Theme Nights…Are They Worth the Work?

14 January 2009 By Kelly Sanford

When competition for charter clients is high, the onus falls on the crew to up the ante by creating a signature appeal for charter brokers and their clients. As fees for charters have skyrocketed over the years, so have the hours spent by crew trying to wow the guests.

Chefs design elaborate plates that rival Le Cirque and stews develop ornate dinner themes that rival Cirque de Soleil. The amount of time and energy spent on setting up and breaking down these extravagant meals can be staggering. Some boats allocate cavernous spaces to store the props needed to put on a perfect show – which often includes costumes for guests and crew, complicated table settings and specialized serving pieces.

Theme nights have become such a standard in the charter market that just about every boat show and charter yacht show hosts some sort of theme-oriented competition. But taking into account the substantial workload that is already standard on charter, are the hours spent on theme nights time spent wisely?

Joanne Barber is a freelance stewardess who has been doing charters for well over a decade. She says, “Theme nights can be a lot of fun. I think some crew enjoy them as much as the guests, and not all theme nights are really all that time consuming.” Still, she cautions, theme nights are not for everyone. “Some charters really get into them and enjoy dressing up and taking pictures, but some charters just want to have a quiet meal. You really have to read your guests and take your cue from them.”

Even if the guests really enjoy theme nights, does that ultimately translate into an improved perception of the quality of service? In other words, will it boost the tip?

Barber says, “Theme nights are a really good opportunity to interact with the guests.” Logically, developing a connection with guests should raise the generosity meter at the end of the trip; however logic does not always reign supreme. Theme nights can create a rather informal environment, and the more informal the relationship between guests and crew becomes, the higher the risk that these fun-filled evenings actually may hurt your tip. Quirky themes can create an environment where your efforts are interpreted subconsciously as “having fun” with the guests rather than attending to them.

Charter broker Ann Landry of Northrop and Johnson says, “Theme nights can be great – I have [some] clients who are totally into it; they bring their own costumes and like to do it up every night. But they are likely the exception. I think most people come to the table to have a fine meal, great wine and excellent service, but an over-the-top theme or over-decorated table can overpower their experience.” She agrees with Barber in cautioning crew to “take the lead from the client. See how they like it before going too extreme.”

Landry’s advice is to “set aside one or two nights where the theme is the thing and the food and service are on a more casual basis. I would do it no more than two nights for most charter parties.”

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