I had the privilege of taking a behind-the-scenes look at the operation of a cruise ship recently where I saw all sorts of inner workings working and got to hear all sorts of tales from a variety of the ship’s higher-ups. One of those was from the ship’s Cruise Director. For whatever reason, I asked what the stupidest question they heard was and the answer came back as “what time is the midnight buffet?”
On its surface it looks like a really stupid question, actually. Frankly, the name itself sort of gives the answer. There are two ways to look at this - one is to scoff at the questioner with the obvious question but there is actually a way to give the person the answer they really want.
Chances are, if the crew member who hears this questions asks a few more questions, they’re going to get to the bottom of the issue. So then what is the real question? First of all, I always tell people that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. So let’s ask a few questions, shall we?
My first suggestion is to make someone feel like an insider. So that questions might go something like, “are you looking for the best time to line up to see the buffet before it officially opens?” Did you know you could do that, too? We all know what happens to a buffet when a few thousand people have been through it.
In fact, I have a friend who went on a cruise that included a stop in Key West who wanted a piece of key lime pie and a lady ahead of him in the buffet took the entire key lime pie and wouldn’t share it.
Perhaps you might ponder something like “it opens promptly at midnight every night and the best place to line up is at the big mermaid by 11:30 for prime seating and an early trip through the buffet.”
On a cruise ship there’s literally something happening all the time and activities can overlap so, perhaps, the questioner is looking to dodge out of one activity to prioritize heartburn in the morning. You’ll know with the right set of questions.
Or, you might ask what activities they have planned that evening or what other activities they’re considering so that they’re close to the start of the buffet. Or they may be concerned that there’s just one run for the buffet and that those who come late go home without a chance to feel horrible in the morning.
Another line of questioning might lead you to tell them something like “while it starts promptly at midnight, they keep it well stocked until at least 1am so there’s no rush to be there right as the doors open.
Every occasion to deal with the public has a set of questions that go with it that can seem repetitive and not well informed. Whatever your midnight buffet questions are, it’s a great idea to come up with a few questions of your own own to figure out what people really want to know.
Well, unless you want a piece of that darned key lime pie.
The Disney Institute also has an excellent article about this.