Overcoming the challenges of traditional dining for cruise lines
In my last blog post, I discussed the intricacies of managing and reporting onboard sales and suggested three critical features cruise lines should look for when searching for a new POS system. Here, I'll be looking at cruise line dining systems, how they impact how "traditional dining" products are managed, and the knock-on effect on the customer experience.
A key challenge in managing dining products and experiences is that the underlying workflows can vary greatly from cruise line to cruise line, ship to ship, and even restaurant to restaurant on the same ship. Cruise lines offer different dining experiences which dining systems must cater for, specifically:
- "Speciality dining" allows a guest to book a table in advance (quite normal for onshore restaurants)
- "Open dining," where reservations are not required and is available exclusively to walk-ins
- "Traditional dining", where guests are allocated a table, time, and restaurant for every night on the cruise.
The intricacies of managing traditional dining
It's the day before sailing, and the Maître d´ has a manifest of guests who will be joining tomorrow expecting to receive their table allocation. With the floor plan of the main restaurants at hand, the Maître d´ then needs to work out the seating plans for all the guests. There are many things to consider when starting out: Who gets the most sought-after seats by the window, for example - the top tier loyalty guests, those staying in the most expensive suites, or those that booked their cruise first? Which seats are the easiest to access, and which guests have accessibility needs? Are there any groups or linked bookings that would like to sit together, and have any guests made specific requests like a table for four?
If managing the process on paper or a spreadsheet, closing a seating plan is complex, inefficient, and lengthy. But what if the Maître d´ had a tool that understands the floor plan, table sizes, table ratings, accessibility needs and who the guests are, their loyalty status, and their booking history, among other criteria?
Undeniably, automating seating plan designs would be a game-changer.
The Maître d´ should be in control and able to define the workflow behind table allocations. A flexible rules engine is key for managing prioritization parameters affecting customer experience. For example, a workflow rule prioritizing premium guests could look like: 'Start by seating guests in the Owners Suite and give them the top-rated tables'; 'Then seat those with the top loyalty tier, continuing to follow the table ratings.' Or 'reserve accessible tables for those with specific needs.'
The idea being to empower the Maître d´ and generate efficiencies through a flexible tool and automation. Once a set of rules has been established, they can be saved for next time, and when a "big easy button" is pressed, the system goes through the full manifest and works out where everyone will be seated. The cruise line dining system should automatically create individual dining reservations for the guests each night they are onboard but keep them grouped in case any amendments need to be made later.
The dining system should have the flexibility to seat guests at the same table every night but also empower the Maître d´ to shift guests around easily. It must also consider that not every guest may embark and debark at the same time. Additionally, there may be overlapping cruise codes or cruise sectors, meaning that although a table is available on day 1, it may not be on day 3.
Empowering the Maître d´ to resolve the traditional dining challenge
At the end of the process, the Maître d´ should have a list of all guests and the tables at which they have been allocated for their stay onboard. On most occasions, having set the rules previously, all the Maître d´ has to do is press a couple of buttons and leave the system to do the hard work, double-checking that the most important guests are adequately seated. All that´s left to do is inform the guests of where they are seated. This may be through an external touchpoint such as a guest app or by using the dining system to produce seating cards to leave in the guest cabins.
iTravel Dining caters to all the described scenarios, automating and simplifying complicated workflows for seating plan allocations, freeing up the Maître d´ to focus on other value-added activities. With iTravel Dining, a Maître d´ can manage the full spectrum of dining types, which also features an easy-to-use Table Operations tool for use during meal service. Paired with the iTravel POS for taking food orders, iTravel Dining transforms how the dining experience is managed and delivered, ensuring premium guests always receive special attention.
Michael is the Product Manager for the iTravel Onboard Systems portfolio, IBS Software´s suite of solutions for the tour and cruise industry.
In his current role, Michael oversees the PMS, POS, Dining Management, and Guest Services systems. Previously, he worked in systems and project management at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, where he specialised in onboard software for cruise ships, including the selection, implementation, and support of the iTravel POS system. With broad experience in cruise operations and software management on both the customer and vendor sides, Michael brings valuable insights for iTravel´s continued development and application to real life scenarios.