Unless you are on a very exclusive or small cruise ship, your best options for dinner in the main dining room will be on the nightly menu. Resist the urge to customize, because most standard cruise ships won’t be able to quickly and easily satisfy special orders in the dining room.
Review the main dining room menu in advance.
Did you know that the nightly dinner menu will be displayed near the main dining room doors each day?
You may even find all or part of the menu printed in the daily materials provided by your cabin steward, displayed electronically around the ship, or available on your ship’s smartphone app. If you ask at the front desk, you may even be able to review all the dining room menus for your entire cruise in advance.
If absolutely nothing on the nightly menu appeals to you, skip dinner in the dining room that night. Check with room-service or in the buffet-style restaurant onboard to find a dish that you like.
Don’t plan to order “off menu” in the main dining room.
“But I request specials items and menu substitutions all the time in restaurants at home,” you say. “Why shouldn’t I do the same on a cruise ship?”
Because a cruise ship dinner is more like a banquet dinner than a restaurant dinner.
Every evening, the main dining room kitchen is serving thousands of meals simultaneously. The kitchen is designed to deliver high quality menu selections in volume, not to prepare and customize individual dishes. (If you have the chance, sign up for a galley tour during your cruise to see how the well-orchestrated system prepares so many dishes at once.)
Of course, every ship is different. And the servers and kitchen staff want to make you happy. But be mindful of the limitations of the main dining room, and show courtesy to your server and your fellow diners when you place your order.
Minor requests for changes can usually be honored.
Simple requests, such as asking for a sauce or dressing “on-the-side” can usually be honored. In fact, to accommodate a variety of tastes, most cruise ships serve condiments separately anyway.
More complicated requests to substitute or leave out individual ingredients can be a gray area.
For example, if you ask for a Caesar salad without croutons, then the difficulty of satisfying your request depends on where and when the croutons are added. If all the ingredients are mixed together in large quantities in the depths of the salad galley, then it may be tough for your server to eliminate the croutons. If your server tops the salads right before delivering them to the table, however, then skipping the croutons is no problem. Practices vary from ship to ship. In any event, if your salad arrives with croutons, be a good sport and just eat around them.
By contrast, if you order linguine and clams without the clams, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. That level of customization isn’t easy to accomplish unless the kitchen line cooks are preparing each passenger’s plate to order. In a standard cruise ship setting, individualization isn’t always a reasonable expectation. You will probably be better off selecting a different dish from the menu.
Cruise ships offer choices for a variety of dietary restrictions and preferences.
The variety of dishes available in the main dining room may surprise you. Each night you will see menu options that are designated as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, reduced-calorie, heart-healthy and the like.
Kosher meals are generally available, too, but they must be pre-ordered because they are typically prepared off the ship and frozen until they are served onboard.
If dietary restrictions are necessary or important to you, order accordingly. And, in this case, if the dish served to you is not as described on the menu, send it back.
What happens when a passenger makes an “off menu” request?
If a custom meal is not a reasonable expectation in a cruise ship dining room, the best thing that can happen is that a server will politely decline the special request.
The worst thing that can happen is that the custom order goes into limbo somewhere between the server and the head chef. The meals for the whole table may be delayed, and hungry dinner companions may get grouchy.
Be appreciative if custom orders are honored.
Sometimes, your server may accept or even encourage you to make a special request.
If you get a custom order, enjoy your meal and express your appreciation for the special dish.
But be considerate of the dining room staff and your fellow diners, and don’t strain the system by making up your own menu every night.