Think about this: 9,000 meals a day. Never a napkin or piece of paper on the floor. No bus trays in sight. Never a dirty dish on a table. No crewmember, whether captain, waiter or bus boy is ever standing around: Focused, forward motion is constant.
There never seems to be spot on flatware or any of the stainless steel. Never a spot on a glass or a lipstick stain on a cup or a crumb on the carpeting. Does this sound remarkable? It gets better. The galley floor is as clean as the dining room floor. Not once, in six days and five nights, did I ever see a waiter, server, or stateroom attendant touch his or her face with their hands and then process food or beverage. That, my friends is remarkable. Stand in any Starbucks for more than two minutes and count the face touchers or hand hair brushers serving drinks and sandwiches.
Yes, onboard the crew, while working, is extremely disciplined. And, that discipline has to do with a "no tolerate policy" and a recruiting program that searches worldwide in over 66 countries and extracts the best hospitality professionals from around the world. Along with constant training once the crew is onboard. Then more training. And finally, when the training is seemingly complete, more and more and more training.
According to Goran Rodin, one of the youngest assistant restaurant managers in the company, and our galley guide, everyone works their way up the ladder of opportunity from bus boy to assistant waiter to waiter and eventually, if they choose, to management. This is not, mind you, because they don´t have the experience or qualifications to become a head waiter- this is a ship and the regimentation, discipline and training is that of a ship. A chain of command is followed and as Rodin expressed "you have to know the job and the responsibilities of the people below you better than they do."
And, the systems- all of them- seem to work. While sailing in slightly rocky seas the service in the Grand Salon was as smooth as a reflection pool.
Our headwaiter, Melwyn, who was a waiter in a five star hotel in India before coming on board, made us feel as though we knew him for a lifetime five minutes into first dinner service conversation. His personality, eye contact, and charisma were as smooth as the Asparagus Soup.
His assistant, Gusti, a native of Bali, watched Melwyn´s moves with the eye of an eagle, picking up his mentors systematic serving procedures, but adding his own touches while constantly refreshing beverages before a single sip lingered in the bottom of the glass. This wasn´t a pitcher refill procedure. This was total ice tea freshness – a new glass of tea appeared tableside, before one could even summon a look of thirsting desire.
And thirst plays a major part of the service onboard. These crewmembers thirst to please the passengers while becoming an integral part of the seaside experience. They´re the ultimate professionals making their living by offering service far above stateside dining experiences. Of course I could be a bit tainted. Can you imagine walking down South Beach Miami´s Ocean Avenue, being culinarily assaulted by huckster hawking "eight Bloodies for the price of four" and then boarding this ship?
It paralleled walking through carnie alley at the State Fair and then dining at Bistro Jeanty.
The timing of the food was also rather remarkable each evening. Five nights, Grand Salon, five course meals, timing continually perfect. Presentation picturesque. Food cooked to perfection in a galley an escalator ride below the main dining room and still served at a perfect temperature.
Nine-thousand meals a day. How do they do it? The galley must be stocked with an army of stress-filled technicians screaming as though Gordon Ramsey had initiated a mutiny. Wrong. Spotless white chef coats reflected in the shiny stainless steel galley. Nothing seemed out of place.
Picture perfect plates were just that. Picture-perfect. A precision crew quietly created each palate.
Remember when you were going to post the pictures of the way that special appetizer was supposed to look before you put it on the menu? You never got around to it did you? Of course not. I never quite got the Polaroid working in time, either. However, onboard The Century, the galley sported a variety of samples in photo and type explaining presentation. Expeditors, two of them diligently worked to make sure each plate was served looking as though a twin to the same entrée at the next table.
Systems. Systems. Training. Training.
That´s the secret. And, it is successful.
Rodin, while touring the galley spewed off numbers that would make an accountants head spin. He not only was aware of the service responsibilities, but he could quote the cost of a glass, and the cost of the loss if every waiter broke one glass each day for five days. He knew what that would do to the bottom line, what it would mean to the guests, and how hard it would be to replace glasses while at sea.
I will bet most waiters in American restaurants seldom k now the cost of a broken glass, plate, or saucer. Yet, in many cases, they break them continually.
So what does all this mean? Simply, if we are to be successful we need to spend more time coaching and training and looking at the business as a big league team. Every position must know how to play the other position, each player should know how to bring dollars to the bottom line and training should be as repetitive as dishwashing.
That could be the answer to running a ship shape restaurant.