Opinion10 Cruise Buffet Rules Every Passenger Should Follow

10 Cruise Buffet Rules Every Passenger Should Follow

Cruise ships have often been famously referred to as floating buffets at sea – and for good reason. With all-you-can-eat pizza, cake, steak, and lobster, the options truly are endless.

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But we often see the same mistakes made when it comes to dining on a cruise ship.  A little cruise buffet etiquette can go a long way to ensure everyone on the ship has a pleasant vacation.

Image of MSC Seaside and Allure of the Seas in cruise port in Costa Maya
Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

Almost all major cruise ships have at least one buffet on board, which is included in your cruise fare. What’s also included is the 10 pounds you’re sure to gain from sampling all these culinary delights.

Although cruise dining has an overall laid back vibe, there are some unwritten rules you should know before you belly up to the bar – or the buffet that is. Read on to learn about these 10 golden rules every cruiser should follow.

1. Don’t Cut the Unofficial Line (You Know It’s There)

While the buffets on cruise ships are known for being more fun and easy-going compared to its counterparts (looking at you, Main Dining Room), it goes without saying that there is some form of structure and order. A prime example of this would be the lines of hungry people snaked throughout the room.

Cutting people off at the store wouldn’t fly on land, and it isn’t permissible (nor polite) onboard. Instead, exercising your patience and waiting your turn is not only encouraged, but required here.

In the instance you approach a selection of food you’d rather skip all together, you can either wait patiently, or ask the passenger ahead of you in line if you may kindly pass them by. The key here is to ask, as they did arrive before you.

Read more: 12 biggest cruise dining mistakes to avoid

2. Always Wash Your Hands First

The saying may go that your eyes eat before your stomach, but your hands get washed before you do any anything else.

Cruise ships have an overabundance of restrooms, hand-washing stations, and now, hand sanitizer pumps dispersed throughout the vessel. These sanitizer pumps are typically stationed at the entrance of all dining rooms to encourage all guests to wash up before eating.

Even though you will not be touching the food directly (right?), you will be handling those serving utensils that everyone else also touched. You wouldn’t want the person in line ahead of you to have dirty hands, so wash yours too.

handwashing station on celebrity ascent
Hand washing station on Celebrity Ascent. Photo credit: Cruise Fever

3. Use the Tongs (Not Your Hands)

This one isn’t just for the kids (though they are the biggest offenders) – adults are just as guilty.

While it can be tempting to grab that last slice of cheese, sitting all alone with your fingers, just don’t do it. There are food handling utensils for a good reason, and the cruise line expects that everyone uses them.

Related: 10 reasons to eat dinner at the buffet on a cruise

4. Watch Your Children

Speaking of children – watch and accompany your children at all times in the buffet and seating area. Period.

The buffet area commonly stores hot plates, foods, glassware and other items that can pose harm to children and others if not handled properly. As a parent, it is your responsibility to watch, and escort them to and throughout the buffet.

Children also need gentle reminders on buffet etiquette such as not cutting others in line, not grabbing food with tiny fingers, or running around in inappropriate areas.

5. Always Use a New Plate

One of the unwritten golden rules of buffet dining is that there will be more than one plate of food consumed per person. It goes without saying.

With that in mind, it should be noted that when you go back for seconds (or thirds, nobody is judging on a cruise), leave your used plate on your table and grab a new, clean one.

Buffet dining halls have plenty of staff members rounding the tables to take away dirty plates, silver wear, cups and napkins. This is to avoid the serving spoons and tongs coming into contact with your personal dishes, so please be respectful.

Food plate on a cruise ship with pool in background
Photo 26281465 | Cruise © Pavel Losevsky | Dreamstime.com

6. Do Not Move the Serving Utensils

Each buffet station has its own set of tongs, spoons, forks, or knifes for a reason – to avoid cross-contamination of different food products. This is primarily for allergy, or dietary reasons but is also to avoid mixing unwanted flavors (because nobody wants French fries in their chocolate cake).

