Murphy’s Law for Stews: What to do when mishaps happen

17 June 2010 By Janine Ketterer

You’ve been a stewardess for years. You’ve taken all of the courses and you’re fully prepared to clean up after the guests, serve them and be the spectacular hostess you were trained to be. The first day of a new charter should be a piece of cake, right?

The guests decide to eat dinner on the aft deck, despite whipping winds. You notice the guests are dressed to the nines as they take their seats. After filling their Champagne glasses, it’s on to the first course; you set down bowls of piping-hot, organic tomato bisque in front of five of the six guests. As you place the bowl in front of the sixth, a gust of wind knocks it out of your hand and all over her white Dolce and Gabanna cocktail dress. Not only is the soup scorching hot, but its deep-red color is now soaking into the once pristine white material. Your mind is racing as the pained look on her face fades into a shade of embarrassment matching the soup, “What do I do now?”

Kristen Cavallini-Soothill, director of American Yacht Institute, says “Handling situations [that are] awkward takes a balanced mindset and then a reassuring attitude, whether spoken vocally or silently with a ‘don't worry’ look. Being mentally prepared for anything is a must for truly good crew.”

While guests are dining, crew are serving and the boat is moving, there is always the possibility of a spill, says Soothill. The rule of thumb with any spill or other embarrassing moment is to react as coolly and calmly as possible. Take a deep breath, reach for a napkin and lay it over the spill with a quiet apology to the spilled-upon guest. If the spill also is on the floor, do the same. Replace the napkin with a clean one for the guest; then continue serving others.

It is important to call as little attention to the slip up as possible because the guest’s level of comfort is related to the crew level of distress; the more stressed the crewmember is the more uncomfortable the guest will become. Soothill mentions that you should not treat the matter too lightly, but as lightly as possible and deal with matters such as dry-cleaning later on. While spills happen, Soothill recommends that if there is any doubt, the most experienced servers should present hot items such as soup or coffee.

Soothill maintains that the best offense is a good defense and interior crew should always expect the unexpected, even when not on board. “I was hosting an event at my school for ‘yachting royalty,’ and while speaking with a group, I reached across one of them to grab a piece of paper to take a note,” Soothill recalls. “I didn't know was there was a glass of red wine just touching the edge guessed it, as my arm cross the table the red wine went flying all over the front of a lovely attendee, who shall remain nameless, and the carpet.”

“Without missing a beat, a ‘legendary’ chief stew, also seated at the table, reached over and grabbed a bottle of white wine. She poured it over the carpet and the red wine was immediately bleached out. The then dabbed the stain and by this time, the victim of the wine spill had smiled and excused herself so we didn't pour white wine on her.” The well trained and prepared stewardess jumped into cleaning mode with grace and poise and was able to save the day.

While proper etiquette and manners are expected for crew, there are just some things you cannot prepare for. Accidents do indeed happen and, although you may not be able to prevent them, knowing how to handle yourself after they’ve occurred could be the difference between a fabulous charter or a week from hell.