Monday, August 08, 2011

The Special in Specialty Dining

Many years ago Norwegian Cruise Line introduced the audacious concept of charging a premium for dining in a particular restaurant aboard one of their ships. Le Bistro was an upscale French restaurant offering a menu of modern and classic gourmet cuisine unlike anything served in the ship’s main dining room.  The success of this endeavor was immediate and brought forth the now popular concept of “specialty” or “alternate” dining.

Today every cruise line offers at least one specialty restaurant on each of their ships with the newer builds having many.  There are Asian, French, Mexican and Italian bistros, traditional steak houses and Brazilian churrascarias, upscale restaurants serving continental cuisine, English pubs, and American diners.

Most specialty restaurants require a reservation.  All charge a fee from $5 to $35 per person and a few have a cover charge in addition to la carte pricing. So what then, is the lure of spending additional money to dine in any one of these places, when good meals served in lovely dining rooms are included in the price of a cruise?

Cruise line dining rooms, though very elegant with sparkling chandeliers and stylish decor, are often, noisy, colossal rooms.  On the other hand, the specialty restaurants are smaller, and the atmosphere has a more intimate feel. Instead of having a meal hurriedly served due to the constraints of a set dining time, dinners served in the alternative venues are often long, leisurely evenings conducive to savoring fine wine, exceptional cuisine and stimulating conversation.

While the meals served in the dining rooms are prepared and served beautifully, many of the specialty restaurants offer an epicurean experience! Service is superior as it is the best of the best cruise wait staff that work here. The menus offer more choices in appetizers and sides; the entrees themselves being selections that are not usually offered on a grander scale… for example; filet mignon, venison, or rack of lamb may be on the menu. Chefs have more flexibility and can input more creativity into the dishes they prepare in smaller venues, including something as simple as the choice of spices they use! Dining room food is typically less seasoned to appeal to the masses, whereas guests that dine in specialty restaurants can look forward to more gourmet choices that showcase refined flavors.

Of course cooking for 1000 or more is quite different than cooking for one!   Again, it is not my intention to dismiss the excellent job the chefs and waiters do in the main dining room. However, when a guest orders a meal in one of the alternative restaurants the meal is cooked to order, when ordered and not sitting under hot lights waiting to be served. Food instead arrives “hot off the grill”, so to speak!

Specialty restaurants offer cruise line guests a dining experience that goes above and beyond the main dining room. They offer variety and choice to those that want such options during their cruise, or maybe just one exceptional night out to celebrate an important occasion.  For those that enjoy the traditional dining room experience or don’t want to spend the additional money, it is certainly not necessary.  Specialty restaurants take nothing away from the cruise passenger- they just have the ability to make the cruise more… “special”."

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