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Making provisions

Is it time to say goodbye to the charter guest preference sheet? …

 

I have never quite understood the idea of a guest food preference sheet. The practice of asking guests and chefs to tick a multi-page document full of every kind of food imaginable to ensure that the charter meets the dietary and culinary expectations of the guests seems antiquated. A function primarily of charter vessels, it may work well in the Mediterranean, but I have seen it lead to some obscene outcomes further afield. Outcomes that hint at systemic issues beyond the galley or the cold store. 

In the world of ultra-high net worth and opulence, these preference sheets seem out of place. I get frustrated filling in check-in forms for modest hotels before my own holidays, I would be apoplectic if the smiling travel agent also asked me to forecast my expected meals for the week, spread over a 10-page checklist of expensive sounding food, with more than a little preemptive transfer of blame implied. That doesn't feel like a holiday. 

There is a more pernicious side to the preference sheet, stemming from the convenience of it all. An idle pen stroke or the ticking of a box on an iPad can have serious downstream consequences. The innocent-sounding preference sheet is the carrier of bad ideas that become some of the most unsustainable practices for which the industry is derided. 

The guests tick the list, the chef adds theirs and it is passed on to the provisioner and agent. All too often, what is on the preference sheet is exactly what shows up at the boat. Sometimes, irrespective of where it is, and at what cost. 

This process has glaring inefficiencies, many I have seen first-hand. On one particularly infamous occasion, while on a yacht in an isolated island chain in the South Pacific, we had a small charter plane fly us our provisions. As the large cubes of cardboard were unloaded, a nightmarish Russian doll situation unfolded onboard. Boxes begat polystyrene, begat smaller boxes, and finally vacuumed packed fish fillets. All flown in from Europe. 

Why exactly we had Dover’s finest Sole in a Polynesian Lagoon was an obscene question to pose. A ludicrous crime with a long line of accomplices, but no ill motive. I will give the guests the strong benefit of the doubt and say that they would have preferred Tahitian fresh fish over tepid trout. The chef too, I'm sure, would love to flex their culinary might with a fresh Wahoo and not a Whiting. But here we were, with a boat full of polystyrene and cardboard, and a freezer full of international fish.

I am not so naive as to advocate for 'purely local sourcing' or 'catching our own fish.' That is not always feasible. An efficiently loaded pallet of provisions from a single source, albeit further away, may in fact be the most efficient way to transport food.

If there was any one person to blame for the inefficiency, in this case, it would be the preference sheet. The simple fact that a generalised Mediterranean preference sheet had been given to the charter guests had led to a long list of preferences with a distinctly regional theme. This had then made its way through various hands and on to a provisioning company that dutifully supplied, with a margin attached. 

However, the charter, as with most, was booked months previously. We knew where we would be, and for how long. The simple fact that this generic preference sheet had been sent to the guests led to the situation we found ourselves in. Blaming the specific and expensive tastes of owners and chefs may be an effective inoculation against criticism from within the industry, but it will not hold water in the face of increased public scrutiny. 

My experiences are limited to 10 years spread over a handful of yachts, but anecdotes like mine abound. I hope that other yachts have found a way to do it better, and more sustainably. The yacht is an experiential platform, and the culture and food of the surrounding areas are integral to this. 

Once, when I was on a yacht a long way up an estuary in the jungles of Myanmar, about 50 miles from the nearest township, I was sent to drop passports off. The chief stew jumped on the radio as I sped away in the tender and asked me, seriously, if while I was out I could get as much Riccota cheese as I could carry, as we had underestimated how much the guests would eat, and it was on their preference sheet. 

As I told the chief stew at the time, and what the guests should have been made aware of, is that sometimes the answer is no, no matter the cost - here is why, and these are the alternatives. The implied power of the preference sheet leads to some terrible practices in our industry. I am interested in how other boats may, or may not, be handling these issues in a better way. Please reach out if you would like to comment: newsdesk@thesuperyachtgroup.com

 

 

 

 

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Making provisions

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User photoSelina Stansfield - 04 Aug 2022 08:52

The quality of the preference sheet is determined by the questions on it. Unhelpful questions get unhelpful replies. I think as a yacht chef of 20 years the more information about likes and dislikes we have onboard for the charter and their guests the better and less stressful the charter is. Perhaps a better option would be to start this conversation when the charter is sold - it can be framed as "in order to make this charter the most incredible experience for you and your guest who would the best person to get incontact with to open a discussion on everyones likes and dislikes. That way the principle charter guest can offer his PA, house manager - someone who knows what is needed behind the scenes - opening a conversation allowing for preference sheets or actual conversaions. Onboard its really helpful for everyone to have a copy of the guest information that we have so that we call all work better together as a team to provide the very best for the guests.

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User photoJack Hogan - 04 Aug 2022 17:59

Hi Selina, thank you for your input, I am working on a follow-up piece, please reach out to me directly, it would be great to discuss this topic in more detail. jackh@thesuperyachtgroup.com

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User photoiain grant - 03 Aug 2022 12:54 - edited

This is *not* a biased tale, it is a valid representation of the absurdity of preference sheets outside the Med and the USA and an everyday reality.

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User photoOscar Siches - 03 Aug 2022 11:38

A very biased tale of exteme situation.. the request couth be "no sea cood or fish", totally valid.

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