Shipboard Menu Management

| July 7, 2006

(Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in an ongoing behind-the-scenes series in which Kuki has tried his hand at a variety of on-board occupations, from assistant cruise director to butler to casino dealer. This time, Kuki invades the ship's restaurants and kitchens.)

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The Norwegian Dawn has 10 restaurants and 13 bars and lounges, and the Food and Beverage Director is ultimately responsible for all the issues dealing with these areas.

To get an idea of the magnitude of this job, consider the following statistics about meals served on the cruise the week before I boarded.

  • The Venetian- (a cost-included main restaurant) served 2,951 breakfasts, 1,974 lunches, and 4,434 dinners.
  • Aqua - (a cost-included main restaurant) served 3,867 dinners.
  • Impressions - (a cost-included main restaurant) served 2,013 dinners.
  • La Trattoria (a cost-included specialty restaurant) served 1,060 dinners.
  • Salsa ( a cost-included specialty restaurant) served 1,241 dinners.
  • The Garden Cafe (a cost-included buffet restaurant) served 9,509 breakfasts, 7,046 lunches, and 4,396 dinners.
  • The Blue Lagoon (a cost-included 24-hour fast food restaurant) served 3,335 lunches, 1,284 dinners, and 1,451 mid-time meals.
  • Bamboo (a $12 per person surcharge Asian restaurant) served 550 dinners.
  • The Sushi Bar (an a la carte pricing restaurant) served another 277 patrons.
  • Tapanyaki ( the Japanese restaurant) served 262 dinners.
  • Cagney's (the $20 per person surcharge steak house) served 976 dinners.
  • La Bistro (the $15 per person surcharge French restaurant) served 675 dinners.
  • For a TOTAL of 47,101 meals, plus room service, and poolside barbeques, on a seven-day cruise.

Seeing those statistics, one need not wonder what a Food and Beverage Director does other than have nice epaulettes on their uniforms. The job is enormous!

The Food and Beverage Director on Norwegian Dawn is Denis Prguda, a native of Croatia. I spent "a day on the job" with him to bring you a peek behind the scenes.

Denis' team of supervisors consists of Scotti Antonio (Assistant Food & Beverage Director), Slada Stankic (Restaurant Manager - in charge of service staff of all restaurants), and Tony Emilaire (Bar Manager), as well as the Maitre d' of each restaurant. Denis reports to Douglas Hernandez, the ship's Hotel Director.

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Early Start

Our day began at 8 a.m. with a walk through the ship's Garden Cafe, where breakfast is being served; and through the galleys and prep areas. At 9 a.m. Denis and I attended the daily conference with the Hotel Director, Assistant Hotel Director, Cruise Director Matt Baker, and Head Housekeeper Gloria Estephan. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss any incidents or problems from the previous 24 hours, and to plan things for the coming day.

It was a bit eye-opening to see how a seemingly simple item - the timing of a planned crew talent show - could become quite significant, since the timing of the event would impact when passengers would be in the various restaurants (due to the nature of Norwegian Cruise Line's Freestyle dining), lounges and bars, or whether there would be any effect on the planned evening deck party. So one seemingly simple scheduling task affects other events and manpower requirements throughout the ship.

We discussed some general ongoing maintenance issues, but thankfully not too many areas of concern had arisen since their previous day's meeting.

Checking the Logs

From here Denis and I went to his office, where we checked e-mail and the daily log reports for all the departments reporting to him. Every incident or problem in the department, and each passenger complaint related to food and beverage, must be logged. This morning the log was quiet, with just one complaint by a passenger - that his dining room waiter had been trying to "up-sell" him wine. Now to some degree, this is his job; but the waiter may have been overbearing, and the passenger became annoyed, and filed the complaint with an assistant maitre d'. The assistant maitre d' discussed it with the restaurant manager, and they resolved the complaint to the satisfaction of the passenger immediately by making complimentary reservations for the passenger and his companion in one of the specialty (surcharge) restaurants, along with a complimentary bottle of wine of his choice. (I'd like to know whether the passenger chose the same inexpensive wine he had selected the night before.)

