Celebrity Cruises: How We've Refined Our F&B Operations
Cornelius Gallagher Vice President, Food & Beverage Operations, Celebrity Cruises
As the Vice President of Food and Beverage operations at Celebrity Cruises, my role oversees over 350 restaurants and bars globally and I have the privilege of leading a team of over 7,000 amazing culinary, service and bar hospitality professionals. At Celebrity, food and beverage is our strongest brand pillar and we work diligently to grow our position as the single most awarded Food and Beverage team in the cruise industry.
I joined our company 8 ½ years ago, and I can tell you that my days are never boring! Over the past year, like many of us, I have had to wear 2 hats. I've been responsible for overseeing all aspects of a group of our ships being re-introduced into service. It's been a remarkable experience and has encompassed government relations, port operations, vaccines, guest and crew testing, mobilization, contact tracing, logistics, IT, security, guest communications and onboard operations. However, for the intent and purpose of this article, I'll speak specifically to my oversight of the Food and Beverage department.
How do food and beverage operations at Celebrity differ from operations in a typical high-end hotel or restaurant you might ask? The answer is, there are more similarities than there are differences and at the end of the day we are not in the cruise business….we are in the hospitality business. The people business. The business of creating long lasting memories and world class pleasurable experiences.
On the F&B team, our primary focus is the business. We work with the finance and the accounting teams to ensure that our revenues and costs are properly forecasted, and that the targets we create are aggressive yet achievable. We partner with our analytics teams to calculate and set expectations for our guest net promoter scores (NPS), and use the subsequent data derived from these results to refine our future targets. We partner with our marketing and sales teams to ensure we are telling our brand story in a bold and meaningful way, and that we keep our guests updated on what's new and exciting onboard.
We work with our global human resources department on our recruiting efforts, retention, scheduling and training. We also collaborate with our ticket revenue team, to understand who our guests are, where they are from, their age, level of affluence and most importantly, what their preferences are.
We are also creators. We recently launched the "Edge" class of ships, each featuring 29 unique restaurant and bar concepts which are brand new and can't be found anywhere else in our fleet. The initial conceptualization and concept briefs for each of these new venues began in the Food and Beverage department. We then partnered with the design team to take these ideas to all new heights, and to elevate and execute on the vision. The result of our collective effort is the most "in demand" collection of restaurants and bars anywhere in our fleet.
Our successes Food and Beverage began, years ago, with a vision. We created a robust multi year strategic plan for F&B, including a SWOT analysis, a market competitor analysis, a revised organization proposal, historical data and forward-looking revenue and cost projections, concept creation ideation, activations and finally, our 3 year deliverables. We also incorporated our guiding principles, our "North Star" and the ethos around how we lead. I truly believe this is what differentiates us. At our core, we are strategic, hardworking, we lead by example, play as a team and always do the right thing.
Leadership & Training
The best leaders are the best recruiters……and we also focus on recruiting team members, from diverse backgrounds, that have hospitality in their DNA. Talented people are our greatest asset. We would much sooner hire someone who is kind, considerate and hard-working with an excellent attitude (but may need additional job training) versus hiring an expert who is inflexible and set in their ways. For us, it all starts with recruiting employees that will treat our guests like family. These types of genuinely good human beings are the foundation of our success.
We continually invest in and support our teams by providing them with the tools to help them succeed. For instance, we recently created over 1,000 culinary, service and beverage training videos, to bolster our written materials. (Yes, you read that right, 1,000 videos). We also created all new elaborate, detailed and illustrative "Standards of Excellence" for each of our venues. We launched an all new allergen training program named Dineaware, to ensure that our employees are all speaking the same language regarding guest's special dietary needs.
We implemented a 'food cost control program", giving the teams specific guidance and operational parameters around cost containment, saving our company millions in the process. Keeping our teams inspired and educated about what's happening in the marketplace is important as well, which is why we brought the entire F&B leadership team to Las Vegas to show them all of the newest restaurant and bar concepts, brilliant design and modern hospitality that city has to offer.
Restaurant and bar design is another key area of focus for us. We partner with world-class designers and architects such as Tom Wright - lead designer of the Burj al Arab in Dubai, Patrick Jouin - designer of some of Alain Ducasse's award winning restaurant spaces, Scott Butler of Wilson Butler architects and internationally renowned designer Kelly Hoppen. Once we decide upon the perfect blend of concepts within our restaurant and bar portfolio, we work with talented designers like these in a very hands on way to bring these award winning spaces to life.
