Oceanview Cafe Buffet dining aboard Celebrity Cruises' Solstice Class
Oceanview Cafe aboard Celebrity Cruises' Solstice Class

The classic buffet on nearly every ship is a cruising staple as old as cruising itself, always proving a popular spot for breakfast, lunch and even dinner. However like any public space, there are some basic, unwritten and unspoken, rules of etiquette you should keep in mind when making the orderly shuffle along the line or between the food stations.

On some ships around the world, there has been the occasional instance when nearby crew and security have been summoned to neutralise a situation caused by a queue-jumper, especially when the person they’ve inconvenienced already has a short fuse.

We’ve taken a look at the ten unwritten rules of the buffet so you don’t end up on the wrong side of your fellow passengers. Some disgruntled cruisers can have long, accurate memories.

You shall not use your hands

We’re guessing you probably wouldn’t like a stranger coming into your home and touching your food before you ate it? The same rule apply to the cruise ship buffet.

Not only is using your fingers a major faux pas from a manners standpoint, it can cause illness for other passengers as the bacteria off your hands, and everything your hands have touched, can be easily transferred onto the food. This rule goes for everything in the buffet – including that stubborn bread roll the tongs can’t seem to grip! Most cruise lines have buffet attendants positioned around the stations to assist should you experience any difficulty and will be happy to help you source anything you can’t reach.

You will washy washy

Norovirus gets enough bad press as it is, and you don’t want to be the one to start an outbreak due to your own poor hygiene. As you enter the buffet at one of the three main daily meal times, you’ll usually be greeted by a crew member reminding you quite comically to “Washy Washy!”

Hand sanitiser stations are located at each entry to the buffet. Yes you may have washed your hands five minutes ago in the bathroom, but reality is since then you’ve probably touched a dozen surfaces such as door handles or stair railings, all of which could have been harbouring something nasty another guest may have put there. The only legitimate excuse not to use the sanitisers is if you’re a diabetic who uses a finger prick – the high sugar content in the sanitiser will cause a misread! However for everyone else, “Washy Washy”!

Take hand sanitiser often when on a cruise ship
Hand sanitising has become such a problem on some ships that crew have been placed to ensure people take some.

You won’t take what you can’t eat

Yes the prawns are bottomless, yes they do look incredibly good and yes they are free, but that’s no reason to pile a mountain of them onto your plate so high that a mountaineer might be inspired to try and plant their nation’s flag on the summit.

Reality is, our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs when it comes to a buffet, and you will most likely consume 10 of the 200 prawns on your plate before you give up. This will of course result in wastage, as the crew can’t take back what hasn’t been eaten. Additionally, on cruises that have long periods at sea, some fresh and perishable items may be in short supply, resulting in other passengers missing out if people are greedy. Keep in mind you can go back as often as you like, so you aren’t restricted at all, just slightly restrained.

The outdoor buffet aboard Carnival Cruise Lines Australia Carnival Spirit.
The outdoor Salsa Bar aboard Carnival Spirit.

You will line up, starting from the back

Even if it’s the first time you have been out of the house in 30 years, the concept of the line hasn’t changed. Continuously cutting the line, even if it’s just for soup will quickly ensure you fall out of favour with your fellow cruisers. The only time it can be reasonably accepted to cut in line is when butter or sauce packets have been placed in an awkward position and there is no other station offering them.

Step to the side if you have a special order

Most ships are more than happy to accommodate any dietary request you may have including sourcing items adhering to gluten free or sugar free. However, these can sometimes take some time to source, so stepping to the side of your desired station will ensure the chef can still see you without you unnecessarily blocking the line and causing a bottleneck.

Don’t be afraid to share a table

As more and more cruise lines take on fresh approaches with their buffets, communal tables are becoming increasingly popular. Two guests occupying a table intended for six will likely cause problems as the backlog quickly builds up during peak times. Asking to share tables with others can be beneficial as not only will you improve your chances of quickly securing a seat, but you also may make some new friends! On the flip side, if you see people standing near you looking for a table, don’t be afraid to invite them to join you – they may just be too scared to ask to join you!

The Patio outdoor seating area aboard Azamara Club Cruises Azamara Quest
The Patio outdoor seating area aboard Azamara Quest

Don’t be afraid to clean up by yourself

Moving your dirty plates and cutlery to one of the waiter stations will ensure other guests can use your table as soon as you leave, rather than having multiple dirty tables sitting there waiting to be cleaned. Your simple gesture will help out the buffet attendants immensely. It may even make their day!

Tables are for eating, not playing cards

If you are like my family and don’t mind playing some cards at sea you will quickly see the buffet tables as the ideal place to set up camp and start the canasta. However as soon as the crowds start to build for any meal time, it’s only polite to pack away the cards and either grab lunch yourself or move off so someone who wishes to eat can use the tables.

You should sit your kids down first, then go to get your food

Children and their natural curiosities can lead to some awful buffet incidents. The combination of the extremely hot food, sharp knives and older, less mobile passengers mixed with a small child running around can quickly result in multiple people get hurt. Children may also be inclined to touch the food with their bare hands rather than use tongs. If you are wondering why that’s an issue, the photo below shows the bacteria on the hands of an eight-year-old after playtime.

It's not nice, but get your kids to sit down before collecting their food.
The bacteria on the hand of an eight-year-old.

Play nice with the buffet stewards and they might reward you

If you are polite and cordial to the buffet stewards on deck, you will generally find they can get you anything you want – even if you think it’s pretty much impossible! Be it Vegemite on a ship in Europe or America, to Hollandaise sauce to make your own Eggs Benedict, the buffet stewards hold the keys to a secret world of dining goodness beyond what you see served up at the stations. So play nice and see the rewards!