I was impressed to see that this simple situation had been dealt with on the spot, and logged for all of management to see how it was handled. Since I can be a bit cynical, I asked if the policy of quick problem resolution doesn't lead to some abuse by passengers. We laughed at several stories Denis had to tell -- and the answer to my question is yes, some passengers do create or exaggerate a problem just to get some form of compensation. And after seeing this type of thing happening, the people in charge can't help but look at some seemingly outrageous complaints with a more cynical eye.

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Freestyle Galleys

Next we went on an inspection of the various galleys and storage areas. This is where the systems and structures on NCL's Freestyle ships differ drastically from cruise lines that offer traditional assigned dining. Freestyle ships require many more galleys for all the alternative restaurants, and of course each must have storage, freezer and cooler space for items unique to their menu.

Certainly there are common storage areas as well, but access to those items is not simple; it requires planning by the chefs. A chef can't just send someone down to pick up some extra steaks. Everything must be requisitioned, and access is controlled by an inventory supervisor. This is not only for inventory control purposes, but also allows for planning future orders, since food orders are placed three weeks in advance. At this time (and as is usually the case), there was $400,000 worth of food and beverage inventory on the ship.

We also inspected all the food preparation areas. Separate storage and preparation areas are required for fish, poultry and beef, and management of these areas is quite complicated. Even cutting boards are color-coded so that they won't go to the wrong area, being used for the wrong item with the potential for cross-contamination. All the large commercial dishwashing equipment is taken apart for cleaning and maintenance every single day.

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People Management

As we did our checks for the day, I was amazed at how many crew members Denis knew by name -- not an easy task when you supervise a staff of more than 600. He explained that his policy is to spend most of his work day outside his office, circulating among the staff. Off course, with experienced eyes, by spending time walking through the ship he's able to see much more of what is going on than if he sat in the office waiting for information to come to him.

Denis said his staff knows he has an open-door policy, and that he's always approachable and willing to discuss their concerns. He believes this management style creates a good work environment, and staff feel they are a part of the team. He and Hotel Director Douglas Hernandez also believe in allowing those on their staff to have a certain level of responsibility. Each has the ability to make decisions and address them, especially when it comes to remedying passenger complaints or problems. This allows situations to be rectified more quickly and gives the staff a sense of empowerment in their ability to make important decisions -- and they generally seem to rise to the challenge.

Division of Labor

As we passed through the Venetian Restaurant during lunch, Denis explained to me how staff had to be added to the dining rooms for the Freestyle concept. On most cruise lines with traditional meal service, dining room waiters may be responsible for serving an average of 16 -20 guests at dinner, and each assistant waiters normally assists two waiters. Besides serving meals, these crew members are also responsible for stripping and resetting tables between seatings. With Freestyle, each waiter has his own assistant, and a separate team is responsible for stripping and resetting the vacated tables, leaving waiters and assistants more time to concentrate on their real job -- serving guests.

As our day progressed, we went through the butcher shop, where trained butchers slice hundreds of pounds of steaks and chops. We also visited the bakery, where all the breads and rolls are freshly made daily (and I can attest to the high quality based on the quantity of breads and rolls I indulged in throughout the week). In another area, the staff was preparing hundreds of plates of appetizers to be sent to suite passengers, and to be used at a cocktail party later that evening for Latitude members.

Throughout the day, it became obvious to me that managing the entire Freestyle dining system is much more complicated than operating the food and beverage systems on a "traditional dining" ship, where you may have one or two main dining rooms, a buffet, and maybe one specialty restaurant to oversee. On the Dawn, the job is even more complicated than running a large, land-based hotel. The ship has more restaurants than most hotels, and some restaurants where the menu changes daily. This complicates things greatly, and therefore requires much better planning than a hotel, because the ship doesn't have the luxury of having delivery trucks come by each day with additional supplies.

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The key to keeping Freestyle operating smoothly, and with positive results for the guests, is teamwork. All the links in the chain must be doing their job and communicating with each other -- and even with other departments -- to produce the desired experience for the guests. From what I saw and experienced, they have this down pat on the Dawn, thanks to an outstanding management team.

I thought I did pretty well getting through my "day on the job" without being fired, and I made some lasting impressions, as I learned later´┐Ż the Captain, Staff Captain, Hotel Director, Chief Engineer, and Denis, the Food and Beverage Director, were all making plans to leave the ship for vacations within the next week.

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