When we sail, we always ask for a large table. The bigger the better. Why? Because if you have an assigned dining time and seating, you want to maximize your chances for a positive experience. Dining at sea is part etiquette knowledge and part reality TV show.
Here are some do’s and don’ts of engaging with your cruise tablemates
- Do – Smile and introduce yourself to everyone at the table. It’s not an airplane where you aren’t expected to interact with people in different rows. Use the logic the person across from you might become your next best friend. It’s an opportunity.
- Don’t – Talk about what you paid for your ticket. You might think it showcases you as a savvy shopper. It might do the opposite, highlighting you as cheap. If others paid more, they feel unsettled. You want to keep the peace.
- Do – Stand when a lady arrives at the table on the first evening. It’s a rule that applies to men. This is an “Old World” sign of respect. It’s only done on the first evening. The person approaching can say: “No, don’t get up.” Then you can sit back down. The gesture shows your parents raised you well.
- Don’t – Start eating immediately. If you are at a table for eight, food should arrive simultaneously. There might be a slight lag as the last plates arrive. Wait until everyone has their plate in front of them. The exception is when the lone person says: “No, don’t wait. Please start.”
- Do – Talk with the person on your left and right. This is standard dinner party protocol. You will likely engage in lively conversation across the table too. Don’t neglect the person next to you if they are not making conversation.
- Don’t – Extend party invitations to only one person. If you want to have a small gathering in your cabin that includes one tablemate, approach them privately away from the table. Generally speaking, if you announce you are having a party in your cabin tomorrow night while seated at the table, you are inviting everyone seated at the table.
- Do – Consider sitting in different seats. In many cases the seat you choose on night #1 stays the same throughout the voyage. You can decide to “mix it up” and sit in different positions at the table on different nights. It gives a different perspective and a chance to sit with a tablemate who might be across from you otherwise.
- Don’t – Keep your wine to yourself. In our experience, different people take turns buying the wine at dinner each night. If you start the process on night #1, ask the wine steward to offer the wine around the table. There might be people who opt out. They might order wine by the glass for themselves. Generally speaking, if they partake of the offered wine, they will spring for wine another evening. It’s good manners.
- Do – Respect the dress code. If your ship specifies how you should dress on specific nights, follow the rules. I always imagine there’s a couple taking the trip of a lifetime. Tonight is the gala night. They are creating a memory. You don’t want to spoil it for them.
- Don’t – Opt out on tipping. It’s easy to make the case “I’ll never see these people again.” I like to think they work much longer hours than we do at home. They are away from their families for months and tipping is part of their income, money they send home. In addition to the built in tipping that appears on your cabin account statement, we tip with cash in white envelopes. If you do, it might inspire your tablemates.
- Do – Exchange contact information. Today it’s e-mail and social media connections. If you liked your tablemates, suggest exchanging information. People can opt out if they choose. Like party invites, don’t pick and choose.
- Don’t – Talk politics. Add “any controversial subject” to that list. People often have strong feelings. It can create tension at the table. Stick to “softball topics” like “What did you do today?”
Every voyage we meet great people. We keep in touch. Often the initial connection started at our table in the dining room.
Cover photo: Queen Victoria dining room, credit Bryce Sanders
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