A Sea Change for Marine Foodservice Equipment

As cruise ship operators breathe new life into dining aboard, marine equipment makers fall in step.

CruiseShip HALTON VIRGIN Resilient Lady 2023 © marine interior images 05 Retouch
Hoods above tables allow at-table cooking on Virgin Voyages’ Resilient Lady. Photo by Alexander Rudolph.

There was a time when fine dining on cruise ships had its limits.

Not so anymore. Of the foodservice offerings on newer ships, like Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady, “I’ve never seen anything like it in all the work I’ve done landside,” says one marine equipment manufacturer.

At Virgin Voyages’ Gunbae Korean BBQ concept, there’s at-table cooking, with a glass dome above tables serving as a hood. And, in the back-of-house, there’s more-flexible equipment, like portable combi ovens sans exhaust air ducts that are designed to act as mobile cooking islands. (“If suddenly you decide you want to start serving poolside, it gives you the opportunity to do that,” a maker says.)

Whereas many cruise ships used to rely on a large main dining room (or rooms) featuring an extensive buffet, complemented by smaller, themed quick-service concepts, some cruise lines have moved toward personalized, restaurant- like options.

It’s a change that comes in response to celebrity-chef culture and consumers’ higher expectations for foodservice in categories including cruise ships. “People are picking their cruise not just on the destination, but on the food that’s available,” one maker says.

But upping the ante on quality and variety while maintaining consistency can be challenging when you’re serving thousands. Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, for example, can hold over 6,600 passengers and operates 18 dining concepts across 16 guest decks, with a staff of at least 1,000. This shift toward more and smaller restaurants has necessitated the evolution of marine combi ovens in particular, with features like slide-away doors helping operators maximize usable space in tight galley quarters. In addition, scaled-down combis, at around 20 inches wide, add meaningful production capacity without taking up a lot of space, and stackable units provide added flexibility.

When it comes to production efficiency, induction cooktops are making waves. Cruise-ship galleys rely on electric ranges, but the chief complaint about electric has long been that the units don’t respond quickly, one maker says. Induction cooking, with woks or traditional pans, deliver efficient, targeted-and-fast heating, one maker says. “They’re 80%-100% efficient, depending on the pan,” they say. Plus, induction units’ portability and flexibility make them ideal for the more-modular, niche-concept-focused approach to foodservice on a cruise ship today.

The unique attributes of marine kitchens aren’t confined, so to speak, to smaller spaces and challenging galley layouts, either. This is why “marine-izing” foodservice equipment is so important, one maker says. Using heavier-duty, marine-grade stainless, built to handle higher vibration levels and avoid corrosion in salty marine environments, is a key element. In addition, marine foodservice equipment must meet specific standards set by the CDC, whose Vessel Sanitation Program is designed to help prevent outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness.

For example, “You can’t have pieces of metal that come together at a 90-degree corner because you can’t clean that,” says a maker, noting that the CDC’s health code “really drives the way [foodservice equipment is] built and installed.”


One big trend influencing not just new-ship builds, but also retrofits is the move toward greater resource efficiency.

With water use management increasingly a priority for cruise operators, new and fully automated technologies for equipment cleaning can reduce water use while ensuring consistent performance. Energy efficiency and air quality, too, are a concern not only for sustainability, but also for guest comfort. To that end, demand-based ventilation technologies that adjust as needed rather than operating at a static level can dramatically reduce energy use while still effectively removing heat and smoke from cooking locations.

Further, new automation technologies such as smart controllers for large, expensive galley equipment (ovens, coolers, blast chillers) help operators predict and address maintenance needs.

Machine sensors and other new technologies “give you the ability to view [machine-health data and diagnostics] from anywhere you want and connect with service people,” one maker says. Built-in smart tech “can tell you the motor’s burned up or the door switch isn’t working,” they say. “The downtime is much, much better.”

Smart tech also allows for greater flexibility with the staff that ships have on board—a priority as ships struggle to recruit and retain labor to meet resurgent consumer demand. Programmable ovens with temperature monitoring mean that back-of-house staff “aren’t having to check the oven constantly to see if something’s done,” the maker notes. Smart controllers for conveyor ovens, blast chillers and other galley workhorses help ensure consistent equipment performance, and this set-it-and-go functionality means kitchen staff can be reallocated to pain points.


In 2024, investments in creating both more resource-responsible galleys and guest-delighting dining experiences is poised only to increase, one maker suggests.


Some manufacturers of marine equipment include the following:





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