive."
Guests not happy with the change? Try it first
Mr. D'Souza appears keenly aware of the initial negative comments he read online when the new menu was first spotted, but he hopes people will judge the menus onboard the ship and not just in the vacuum of the internet.
"We understand that it's going to be some people who are not really thrilled about all the changes."
"What I would ask for is I would ask for the opportunity for people to really try the experience themselves and not prejudge it before they've been on the ship."
He added that when the new menus roll out in January, the offerings are not set in stone. Additional feedback will be reviewed to make further refinements.
"We don't stop taking feedback after we start the new menu."
"If there's four or five modifications we can make, we'll iterate and make those changes. If there's a theme that's not working and we're seeing a lot of dissatisfaction on a specific day within the cruise period, we'll review that experience."