Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan
Thinking of luxury conjures words like “quality” and “price.” Luxury involves craftsmanship and intricate work. It is refined and opulent, often handmade and tailored for a few. Luxury brands and businesses are targeted to a high-end consumer range and involve extensive research and development, as well as high quality of manufacturing.
The service provided on a yacht is considered luxury hospitality and implies a state of great comfort and elegance, often at great expense. Much of our duty on board revolves around proper care of fabrics and goods that are rare and unobtainable for many, although certainly more accessible than in earlier times.
Throughout history, sumptuary statutes restricted the consumption of clothing, food, furniture and other goods with the goal of controlling extravagance, protecting fortunes and making distinctions between levels of society. Tea, sugar, tobacco and eating utensils were once luxury items, and most simply could not afford them. In a society always at risk, money spent on frivolous items would be better spent on practical things like horses and swords. The statutes also helped control the balance of trade by limiting the availability of imported goods and supporting local products.
Another concern was that a lack of restrictions would lead to moral decline. No one knows for certain how Cinderella slipped through, but if a servant could be confused with a countess at a glance, the very fabric of society might unravel. If commoners could imitate the ruling nobility, the nobility’s presentation as powerful, legitimate rulers would be undermined. These laws could also be used to stigmatize disfavored groups.
In Elizabethan times, there were statutes of apparel declaring who wore what, statutes concerning horses – even statutes on the length of sword that a young gallant could carry. Wearing silk, furs, gold jewelry and pearls was restricted to the upper class. Even the hats people wore reflected their status in society. Only married women wore tiaras. A man at the top of society could wear a top hat, because he could afford one. Most common men wore cloth caps, and a successful butler might wear a bowler hat, but an aristocrat could wear whatever style suited his mood.
It’s fascinating how the sumptuary concepts still apply to society today. Luxury is more than a brand or logo, it’s a vision. Certain brands appeal to an exclusive circle of loyal clients whose values align with their own. There is a history and legacy associated with each brand, and as stews, we need to know what myth is inspired.
The first thing I like to investigate when I go onto a boat as an educator or consultant are the china and the silverware, to give me a clue about the level of service formality expected. Next, I want to see the liquor and wine inventories. Finally, I want to see the wardrobe to learn what brands they wear and get an idea of how much time and care will be required in the laundry. It’s not so much about sophistication or superiority as about complexity, knowledge and skill level expectancies.
A yacht can be likened to a flagship store, a showcase that communicates brand beliefs. Designers and builders work hard to establish their legacy. Feadship conjures a different picture than does Trinity, and Viking is different from Hatteras. Inside the yacht, the atmosphere may be formal or casual, traditional or modern. Guests may be low-maintenance or high-maintenance. Whatever the case may be, luxury hospitality service is a ritual experience. It is attentive, personal, prompt attention within a controlled space that communicates standards and expectations.
The best service is invisible service that creates an effortless sense of mystery in every department. I am happy to see how interested stews are in gaining knowledge about the proper protection, care and maintenance of precious furnishings, clothing and items on board. I encourage stews to research the brands used on board and gain an understanding of their inherent traditions and value.
Keep learning and keep growing.
Alene Keenan shares more than 20 years experience as a yacht stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht,” available at yachtstewsolutions.com. Comments are welcome below.