The Perfect Preference Sheet

15 December 2009 By Kelly Sanford

Perhaps the only thing more diverse than the fleet of yachts available for charter is the eclectic cross section of people who charter them. Marketed as the ultimate experience of personalized service, every charter is unique. However, the primary tool that is supposed to make it possible for the crew to execute this flawlessly personalized vacation is far too often perceived by crew as being inadequate.

Complaints about the insufficiencies – or as Chef Kevin Towns says, “the vagueries” – of preference sheets are a familiar grievance. While some details may be a little insufficient, many crew take issue with important details that are all together absent.

Capt. Herb Magney says, “One of the most important things for me to know before the guests arrive or before I even speak with them is the level and kind of service they expect. Are they expecting a white-glove, prim and proper crew or a fun and interactive crew? That really sets the tone of the whole trip.”

Brokers seem to understand that more information is better, and when topics are brought to the broker’s attention, many will adjust their preference sheets accordingly. Ali Kaufann, a charter agent with The Sacks Group, says, “Floral décor is often overlooked.” It’s a topic that has been added to the Sacks preference sheet, and she points out that floral allergies and preferences are certainly necessary information.

With a reputation among veteran crew as having a very good preference sheet, charter broker Ann Landry with Northrop and Johnson says, “There is no perfect preference sheet. I try to get the crew as much information as possible, but you can’t make the preference sheet so long that the clients won’t do it. You also have to consider that sometimes they just give it to a personal assistant and don’t even fill it out themselves, so the information may not always be that accurate, even if the questions are specific.”

“Preference sheets are meant to be a starting point, a way to start a conversation between the charterers and the captain – and with the chef as well. That way the guests feel like they have a rapport with the captain and chef before they arrive. And that’s not something that’s going to happen by filling out a preference sheet,” explains Landry.

There are questions that work on a preference sheet and questions that don’t. When asked about travel ambitions, Landry says, “That’s something that has to be discussed with the charterer. If you ask on paper, especially if they have not chartered before, they may give you the impression that spending six hours a day underway is fine.” She says some subjects are going to require a conversation, not a fill in the blank answer.

Anyone who has been in this industry for a while will tell you that many preference sheets have evolved over the years, but there is certainly still room for improvement. According to Landry, the best preference sheet questions are the kind that can be answered easily by ticking off answers from a list. With this in mind, we asked for suggestions from crew. Some suggestions were:

-What kind of milk do you drink?
ie: Soy, whole, two-percent, skim, one-percent, lactose free, etc.
-What do you take with your coffee and tea?
ie: Sugar, Splenda, Sweet and Low, Equal, Stevia, Honey etc.
Milk, Half and Half, Cream, Coffeemate etc.
-Do you have any detergent allergies?
-What cereal do you like?
-Which jams and jellies would you perfer?
-Do you have a preference for organic meats or produce?
-Do you have a preference for prime meat?
-Are you early risers or do you like to sleep in?
-Do you go to bed early or like to stay up late?
-Would you like your cabins tended to throughout the day or just for morning and turndown service?
-Do you wish to purchase supplemental flower arrangements during your trip?
-Are there any children in diapers?
-Are any children still bed-wetting?
-Can everyone swim?
-Will there be any additional guests or plans to entertain during you charter?
-Instead of just checking off which activities guests want to do, have them rate on scale of 0-4 how important an activity is (0=not interested, 1=might be interested, 2=want to do it at least once, 3=it’s something we enjoy, 4=would do it every day).

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