Skift Take

Virgin Voyages is intent on setting itself apart, and its food choices do stand out: no buffet, no main dining room, no restaurants with an extra charge. Execution will be key.

Virgin Voyages is saying goodbye to an age-old cruise ship custom: the all-you-can-eat buffet.

The cruise operator, which launches its first ship in 2020, also said Wednesday that it will not charge an extra fee for any of its 20 or so food options.

For the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, the line is doing away with a main dining room and assigned seating; offering extended hours; and placing a bar at every eatery. It should come as no surprise that the ship will be only for adults.

The traditional buffet will be replaced by a food hall-type option where everything is made to order rather than sitting around ready to eat. CEO Tom McAlpin said the approach would allow the line to reduce food waste, an issue that hospitality companies and airlines are increasingly beginning to address.

Most mainstream cruise lines include some restaurants — such as the main dining room and buffet — in the price of a cruise but charge extra for what are called “specialty” restaurants. Upcharges can be modest or steep, but typically are priced better than land-based counterparts.

But executives at Virgin Voyages said that strategy wouldn’t make sense for the brand and vowed not to hit passengers with extra charges at every turn.

“On a Virgin Voyage, it doesn’t make sense to be nickel and dimed or pay more for better food,” Chief Commercial Officer Nirmal Saverimuttu said at an event Wednesday night in New York City.

Luxury lines typically include all meals in the price of a cruise, but ships are much smaller than the vessels Virgin is building. The cruise line said Wednesday it was referring to its style as “Rebellious Luxe.”

True to its unconventional nature, the startup cruise line made the announcement at an event that also featured a collective soju shot mid-press conference, hosts in drag, and a merman perched in an oversized cocktail glass.

Restaurants will include The Test Kitchen, an experimental option where diners will only see a list of ingredients; an upscale Mexican venue; a Korean barbecue; a “veggie-forward” spot; a pizza place called The Pizza Place; a traditional steakhouse with seafood; and more.

Virgin is releasing details little by little in advance of the ship’s launch; McAlpin said he’d been sitting on Tuesday’s announcement for years. The company first publicly announced plans for the line in 2015.

“You design the ship around the restaurants,” he said.


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Tags: dining, virgin voyages

Photo credit: The Test Kitchen, one of the restaurants that will be on the first Virgin Voyages ship, is shown in this rendering. Virgin Voyages

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