Home Cruise Safely Top cruise line executive: We may never bring back the buffet

By Gene Sloan Oct 5, 2020

Could the cruise ship buffet be on the way out forever?

It seems almost unthinkable, given its hallowed place in cruising over the years. But one of cruising’s most respected leaders is mulling over the possibility.

“The pandemic put a large bead on certain things,” AmaWaterways co-founder and president Rudi Schreiner said Monday during a virtual press conference. “Right now my entire thinking is about going totally away from buffet servings.”

Cruise lines won’t be operating buffets as we know them for quite some time, thanks to the new coronavirus, Schreiner noted. Most major cruise lines already have announced plans to temporarily stop self-service buffet dining on ships as a safety measure.

But even after the new coronavirus is in the rearview mirror, Schreiner says there’s an argument for not bringing buffets back — at least on higher-end ships such as those operated by AmaWaterways, one of the best-known river cruise lines catering to North Americans.

“If you look at classy restaurants here in the U.S., in California, I go out for breakfast, I don’t get a buffet. I get a menu, and they have some good choices,” he said. “The future, I think, is going away from the buffet.”

Schreiner hinted that his mind may already be made up on the issue. He noted that AmaWaterways had been taking advantage of the COVID-related shutdown in cruising to extensively remodel two of its 25 vessels, and in both cases, he had the buffets ripped out. He had them replaced with show kitchens.

The two vessels, the 161-passenger AmaVerde and 161-passenger AmaBella, sail on the rivers of Europe.

Neither AmaVerde nor AmaBella has sailed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, nor have most other AmaWaterways ships. The line has been operating a single vessel in Germany for Germans since July in a collaboration with a local tour operator. But it otherwise has canceled all sailings aimed at North Americans through at least Nov. 30.

Schreiner is widely considered one of the visionaries behind the growth of river cruising over the past 30 years, and he often has predicted future trends in cruising. He and AmaWaterways co-founder and executive vice president Kristin Karst were early advocates for river cruises that offered more active excursions, more choice in excursions, more wellness activities, more dining options and cabins with balconies — all trends that have grown significantly in recent years.

Before co-founding AmaWaterways in 2002, Schreiner started the North American operations for many of today’s major river cruise companies.

As is typical for river cruise lines, AmaWaterways until now has relied on buffets to serve breakfast and lunch to a large portion of passengers on its ships.

The typical river ship has a buffet area built into its main dining room where dishes are laid out for breakfast and lunch. On most river ships, dinner is always a table-served affair.

Schreiner said he envisioned “having just wonderful menus” for sit-down, table-served dining for all three meals on his ships. In the place of the spot where buffet counters currently are located in the main restaurants on AmaWaterways ships, a show kitchen could offer passengers the chance to watch a chef prepare dishes in front of them, he suggested.

Schreiner said the silver lining of the COVID crisis was that it was giving him and his team time to think about such a wholesale redesign.

“What’s happening now with the ships laid off (is) we have much more time to work on those details,” he said. “We have much more time to upgrade the ships.”

The press conference was held on the first day of a virtual version of the annual Seatrade Cruise Global convention — the world’s biggest gathering of people involved in the cruise industry. It usually happens in Miami in April and draws about 13,000 people.

Featured image courtesy of AmaWaterways