Food and drink can make or break a cruise, and Lukas Campestrini is the person responsible for making sure everything is ship-shape (pun intended). On P&O Cruises alone, there are 132 dining and bar venues, so needless to say this is no easy task. We caught up with him to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes to deliver a memorable experience across the P&O Cruises fleet.
WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE ENTAIL AS FOOD AND BEVERAGE DIRECTOR?
I mainly look after our F&B (food and beverage) offerings on board, which includes all our restaurants, bars and so on. We are there to provide our guests with a unique experience that will allow them to discover the diversity of our dining and drink options. We always need to keep in mind the British taste palate; my team and I focus heavily on understanding our customers’ needs, what they like, what really works well, what doesn’t work so well, and what we need to adjust.
We spend a lot of time looking at customer insights, market trends, customer satisfaction and the comments we receive to understand what new trends are popping up in the UK and also around the globe. We are the ones who are responsible for designing or creating new concepts across all our ships, as well as maintaining and adapting existing ones while continuously adjusting the product.
Our ultimate goal is to deliver a food and beverage proposition that all our guests will love, while also bearing in mind the destinations they will be travelling to and bringing them to life. Another part of my role is to look at the future, what the next generation of food and beverage concepts will be, what our guests will love and making sure we remain relevant for years to come.
HOW HAVE FOOD AND DRINK OPTIONS ON BOARD CRUISE SHIPS CHANGED DURING YOUR TIME IN THE INDUSTRY?
Over the years, I’ve seen the food and travel industries make a real shift towards healthy eating and food sustainability. It’s a big topic for us, especially from the perspective of how we use pre-packaged foods and single use plastics. We are also looking more closely at where our food comes from and how sustainable it is. I think plant-based diets are certainly on the up, as is the flexitarian approach to eating.
People now tend to eat meat but also turn to plant-based products for some of the time I think now more than ever we need to be adaptable to ensure we cater to the needs of different diets and we need to be more agile and provide a greater range of food choices on our menu. We must develop menus that bring the destinations to life, especially in the cruise industry where in the past there was sometimes just a blanket approach. Drink options are likewise continuously evolving.
People have become more discerning, and their taste profiles have changed greatly. We are providing something new for our customers in meeting the British taste palate, while in turn meeting their ever-heightening expectations.
WHAT IS IT THAT YOU THINK SETS P&O CRUISES APART FROM OTHER CRUISE LINES IN DELIVERING THAT QUINTESSENTIALLY BRITISH FOOD AND DRINK EXPERIENCE?
I think one thing we do well at P&O Cruises is getting a close understanding of our guests’ preferences. If we spend a lot of time analysing what guests like and what they love, it will tell us where we need to focus our effort and what we need to evolve.
We focus strongly on delivering unique dining experiences and I think Iona was a real step-change for us. First off, we introduced the first gin distillery at sea and developed our own gin, Marabelle, which was superbly received by our customers. We introduced Olive Grove, which is included in the cruise fare and an additional dining option on board Iona, and then we worked with Snowflake to deliver an extraordinary gelato experience at Ripples, our onboard ice cream parlour. These are just a few examples of how we’ve taken Iona forward to really cater to our guests.
We also do a lot of work with our Local Food Heroes, who help bring destinations to life. We work with Shivi Ramoutar for our Caribbean itineraries, and José Pizarro for our Mediterranean itineraries, who will soon have his own tapas selection in The Glass House giving guests the chance to really experience a Spanish style of food. We work with Kjartan Skjelde in Norway, who has developed a six-course tasting menu in The Epicurean. It can be quite difficult to get in, as it’s sold out on nearly every cruise.
We pick up the ingredients in Stavanger, where all the elements are loaded on the ship before being prepared and cooked. This is something many people haven’t experienced before and we are trying to do more of this, bringing local experiences to life. I think we work hard to understand our guests’ preferences and we have the opportunity to provide something new to them by delivering some great modern British flavours as well.
WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE RESTAURANT AND BAR ON BOARD ANY OF THE P&O CRUISES FLEET AND WHY?
That is a tough one. I actually love the new menu in Sindhu. We have completely refreshed it and it really is a fantastic menu. But, if I had to choose one, it would be The Keel & Cow, our gastropub restaurant. This is currently on board Iona and will also be launched on Arvia. In this restaurant you can really taste and sample a range of incredible steaks for a fraction of the price of the high street. All this is featured alongside our Prime Minister Burger, which I would say is the best burger at sea.
The Keel & Cow also has a relaxed, vibrant atmosphere that’s really well received by our guests. When I look at Arvia I will probably have a new favourite, but for now it’s the Keel & Cow. As for my favourite bar, I really like Anderson’s Bar on board Iona where we have a huge variety of gin. I love our distillery on Iona, where you can watch the distiller, sit and have a chat with him as he’s really knowledgeable and then have your gin masterclass.
I also really enjoy our Emerald Bar where we have a cocktail menu that spans the entire globe, which we are now slowly going to implement across the fleet. This has really elevated the cocktail experience that people had seen previously on P&O Cruises ships. These two bars really stand out for me.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE GREATEST LOGISTICAL CHALLENGE THAT YOU FACE WHEN CATERING FOR THOUSANDS OF PASSENGERS?
We have many thousands of products on board; we have to make sure they are delivered on time to the vessels, consistently, and ensure we keep up the frequency of deliveries. We need to do this all over the world, so the main challenge is keeping up the exact same specification and quality. It’s really important to me that the quality doesn’t get compromised.
This takes a substantial amount of planning throughout the year and hard work from our team, supply chain and so on. We need to take into account the sheer number of menus we have on offer and our different concepts to keep the rotations going so guests experience something new every meal of the day.
WHAT PROCESS DO YOU GO THROUGH FROM DECIDING ON A CONCEPT RIGHT THROUGH TO MAKING SURE IT’S FULLY DELIVERED ON BOARD?
Once we decide on a concept, we go into the design stages with the architects; it’s about finding the right concept, right venue and right atmosphere. Then we launch into the development process so we can find out exactly what our customers would like to see. We have a development kitchen on site in Cruises From Southampton 2023, which is where our culinary development team is based full-time and they do all the development for our ships.
We will go through several iterations where we engage with our different suppliers and give them a brief in terms of what we’re looking for. We also need to keep the ship’s different deployments in mind. Sourcing fresh produce in Cruises From Southampton 2023 is quite simple, and once the ship goes to Italy, Spain et cetera, maintaining the same quality is still relatively simple. As soon as we move to a Caribbean deployment, there’s a different level of expectation on Caribbean produce, and their suppliers work to a very different specification.
We really need to establish the best suppliers in the Caribbean or in the US. We then start to create the menus and will have different tastings until we go to a final tasting, which is when we engage focus groups. We like to engage with the customers by putting the food in front of them, to understand what they like and get their feedback. The same goes for our beverages. We think carefully about how our drinks will work alongside our food. There is a lot of training on board with our chefs to make sure everyone is familiar with the concepts.