The backend of a ship - Food management - Cruise Ship Hospitality Expo

The backend of a ship – Food management

MSC Bellissima cruise ship
The behemoth MSC Bellissima – with over 7000 mouths to feed on board

Going behind the scenes of a cruise ship is an exciting prospect – with some ships even offering behind-the-scenes tours to cruisers for a small price. But even for those of us who aren’t currently on a cruise ship, a glimpse into the interior workings of one of these behemoths is still an enticing thought. Below we’ll take a dive into the data and logistics behind the management of food and beverages on a modern cruise ship and pull back the curtain on hospitality on the seas!

Food Management

The process of sourcing, loading, preparing and cooking three meals a day for thousands of cruisers seems like a goliath of a task. On a seven-day cruise, this would mean providing food for thousands and thousands of meals. To put this into perspective, Royal Caribbean’s 8,880-capacity (including crew) Symphony of the Seas would require, per week:

  • 60,000 eggs
  • 450 cases of champagne
  • 15,000 pounds of beef
  • 10,600 chicken wings

But before these ingredients can be prepared on board, a procurement team needs to organise the logistical nightmare of ordering all that food, weeks before the ship even departs. In an interview with CNN Travel, food and beverages procurement director at MSC Cruises Emanuele Lavarello explains, “We use tactics like buying different kinds of ripeness for the same products in order to have ready-to-eat items that can be served at perfect ripeness for the guests throughout the cruise.”

Loading and sorting

Once ordered and delivered, this food needs to be loaded onto the ship and stored safely. In the case of MSC Bellissima, a 7,186-capacity ship (including staff), 15 trucks full of food and beverages arrive on the date of embarkation at the ship’s home port of Genoa, Italy, ready to be loaded onto the ship, with around 150 members of staff present to load the contents.

Once loaded, the food is transported to separate containment rooms for different foods – ice cream into the freezers, meat into a fridge and red wine is separated from the other alcohol products into a room temperature area, ensuring it can be served at optimum temperature. When it comes to wine, Conde Nast Traveller make the interesting observation that when there are more Europeans than Americans on board, ‘lighter wines such as Riesling and Pinot Noir are ordered more often than bolder varietals, such as Shiraz and Chardonnay, which tend to be favoured by [Americans]’. Similarly, cruise lines will plan menus based on a number of outside factors including guests’ dining patterns, ports of call, customer demographic and more. For example, the American College of Culinary & Language Arts (ACCLA) tells us that British guests enjoy roast dinners, with puddings for dessert, while guests from continental Europe prefer more Mediterranean-style dishes featuring fresh seafood and fruit desserts.

Food and beverages on modern cruise ship Costa Cruises Diadema
Food on Costa Diadema – Costa Cruises’ 4GOODFOOD program aims to reduce food waste

In the kitchen

Whatever the design of the menu, the featured meals still have to be prepared, cooked and delivered to the high standards the customer expects. On a 2,954-capacity (including 850 staff) ship such as Holland America’s MS Eurodam, the staff will consist of 223 service professionals working between a cold kitchen preparing sandwiches and cold appetizers, a bakery preparing over 20 different kinds of bread, and a hot kitchen cooking up everything hot. This is then transported between decks by large, unmanned stainless steel elevators, and collected by stewards to be delivered to the right cruiser in the correct restaurant. Some speciality restaurants will be serviced by separate kitchens in order to accommodate a larger menu – but on the whole, on the larger ships, menus are kept fairly simple to ensure food can be swiftly made to order and served at the correct temperatures.

Dealing with waste

Dinnertime is over and all the (hopefully empty!) plates have returned to the galley – so what do ships do with all the waste produced from uneaten or unused food? For starters, the cruise lines try to ensure they are only ordering exactly the food they need – but this does include stockpiling an extra day or two’s provisions in case of a surprisingly popular item, or an emergency. This is a balancing act – the ship doesn’t want to carry too much food for it to go to waste, but it certainly doesn’t want to carry too little, for its passengers to go hungry! Most cruise ships will load on enough stock for the duration of the cruise from the outset, as many of the ports they visit won’t be able to provide the sizeable amount of food needed.

Any food waste counts as ‘wet waste’, along with bio sludge from waste water treatment plants. This ‘wet waste’ is de-watered and then dried, reducing its volume to be stored in a silo. This dried waste is then either burned in an incinerator or taken onshore to be dealt with in on-land facilities.

Between the galley and the incinerator, however, is the opportunity to reduce the amount of food waste produced. Companies such as Winnow, installed on Costa Cruises’ ships as part of their ‘4GOODFOOD’ program, use Artificial Intelligence technology to detect change in galley bins – when a piece of uneaten or unused food is thrown in the bin, the software detects and records the type and amount, enabling the cruise line to analyse patterns and adjust and adapt menus and orders accordingly.

Moving forwards

A key prerogative for cruise lines to ensure they retain a consumer base that is becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of their purchases is to consolidate their environmental impact with sustainability efforts. One of the key ways to do this is to reduce food waste, and with more operators taking on schemes like Costa Cruises’ waste reduction program, hopefully we’ll see an industry-wide change in waste management. However, the sheer scale of the operations run by cruise lines makes this difficult – which is why the cruise industry needs innovative suppliers to bring new ideas to the table.


Make sure you’re involved in the conversation by exhibiting at Cruise Ship Hospitality Expo on 16-17 June 2020!

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