Onboard Princess Cruises Grand Princess this week, we had chosen their Anytime Dining option that allows passengers to dine when and with whomever they want on their own schedule. Traditional options are still available with early and later seating choices available but we like the idea of dining at our own convenience. Interestingly, it seems many others do to. On Grand Princess, Anytime diners outnumber those choosing the traditional times two to one. We found out why.
Just a few days into our sailing , we had any doubts about our decision (we didn’t but play along here) they were whisked away by a super friendly, attentive waiter on our first night in the Michelangelo dining room, one of two dedicated to Anytime dining, leaving just one other for traditional fixed-time dining.
The significance of that lies in the notion that older, set-in-their-ways, people would prefer the traditional fixed time dining.
There are a good number of mature adults on this sailing, a number I am told is typical, with many of them repeat guests who sail this ship over and over again. Stereotypical thinking would have every one of them perched around a table of eight, with formerly perfect strangers who they learned to love rather quickly, lest they ruin their dinnertime enjoyment; one of the main events of a cruise vacation.
To understand why this works so well and why so many have chosen Anytime Dining takes a brief run down memory lane and a bit of history first.
Beside the fact that Princess was the first upscale major cruise line to offer what is commonly referred to as “open seating” and have the most experience with it, they make it just one part of their dining options. Originally, the whole program was called Total Choice Dining, which featured Traditional, Anytime, Specialty Restaurants and Casual Dining Venues (buffets for the most part).
As the program matured, Princess dropped the “Total Choice” terminology in favor of simply “Food and Dining” which also includes emphasis on Ultimate Balcony Dining and now The Piazza, two totally different options. Balcony Dining has an intimate, personal focus and The Piazza a community, town center-like feel. Always open, always serving fresh, unique items on a menu that evolves throughout the day.
Now, back to Anytime Dining, why it works so well and why more guests on this ship prefer Anytime Dining.
It seems, there is not just one reason but a variety of reasons. In conversations I have had with other passengers on the ship while waiting for something, riding in an elevator or sitting in the Piazza, they almost universally agree on several key factors, those that prefer Anytime Dining
- “They let us make our own set time” is a very common comment. Yes, it’s “anytime” dining, yet those who have it line up 15 minutes early for the 5:30 opening time of our dining room. These people like to eat early and make a standing reservation for a certain time every night. In effect, they have created their own fixed dining time. So what’s different? Some find a waiter they like and stick with them, requesting the same one at the same time every night. They become “the regulars” and believe they get preferential treatment over someone who just happened in because they were hungry. These make-your-own-set-time people absolutely love the extra attention they get from being repeat customers. Rightfully so, that waiter knows they asked to be seated in their section every night and performs accordingly, working up to a bit higher standard if that is possible.
- We don’t like strangers/want a table for two is another group and there are lots of tables for two in the Anytime Dining rooms. For whatever reason, these people (and that would be us as well) want to be alone. Perhaps for a romantic dinner, maybe they don’t want to take a chance with having unsavory tablemates or maybe one of the two has bad table manners. What matters to these people is that they do have that choice. The interesting part of that contention is that those who prefer a table for two are totally buying into what Princess Cruises has built a reputation on; enabling their guests to “Escape Completely” and then in brackets (whatever that may mean to you).
- The “(my favorite time Fixed Dining) seating was full” bunch, so they settled for Anytime Dining which is a real shame if they had hard feelings about that. Everyone we have come in contact or observed interacting with guests in the dining room seems genuinely committed to figuring out what it takes to make everyone happy. Once they figure out what that is (not always easy) they do it and they do it better and with more personal commitment than we commonly see. These people are not just going through the motions of making people happy; they are not accepting unhappiness as a possibility.
I saw a great example of this just last night when we were dining ourselves.
Lisa is used to me being distracted in a restaurant because I was in the business for a for a couple decades, years ago. Once you have been in the restaurant business, no matter what kind of restaurant it is, you can’t shake watching how others operate and interact with their guests. So it came as no surprise to her when I started laughing for no apparent reason at a time when our intimate table for two conversations really did not reflect a laughing matter. “What do you see?” says this lady I met and married 30+ years ago, in a restaurant
Just beyond her left ear in my field of view was a teenage boy sitting with his family inhaling the rolls off the table’s bread basket like a vacuum cleaner as teen boys do, consuming everything not nailed down that is edible and some things that are not.
Without hesitation, with no word spoken, that tables waiter kept that bread basket overflowing with rolls from start to finish of the meal without missing a beat Never once did that boy stop eating them and never once did he run out.
That’s the big difference with Princess that allows the process, system or whatever it is they have in place to work so well: They anticipate the needs of their guests rather than react to them. That’s huge and that’s a recurring theme we are seeing in every department we take the time to pause and look a bit deeper into.
Is this unique to Princess and they are the only ones that do it? No. But we have not sailed with Princess in over a year and their style, brand and the clarity of what they do is so well defined that it was as though we were here last week.
The product we are experiencing here is unique to Princess Cruises. It might not be for everyone just as Carnival, Celebrity or Royal Caribbean might not be for everyone and Norwegian is for…well… Norwegians. But just as other lines are or are becoming so very clearly differentiated from one another, Princess has this whole “Escape Completely” thing down pat. Anytime Dining is but one flexible element of the whole Escape Completely thing that works so well.
We’ll continue to explore this more as the week rolls on. Oddly, as I sit here writing this, we have been docked in Curacao, a port I have heard great things about but have never been to.
Normally, on any other line, we would have been ashore by now but somehow I don’t feel in any hurry. Lisa is back in the cabin reading a book, her third so far and also in no big hurry to rush off the ship.
I suppose it could be said that we have Escaped Completely.
Yes, I believe that works.
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