On the Job

Guest Arrival Standard Operating Procedures as Chief Stew

15 August 2022 By Kylie O'Brien
Crew helping guests aboard.
iStock/David Woolley

Kylie O’Brien has worked on some of the world’s most magnificent vessels with amazing people for more than 13 years. A graduate of The Australian College of Applied Psychology, she is the author of Crew Wanted, The Stewardess Bible, The Chief Stewardess Bible, The Inside Job, and has been a monthly contributor to Dockwalk magazine for more than five years.

Professional etiquette and personal communications are the most underrated assets of a superyacht stewardess. Further, excelling in guest service is more than just placing a cup of tea down in front of someone or setting a pretty table. Just how well the guests are welcomed on board will set the precedence for how their cruise will go.

In the past, we have looked at the importance of cultural awareness and knowing your guests. So how well do you know your guests? How up to date are the guest arrival procedures on board? And how can you and your team make a spectacular first impression?

Having well-established guest arrival standard operating procedures (SOP) in place, along with a good working relationship with the charter broker or boss’s PA, will enable you to quickly learn who your guests will be.

Get to Know Your Guests

To begin with, who are your guests and where are they from? How many people are you welcoming, and will there be any children or pets on board for the cruise? Do you have any birthdays or celebrations during the cruise? And particularly for those working on charter yachts, have they come directly to the yacht, or have they done a little sightseeing beforehand?

All of these questions are important to know, as they can indicate the mood of the group when they arrive. For instance, are they exhausted, chatty, or do they just want to drop the lines and head out to sea immediately?

Prep Your Captain and Crew

On arrival, the crew will normally be all lined up on the aft deck waiting to greet the guests as they arrive. Unless the yacht is private and you merely need to meet a few new guests of the boss, then as the chief stew, introduce the captain, and simply greet the primary guest. (There will be more time to introduce yourself and the crew to the other guests a little later.)

Once the guests are on board, the rest of the crew will be busy bringing the luggage on board, offering a welcome refreshment, and perhaps even preparing the yacht for departure.


Nailing the First Impression

The first tip here on how to make a sensational first impression is to have a multi-sensory welcome. The psychological reasoning behind this is so that the guests feel at home as quickly as possible. This is particularly important for guests who are new to chartering superyachts.

  • Visually: The yacht itself is magnificent, and with the crew already lined up on deck, they offer  a sense of importance.
  • Touch: By shaking their hands, offering a drink, and providing a refreshing towel, they have something in their hands. This represents a sense of belonging while holding something offers a sense of comfort in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Sound: A marina normally is a busy place, but if you have some gentle music playing in the background, it signals to the guests that this is a place of peace and relaxation, which is the whole point of owning or chartering a multimillion-dollar yacht.

While all this is going on, their luggage will magically appear on deck. This is a fantastic opportunity to tag the bags and take them to  their appropriate cabins quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Safety is No. 1

The guest will be required to attend a safety briefing before the yacht departs. Although many guests may be seasoned charterers, the guests must acquaint themselves with the safety procedures on board your particular yacht. The briefing will be conducted by the captain or first officer along with you, the chief stewardess, who can offer any assistance if needed.

… Excelling in guest service is more than just placing a cup of tea down in front of someone or setting a pretty table. Just how well the guests are welcomed on board will set the precedence for how their cruise will go.

In addition to the safety regulations, this is a wonderful time to discuss the yacht’s etiquette regulations. For example, no shoes on board, smoking is only permitted outside, there’s no jumping into the sea while the yacht is anchoring, and no entering into the crew areas such as the bridge, galley, crew mess, or engine room without an invitation.

This is also a fantastic time for the guest to meet the chef and the rest of the interior team who will be taking care of them; they can also ask questions if they have any. Another handy tip would be to serve some afternoon tea and light refreshments during this time.

Show Them to Their Cabin

After the safety procedures and introductions have been concluded, it is time to show your guests to their cabins. This is a great opportunity to show your guests the working ins and outs of their cabins, how to work the air conditioning or audio-visual system, and lastly, do not be shy to mention the toilet, or what not to put down it. (For some reason, this is an area that gets overlooked and consequently, the toilet gets blocked or the guests are frustrated when they can’t get something to work properly in their cabin.)

Don’t Forget the Butler or Valet

Lastly, the valet or butler service should be included in your arrival’s SOP. Typically, the primary guest will always be offered this service, but depending on your resources or lack of, and particularly if you are the sole stewardess, then this service simply may not be possible all at the same time.

An uncomplicated way around this sticky point would be to explain that the service will be attended to after you depart, or drinks have been served, for example. Then you can ask for help from another crewmember. Remember communication is key here.

Having up-to-date SOPs and a well-trained team will take the stress out of welcoming your new guests on board. This in turn allows you to focus all of your attention on your guests and deliver that 7-star service for which they are paying — a win/win for everyone.

This article originally ran in the January 2022 issue of Dockwalk.


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