Are Charter Preference Sheets a Waste of Time?

28 January 2009 By Kelly Sanford

“You mean apart than the fact that they are almost always rubbish?” Chef H exclaims when asked about charter preference sheets. “Some brokers do a better job than others, but in general they are pretty much useless.”

Stew Anneli says, “Every broker asks different questions. Some ask good questions and some ask questions that only provide information that is useful to the broker and don’t help the crew at all.”

“I think chefs and stews struggle with how vague they are,” says Chef Kevin Towns. “And then you never know who filled them out; it might be a secretary who is just guessing. To provision right, a crew needs much more detail, not a bunch of vagueries…. I would much rather call than rely on a form.”

Chef K says, “I don’t want to know if the guests like red wine or white wine. I need to know if they like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel, if they drink two glasses per day, two bottles per day or two cases per day. If I spend an extra thousand dollars or more on wine that the guests don’t drink, that’s a big deal, but so is running out of wine or interrupting a day on charter to go get more.”

“I don’t want to know if they like tea. I need to know that they like organic green tea with lots of honey and soy milk," Chef K continues. “I don’t think brokers understand how hard – and potentially expensive – it is to try to find things like organic tea, honey and soy milk in places like Eleuthera. And sometimes a seemingly minor detail like having English Breakfast tea versus Earl Grey can be a big deal to a guest. A lot of charter clients don’t do their own shopping, so they have no idea what they consume in an average week.”

Chef Daniel Barrone says flatly, “Most of the time, whatever is written on the preference sheet goes right out the window.” He cautions against letting too many people get involved with the preference sheets.

Chef Nancy Smyth agrees, “One guest will fill out the sheets and say no desserts. Then [all] the guests are aboard, and they want dessert with every meal…. They say they want to eat healthy and don’t want desserts, then ask for rack of lamb and chocolate soufflé. Over time, you learn to read between the lines and to be prepared for anything.”

Towns says: “I had a charter broker tell me that her client had recently had a heart attack and only ate very healthy food. She made it sound like he was at death’s door. When he arrives, I’m ready to give him steamed fish and vegetables, and all he wanted was steak and potatoes and he drank a fifth of liquor every night.”

“I once got a preference sheet that had, ‘We’d like tomato mozzarella sandwiches for lunch,’ scribbled in a margin next to a box that was checked for ‘light lunch,’” says Chef Christian Russo. “But what they meant is that they wanted tomato mozzarella sandwiches every day. It would have been nice to know that before the guests arrived.” He adds, “I don’t blame the charter brokers. They’re not crew; they’re not chefs – I don’t think it’s their fault or that they do it on purpose.”

“Anyone who writes a preference sheet should be required to spend six months doing back to back charters before they write it. Then they would really understand what the crew needs to know,” says Anneli

Chef K suggests, “The preference sheets should ask a lot of other questions like; are you early risers or night owls? Are you chartering the yacht to relax and get away from it all or are you chartering to blow off some steam and party? The mate wants to know if they want to dive once during their trip or two times per day. These things matter. The brokers don’t want to make the sheets too long, so instead they make them pointless.”

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