Many novice stews ask what it means to be a yacht stew, why we are called stews, and how hospitality in yachting differs from hospitality in hotels and restaurants.
Very often, people don't know that interior service crew on yachts are called stewards and stewardesses. They tend to think of the cabin crew on airplanes when they hear these words, and they often comment that these titles are old-fashioned and sexist.
I know that is true, but to me the title confers a special status that outsiders don't understand, reminiscent of classical yachting etiquette.
A steward is a person who looks after passengers on a ship, aircraft, or train. The term chief steward dates back to British maritime tradition from the 14th century.
The terms purser and chief steward are often used interchangeably to describe workers with similar duties among seafaring occupations. Commercial aviation, on the other hand, gave it a different spin. In the early days, female air hostesses were selected not only for their knowledge but also their characteristics. A 1936 New York Times article described the requirements this way:
"The girls who qualify for hostesses must be petite; weight 100 to 118 pounds; height 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches; age 20 to 26 years. Add to that the rigid physical examination each must undergo four times every year, and you are assured of the bloom that goes with perfect health."
Three decades later, a 1966 New York Times classified ad for stewardesses at Eastern Airlines listed these requirements:
"A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5'2" but no more than 5'9," weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision without glasses."
Hmm. Sounds like some of those ideas are still around in some minds. At least now we know where they came from.
Unlike yacht stews, flight cabin crew are more concerned with safety than with food and lodging. One thing we have in common, though, is that we are in the hospitality business.
Hospitality is about kindness in welcoming guests or strangers. It's making guests feel like they are coming home. It is the sum of all the thoughtful, caring, gracious things you do.
Just as the plane is checked and cross-checked before a flight, the boat has to be perfectly organized and checked for safety issues before guests come aboard. Once aboard, our focus is on service at levels that meet or exceed the standards of luxury hotels.
If you have hotel or restaurant experience, you will have an idea of what hospitality means, and how service is delivered. There are many basic similarities in the concept of service within a hotel/restaurant experience, but here are some things that are different on a yacht:
As a stewardess on a yacht, you will observe many personal experiences. You must be respectful, completely trustworthy, and utterly discreet.
Adequate social skills and strong personal and professional boundaries are required. Just as in a hotel or restaurant, you will need to be poised and polished when you interact with your guests. But you must also know how to make people feel at ease in situations that are much more intense and personal than at a restaurant or hotel.
For many guests, the experience of service at this level feels like they are in a fishbowl. Assure them that their safety, security, confidentiality and comfort are your primary concerns. Remember, you are together for long periods of time, so get good at being comfortable with them. Your confidence and grace will put them at ease
Be cheerful, positive, fair and consistent in the way you treat others -- guests as well as crew. Each time the owner or guests are onboard, they will expect to be treated in the same way, and at the same level, or higher.
Do not underestimate the power of each individual person. Even though they may be "staff", the personal assistant, the nanny, the pilots, the children, or fellow crewmates deserve respectful and fair treatment, every time. These are not guests in a hotel or restaurant who will walk out the door that you will never see again. They are the infrastructure of your job, and to a some extent, your life.
There is lot of fussing about the interior service delivery process: the food, the activities, the table decorations, the flowers, the wine, and the meal service itself. But this is all secondary to something much more important. Really, it's about the guests, isn't it?
As Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people may forget what you said, people may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
That's what it's all about for us. We are in the feel good business. I know how hard it is to be a yacht stew. There is plenty of hard physical labor along the way. Let's hope it turns out to be a labor of love.
About the Author
Alene Keenan Stew Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stew for 19 years. She offers interior crew training and crew placement through Nautic Crew International as well as the workshops, seminars, and onboard training offered through her company, Stewardess Solutions (www.stewardesssolutions.com).