Should you transfer the utensils from one station to another, you are risking serious consequences for other passengers. Some are allergic to shellfish, or peanuts, while some may be following a vegetarian, kosher, or gluten free diet. Keeping the utensils in their proper places allows all guests to dine comfortably.

If you are dining on a cruise ship and have dietary concerns, all cruise lines encourage you to speak directly to the maître d. They can modify dishes, or even prepare special dishes for you without risk.

Read more: 25 cruise cabin hacks to make your stateroom more livable

7. Don’t Take All of the Cookies

Make sure to pack your courteous pants with you when you board because you’ll certainly need them in line at the buffet.

You’ll encounter many a station where you’re presented with the last couple items, and as respect to the hungry passengers in line behind you: don’t take all of them. Even if you have a table of 4 waiting for you across the room. That’s right – just don’t do it.

The right thing to do here is to take one, leave some behind and alert the chef who’s probably standing behind the station, that the supply is running low and needs to be replenished. They’ll know what to do from there.

And if you really, really (like really) need to take that last cookie, definitely make sure to let a chef know so that everyone else can have one, too.

8. Do Not Eat in Line

With endless, mouthwatering options, eating while standing in line (that seems to move at a snail’s pace) can be painfully tempting, but don’t do it.

The food on your plate, nor at the buffet, isn’t going anywhere and this may be a good opportunity to practice patience (and to teach little ones about this virtue as well).

Eating in line is unsanitary and defeats the purpose of rule number 2 – washing your hands first. As in, before you eat and touch the utensils you’re using as a vehicle to put the food on your plate. It’s just rude and sends the wrong message to other guests.

Related: 15 most popular dining venues on cruise ships

9. Don’t Overload Your Plate

Again – cruise food makes you salivate, so loading up your plate can happen before you even realize it. Why should you have to choose between nachos, and French fries? Here’s the thing though: you don’t.

There are tactics to avoid overloading one plate and appearing gluttonous to other passengers. You can eat in shifts by taking one plate at a time. Start with a salad, then your entrée, and then move onto dessert(s).

Or, if you’d rather make one trip, you can take a little bit of everything instead of normal-sized portions of each item. Think: Thanksgiving-style, cruise ship edition.

10. Be Kind to All Staff Members

Above all, expressing your kindness, sincerity and appreciation to staff members throughout the buffet dining hall, and within the dining room should go without saying, but is certainly worth mentioning.

While all cruise staff members are there to serve you (and certainly go above and beyond to make your experience memorable and exceptionable), passengers need keep in mind that they are deserving of respect.

Make sure to always say please, thank you, or no thank you, to smile and wave and let them know when they have made a difference in your dining experience!

Read more: 10 biggest things that can ruin your cruise

Final Thoughts

Cruises are the best vacation you can take if you’re looking to sample the flavors of the world in a single sitting. This truly all-you-can-eat experience coupled with a casual environment is not to be missed.

Before you embark on your next cruise buffet dining experience, please keep in mind the unwritten rules of the dining hall to ensure the best experience for both you and everyone else on board.

Remembering to practice best etiquette such as:

  • Ensuring your hands are washed.
  • Not handling food with your hands
  • Don’t cut the line!
  • And being respectful of staff members

These key points will help maintain the laid back, comfortable dining experience that every passenger comes for, and ultimately is why they stay around.

Read more: Cruise dining regrets: 10 foods these travelers say they avoid on every cruise

Learn the cruise secrets most people don't know and cruise like a boss. Check out Intelligent Cruiser here for a better cruise vacation. (Sponsored)

Caitlyn Ingram
Caitlyn Ingram
Based in New York, Caitlyn is a travel agent with a wealth of cruising experience across various cruise lines.
Opinion10 Cruise Buffet Rules Every Passenger Should Follow

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10 Cruise Buffet Rules Everyone Should Follow