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THE CONTINUING EVOLUTION OF DINING ON PRINCESS CRUISES
A conversation with
Corporate Executive Chef JP SEIDEL
by Richard H. Wagner
JP Seidel is one of three corporate executive chefs guiding the culinary operations of the Princess fleet. Although Chef Seidel's office is at Princess' headquarters in California, he spends much of his time on the Princess ships in Europe and North America. His prior experience includes both land-based dining operations and time with cruise lines such as Cunard (including the legendary QE2), Seabourn and Norwegian Cruise line as well as Princess Cruises.
Princess' approach to dining is customer-driven. It seeks to meet - - and exceed - - the expectations of the people who travel regularly on the Princess ships and the people Princess hopes to attract to its ships. “On one hand, we have our loyal clientele but on the other hand, we are trying to get new clientele.”
“We have the highest returning clientele in the industry. We have customers who have come back for 40 years or more. We have very loyal customers and they are important to the business.” Such customers expect to find certain items when they return to a Princess ship.
To illustrate, “in the buffet, we used to have breaded scallops. We took them off the [menu] cycle and everybody was asking for the breaded scallops.”
Furthermore, removing an item from the menu can injure the line's reputation. “It is perception. People think that you are taking value away but it is not the truth.”
It does not follow, however, that the safest course would be for Princess to use the same menus that it used in the 1970s and never change. Even leaving aside the need to attract new guests, Princess' regular customers do not live their entire lives on ships. They are also “live on land and they are going to [new] places and experiencing them.” Thus, their tastes are evolving.
Therefore, “the plan is that we try and keep what we are doing but still evolve the product in a different modern direction.” The menu cycles include classic dishes such as Beef Wellington, duck ala orange, and escargot, Then with certain items, e.g., the filet brochette, “we try to go away from the classic to some extent to a more modern contemporary approach. In addition, Princess is also moving in modern directions with gluten-free products and vegetarian items.
Evolving the dining is not as simple as coming up with an idea and adding a dish to the menu. Princess has its own test kitchen. “When we create a recipe, we have to redo it and redo it and try for perfection.”
New ideas are then tested on one of the ships. “Everything that we try, you need to see how it works, how it develops, how the customer is enjoying it. The basic idea is to see how it goes on one vessel . You need to run it for six months and then get the feedback.”
Evolution of the dining also includes developing new dining venues. To illustrate, Princess is deploying the Salty Dog Grill on its ships. This venue features Tex-Mex inspired items “It is high end street food style.” It also has “high-end crafted burgers,” chili-fries and “a Greek-style chicken sandwich.”
Along the same lines, the poolside pizzeria is becoming “Slice.” “We keep the pizza but we are also doing other things. We have a deep dish, a Stromboli pizza and a California healthy-style.”
Princess prides itself on being the “destination experts” pointing to the fact that its ships sail worldwide. Furthermore, different itineraries attract different clienteles “Alaska is different than Los Angles. Every market is different in its eating habits. You need to provide the right food and concept.”
Accordingly, the menus on the various ships reflect the places where the ships are sailing. Beyond the regular core menu, you have “regional [items] when you go to the Caribbean, the Baltic.” These include “traditional dishes and modern contemporary dishes. You have the local approach We have special dishes on, special activities from outside restaurant chains.”
The people factor
The human element is also a key part of Princess dining. “Every customer has value to us. We would like to see everybody come back. This company is special for its people. It is different. It is still very friendly. You are not just a number.”
“Can you satisfy every customer? No, but we are trying to.” If a guest is dissatisfied, it is “important that they talk to us. Nothing is written in stone. We try as much as we can to accommodate, to make the vacation as enjoyable as possible.”
Above: Princess is introducing high-end crafted burgers.
Below: A classic dish - - Beef Wellington
Cruise ship interview - - Princess Cruises - - Corporate Executive Chef JP Seidel