An inside guide with
Food and Beverage Manager
by Richard H. Wagner
Crystal Cruises is renown for its dining experiences. On Crystal
Symphony, Food and Beverage Manager Walter Pietschnig, has day-
today responsibility for maintaining this reputation. I sat down with
him to discuss the various dining venues on Crystal Symphony.
The main dining room on Crystal Symphony is the 500-seat
Crystal Dining Room. "My favorite restaurant is actually the dining
room. I am just really impressed with the quality of the food here in
the dining room and the variety."
"Everything is cooked ala minute. You can't do everything ala
minute. Certain things [you have to begin beforehand] and then finish
it up. But we don't really cook in advance. We have really high
standards in the dining room, especially for dinner."
"In the dining room, we have a huge variety. When we are going
on the world cruise - - 110 days - - every day a different menu. We
never repeat the menu except for the Captain's Welcome and the
Farewell on every segment."
Another important element of the dining experience is the
service. More than once when I have interviewed officers at other
lines, I have heard them say that their service is "almost like Crystal,"
implying that the service on Crystal is the ultimate aspiration. The
question that naturally arises is how is Crystal able to provide
service like Crystal?
"You have to hire the right people. Most of the staff here have
been here a long time already. Some of them have been here since the
beginning in 1990. They have a good life here. We take good care
of the crew. When they are off duty, there are a lot of activities for
them on the ship. They can use all kinds of facilities. There are
parties for them. They are motivated. Our strength is number one the
way we take care of the crew. You can ask anybody who has been on
other cruise lines, you cannot compare - - product delivery, the
quality of the food and especially the service."
The Crystal Dining Room is open for breakfast and lunch on an
open seating basis as many of the passengers elect to take those meals
either in their staterooms (room service is complimentary) or in the
ship's buffet restaurant the Lido Café.
For dinner, Crystal Symphony offers both the traditional
passenger ship system with two seatings and assigned tables or a new
flexible dining system. "You have the choice of signing up for main,
late or open dining. Three quarters of the dining room is [dedicated]
to the regular main seating or late seating." The remainder is for the
flexible dining program. "It is a restaurant within a restaurant."
The flexible dining system is called: "Open Dining by
Reservation.' You can come now at 7, 7:15 or 7:30. You can come
basically anytime but you still need to make a reservation before.
You can try to walk in and you might get a table but you are supposed
to make a reservation like in the specialty restaurants. Every cruise,
we have like 150 or 200 signing up for it, which is a lot."
With regard to the traditional system, the popularity of the two
seatings varies depending upon the cruise. "On the World Cruise, for
example, everyone wants early - - six o'clock. It is really a
challenge. We had this also the last few cruises going up to Montreal
and back. In the summer, in the Mediterranean, it is the opposite.
[The guests] are out every day and come back at six in the evening so
everybody wants late. It really depends upon where we are going."
Crystal is also balancing tradition and flexibility with regard to
the dress code. "On a regular 11 day cruise, we do two formal nights,
two informal and the rest is casual. We used to have three formal
nights. People still like to dress up but twice [a cruise] is enough.
We still do informal. Other cruise lines have stopped informal - - it
is 'smart casual.' But still our regular clientele, they like to dress up.
It becomes an issue actually on certain cruises. It is hard to
enforce. Last cruise, on an informal night, many people were without
jackets. But how do you enforce it?"
As an alternative to the main dining room, Crystal Symphony
has two specialty restaurants - - Prego and the Silk Road. Within the
Silk Road is the Sushi Bar, which is essentially a separate venue
giving guests three dining options.
"Our goal on the specialty restaurants is to be on the standard
of a two-star Michelin restaurant. The Silk Road is spectacular.
Prego is fantastic. Both are complimentary."
Prego is a concept developed by Crystal and features Italian
cuisine. It is not a pizzeria but rather "upscale Italian cuisine." As
with the Silk Road, "you can come more or less whenever you want
Both the Silk Road and the Sushi Bar were developed by the
noted restaurant firm Nobu Matsuhisa. Nobu did not merely lend its
name to these operations but rather is heavily involved. "All our
chefs are from Nobu restaurants. They do full contracts, I think it is
for four months."
"Once a year, we have a trainer here from Nobu and he or she
will come out and stay for a whole cruise. They have a training
program to train everybody. I know the President of Nobu, I have
had dinner with him twice, and for him the most important thing is that
the waiters know their food and they explain their food dish by
"I have talked to many guests - - they've eaten in London, they
have eaten in L.A., in New York in Nobu - - and they all say the
same: the food is at least as good as shoreside maybe even better and
the service is ten times better than on shore."
With such high quality specialty restaurants included in the
cruise fare, there is considerable demand for tables. The Sushi Bar is
operated on a first come, first served basis but the Silk Road and
Prego require reservations.
"When you are at home, you can do online reservations for the
Silk Road and Prego but only one for each restaurant. Then when you
are on the ship, you can see the maitre d' or the Front Desk or call in
[to make a reservation]. Some people come on and say 'I only want
to eat there, I want to eat there every night.' So, you have to do it on a
Yet another alternative dining venue is the Lido Café. As noted
earlier, its buffet is popular for breakfast and lunch. Usually, it is not
open for dinner but twice a cruise it is open for "casual dining. It is
very popular. We do not do it buffet style. It is sit-down casual
dining. You have a menu on the table and [are served by a waiter].
We have some nights with a fresh fish on, you have a steak on, you
have lamb chops or whatever, escargots, shrimps, lobster cocktails -
- really some nice stuff. It is really popular."
Crystal Symphony also has daytime alternatives. The Trident
Bar and Grill serves hamburgers and light fare poolside each day
until six. The Bistro overlooking the ship's lobby is "open 9 am to 6
pm. In the morning, we do a late risers breakfast with smoked
salmon, lochs and bagels, lots of different types of Danishes, yogurt
and muesli. Then at 11:30 we change to cold cuts and cheeses and
Finally, Crystal Symphony offers a traditional afternoon repast
in its spectacular observation lounge. "Every afternoon 3:30 to 4:30
in the Palm Court. It is classic English teatime - - sandwiches, cakes,
and scones each day."
Black Angus filet mignon.
Cream of vegetable soup in the
Crystal Dining Room.
Cruise Ship dining guide - Crystal Symphony - - Crystal Cruises
A seafood appetizer in the
Crystal Dining Room.