A focus on detail - A successful restaurant or bar is, quite literally, a collection of 1,000 details. These details need to come together in a seamless and coherent way. The details within each venue also need to be specific to each individual restaurant and bar. For instance…..the color palette, the direction of the lighting, the playlist, the staff's attire, the look and feel of the physical menu, the selection of china glass and silver, the service style, the wine list and cocktail selection, and of course the food. Considering these details and constantly improving upon and evolving them within each venue is vital. We are never content with where we are at. Nonstop improvement and growth is core part of our team mentality.
Our culinary program is another area of importance for us. It's one of the key reasons that guests decide to spend their vacations on a Celebrity cruise ship. Aside from top hiring quality chefs (all of our corporate culinary team have Michelin star restaurant experience), we spend an extraordinary amount of time sourcing peak ingredients. This is a significant effort for us, and requires knowledge of where and when to source these products 365 days a year, all around the world.
We are in daily communication with our global network of suppliers, and we have a much higher food quality threshold of what we will accept than our competitors. We hand select our food suppliers and ensure that they have the same passion for perfection that we do. At the end of the day, if you source top quality ingredients and are smart about what what you put on the plate, the food will speak for itself. Simplicity is key for us, but simplicity is not simple….. quite the contrary. It takes equal parts care and attention.
But what is great food without great wine? We are fortunate to have been recognized by Wine Spectator magazine, (the gold standard in the wine industry) as the most awarded cruise brand anywhere in the world. All of our ships have received the "Award of Excellence" from Wine Spectator for 9 years in a row, and within the last 2 years, we have earned the "Best of Award of Excellence" on 2 of our ships. No other cruise brand possesses this designation. This is accomplished through the hard work of our beverage team, curating all of our wine lists and ensuring that there is a wide variety of special occasion wines, as well as approachable and reasonably priced selections on our lists. Each of our ships has a minimum of 350 wine labels onboard.
We also work to demystify and to make wine fun and approachable, with activations such as "Blendtique", where guests can be a sommelier for a day by blending their own wine varietals, and even bottling their own blend onboard, complete with their own custom label. In addition, we have also partnered with Grgich Hills, a boutique high end winery in Napa, to create 2 exclusive blends for us, a Chardonnay "Elegance" and a Cabernet "Opulence".
Speaking of partnerships, we are extremely selective when we consider who to partner with as a brand. The partnership has to be organic, and has to be real. For instance, over 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to work with Daniel Boulud, one of the world's preeminent Chefs, at his signature restaurant "Daniel" in Manhattan. Today, Daniel not only serves as our global culinary brand ambassador, but we have recently announced that we are co creating a Daniel Boulud restaurant (which we are calling Le Voyage) onboard our newest ship- Beyond- to launch in 2023. It's a true honor, and Daniel's approach to hospitality and excellence is in perfect alignment with our brand. This partnership was born of the friendship that Daniel and I have had throughout the years.
Looking to the future, we are always looking for ways to utilize technology to enhance operational efficiencies or the ways in which guests experience our ships. For instance, we have partnered with "Tablemation" and the extraordinary artists at "Skullmapping" to create an animated 3 dimensional projection mapping experiences that we call "Le Petit Chef". Guests enter the restaurant, and once seated, their tables illuminate with a 3 minute movie of a tiny chef who creates their dish, and that exact dish is then served. It's a multi course experience, and the only place where this is available in North America is on a Celebrity cruise ship. It took a lot of work to bring that partnership and execution of the concept to fruition, but the end result is something truly extraordinary and like nothing you have ever seen before.
Other ways that we weave technology throughout our guest's experiences include the use of augmented reality and our Celebrity app, as well as a virtual reality experience, which we created in partnership with Kendall Jackson wines, which takes guests on a beautiful virtual tour of KJ's vineyards in Napa. We implemented the "Ripples" cappuccino/espresso machine, which produces hot beverages with guest's images "printed" on them. We also utilize technology to enhance our everyday operations, such as an automated beverage inventory taking system, an onboard kitchen energy management system, and are exploring how we can better leverage the use of artificial intelligence to refine our forecast our procurement needs.
In the midst of all of this, we still find time to focus on doing what's right for the world, by investing in sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions. We partner with the World Wildlife fund and aim to increase our volume of cage free eggs, free range pork and sustainable and responsibly sourced seafood that we offer on our ships. We have also removed all single use water bottles, straws and plastics from our fleet. Employee diversity is important to us as a brand, and we work tirelessly to ensure that all genders and nationalities have equal opportunities with us.
At times there can be a tendency to stray from what we are about, especially considering the state of the world today. To realign, we consistently refocus on our "North Star" of the Celebrity food and beverage team, "Finesse". To me, this one word says so many things. Grace, elegance, refinement, polish and class. And it takes incorporating finesse in everything we do to provide the most pleasurable experiences at sea.