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OVERVIEW — AUGUST 2013

 

A Sea of Similarities

 

When one goes on vacation, the general idea is to relax and not think about work at all.

That wasn't exactly the way things worked out when I recently took a vacation cruise. I discovered almost immediately that you don't have to be from the Naval Academy to see how similar food service aboard ship is to college and university dining.

The first thing we did on board was head to the buffet, which was serving lunch. Near us in line was a young lady of college age, who said to her friend, “This makes me miss the dining hall at school.” And I was back at work.

Just as you are, the foodservice staff on a cruise ship is responsible for feeding a large number of people. This was evident from that first meal, when it seemed that every one of the more than 3,000 passengers was being fed at the same time. The staff was busy making sure all of the food pans were refilled quickly, the tables were cleaned of dirty plates and people were helped to find seats.

Another similarity to your operations is that both you and the shipboard foodservice director feed very demanding clientele. There are those among the students paying a lot of money for meal plans, and passengers paying a lot of money for their vacations, who feel that they are entitled to get what they want, when they want it — usually right away. Both operations need managers with great people skills to keep guests satisfied.

As anyone who has followed the news lately will tell you, even minor mishaps on cruise ships can be very dangerous. One area that thankfully has not been in the news lately is illnesses on ships. Food safety and the spread of germs is a very important topic for both industries. Foodborne illnesses, like Norovirus, can spread like wildfire on ships and campuses.

A number of measures were in place to help cut down the spread of germs in the foodservice areas. At the entrance to the buffet area, an employee was stationed to make sure that every passenger used the automatic hand sanitizers located there. The familiar sound of “washy, washy” greeted passengers whenever they went for a meal. On the first day, there was a bit of reluctance on the part of some passengers to use the station, but by the end of the cruise, it was an ingrained behavior. At the “Farewell” show, the loudest cheer was reserved for the “washy, washy” lady, as she had become known to the passengers.

If you aren't already encouraging students to use a hand sanitizer upon entering your dining halls, it should be something to consider.

When it came to juice, coffee and other complimentary beverages in the buffet area, instead of allowing guests to fill their own glasses, the drinks were laid out on a tray in front of the juice dispensers, limiting the spread of germs.

The staff was also very diligent when it came to the serving utensils in the self-service areas. If a utensil hit the floor, it was removed in seconds. Guests were asked to use tongs for bread and other items. If a passenger touched any items with his or her hands, even accidentally, it was removed from the line immediately, unless it was for that passenger.

As is the case on most college campuses, sustainability is important on a ship. Trays are available only to those who request them; and when the ship docked, a truck pulled up to pick up the used fryer oil for recycling.

While the similarities between campus and cruise food service are many, it is important to remember too that, while cruise passengers are on board for a couple of weeks at most, your students are with you for years. You have a chance to really get to know your customers, and that's a benefit you just can't top.

Gregg Wallis