Cork Principles

Royal Caribbean rethinks wine list and incorporates technology to make guest experience ship-shape.

Royal Caribbean recently christened a retooled wine program to meet guest demand and tendencies. The changes are based on wine flavor profile trends, as well as the realization that guests need a footing in their wine comfort zone but also easier, more welcoming ways to dip a toe outside familiar waters.

Sweetening the Pot

Sweeter profiles now have more visibility on Royal Caribbean cruises, and the new wine list is organized by country rather than exclusively by varietal—an effort to help international guests buy wines from a desired country. “As you can imagine, Italians tend to favor Italian wines,” says Bob Midyette, former director of fleet beverage operations, who was involved in the wine revamp. “It’s more user-friendly.” The cruise brand employed a stepby-step process of assessing its longstanding wine list to make it more profitable through analysis, attrition, and attraction to the guest—especially reflecting customer demographics and tastes. Midyette says Royal Caribbean worked with three different master sommeliers on the wine list for four years to make sure the list meets the demographic profile across the fleet of 22 ships, with guests from six continents. Fifty-two percent are international guests, while 48% hail from North America.  Midyette and Frank Weber, former VP, F&B operations, had been to “various conferences and a lot of different meetings for the industry,” Midyette says, and they paid attention to the trend toward sweeter profiles in food and wine. They saw Malbec and Moscato evolving and sweeter and lighter wines becoming popular. “It’s a category that didn’t exist with us,” Midyette explains. “We added it to meet that demand.” Weber notes that when ships are deployed in Asia, the sweeter wines work well with Asian food. Royal Caribbean’s master sommelier created pairings with existing food items and new items.

Shifting Cargo

Royal Caribbean removed wines from the list to make room for the new additions. The decision on which ones to axe was based on factors such as whether it’s a repetitive varietal or a less popular wine. They removed about 12 wines and added 14. The list was kept under 200 wines for storage purposes, as some ships are smaller than others. “It also makes the list manageable for the guests in the dining room,” Midyette explains. “They don’t have to flip through an epic novel of 500 pages of wines, which we could easily have done, but we wanted to make it useable [to] move the wine and sell it.” The number of different lists varies from three on smaller ships to 10 on larger ships, says Ken Taylor, associate VP, F&B operations. “All venues feature selections from our main wine list to drive sales and are suited to the various themes of our specialty restaurants,” he explains. “However, our 150 Central Park restaurant, onboard Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas ships, features a completely separate wine list with 150 selections. Wine partnerships in the new program include Château Lafite Rothschild (France), Caymus Vineyards (Napa), Frescobaldi (Italy), Penfolds (Australia), and others for exclusive offerings including special wine tastings. The idea was to select a dominant brand from each country, to “give credibility to our wine program and give our guests an experience they would not be able to get typically at home,” Midyette says. These labels are “exclusive wines offered only on our ships, from the wineries directly. Opus, for instance. We’re going to add their second label Overture to our list and by the glass in our Champagne bar.”

Expanding the Comfort Zone

Royal Caribbean is also making it much easier to enjoy those wines. A 48-bottle WineStation aboard the Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas ships allows for the largest-ofits-kind automated wine serving system at sea. The WineStation—which has LCD screens displaying the year, varietal, and region of wines—can preserve wine for two months. Every bottle is kept temperature-controlled. Guests may buy wine by the glass or half glass or have a taste of those exclusive partner wines not normally available by the glass or even in restaurants or bars on land. An iPad wine application on the newest ship, Allure of the Seas, opens up a completely new avenue for connecting with guests at Vintages wine bar, where guests can enjoy more than 66 selections of wines and free tastes. The interactive app allows guests—in their selected language— to engage more with wine tenders, learn something new about wine or wine and food pairings, and place orders. Guests are able to touch through a menu to find wines suggested based on their desired flavor profile criteria. Virtual shelves with clickable images of the wine bottles appear. Servers receive a notification of the order.

Smooth Sailing So Far

Though Taylor says Royal Caribbean is still in the launch stage of the new wine list (the rollout process takes four to nine months), the largest revenue impact from the new wine presently is evident onboard Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, as they also offer the unique program at 150 Central Park restaurant. “There is a fine balance between offering an exotic and unique product for the adventurous person and making sure that all of our guests have a great selection of wines that reflect the markets we serve,” says Taylor. Article by Tad WilkeS Download PDF