If your vacation is an ocean voyage on a cruise ship, it’s highly likely you will be assigned dinner seating in the main restaurant. You will likely be seeing more of these people than any other passengers, except for the person with whom you are sharing your cabin. How do you interact with your new tablemates?
- First or second seating? Before sailing, your travel agent will ask if you prefer first or second seating. We’ve always chosen second seating, based on the logic no one is lingering after the first seating, because the dining room staff needs to prep for the second seating. The liability of eating about 8:00 PM is there’s not a lot happening onboard between 4:00 and 8:00 PM. Its good gym, nap or cocktail time.
- Two, four, six or eight? Your travel agent will ask the size table you prefer. A table for two is good if you are deliriously in love, but many people quickly run out of things to talk about after spending 24/7 together. With a table seating four, the other couple is or isn’t a match. Six is better than four. Eight is better than six. Bigger is better because the odds you will meet interesting people increase.
- Changing tables. If you quickly sense the combination isn’t working or everyone else speaks a foreign language, ask the maître d’ to seat you at another table. Do it as quickly as possible, ideally as you leave the dining room on the first night. Otherwise, keep with your original table and muddle through.
- Remember names. On the first night, your tablemates will introduce themselves. “I’m Karen and I’m from Kent, England.” I keep a notepad handy and discretely make notes. Try to use their names in conversation. Remembering their names is a sign of respect.
- Engage with the wait staff. Your waiter/assistant waiter team has learned your name. Return the favor. Instead of choosing an entrée, ask what they suggest. A section captain or assistant maître d’ will visit every table. Engage with them too. This can pay dividends.
- Avoid bragging. This will be tough because quite a few of your fellow passengers will feel the need to explain how important they are back home. You should downplay your own background, while being suitably impressed by theirs. Once they feel accepted, the social barriers will quickly come down.
- Switch seats. Not during dinner! If you are at a table of eight, choose different seats each time you arrive at dinner. You get a different view of the dining room. You talk to people you couldn’t hear yesterday because they were at the opposite end of the table. It mixes things up.
- Let others talk. You might want to be the life of the party. Resist the urge, at least for now. Ask questions. Let your fellow tablemates talk. Travel is a really good conversation starter. Find some interests in common. You can pursue them together during the day or over lunch.
- Draw the quiet one out. There might be a loner who keeps to themselves. Respect their privacy, but make an effort to draw them into the conversation. The quietest person at the table can be the most interesting if you get them talking about their passion.
- Sharing wine. On the first night we buy wine and share it with everyone at the table. In most cases, if people buy and drink their own, they will decline. If you are at a table with a sharing culture, different people will say: “It’s my turn to pick up the wine tonight.” If everyone is in their own little world, sharing their own bottle with their partner, do the same. You aren’t going to convert them.
- Specialty restaurants. If things aren’t working out midway through the voyage, you might feel you want a break from your tablemates. No problem. Your ship likely has specialty restaurants. Book a table at one of them for the next evening.
- Keeping in touch. You will likely make some new friends. Get contact details before you disembark. Ideally this is done at the last dinner. If you get together 1:1, you can swap details. If you ask in front of everyone at the table, politeness requires you ask everyone else for their details. Otherwise, you might as well have said: “You I want to see, but you, never again.” You tablemates might pass menus or blank paper around, adding their name and e-mail details. You might expect to do this via social media, but internet access can be spotty at sea.
Your new tablemates might also be great traveling companions and later, great friends. It all starts with getting off on the right foot.
Story courtesy of Bryce Sanders.