Blueprint for success with the crew

Jun 3, 2013 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Yacht crew come and go, and some of them are a dream to work with. But others generate a slightly prickly situation. It takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

When I work with crew who appreciate the effort I show toward them and their needs, I try to make them happy by honoring special requests and being aware of their dietary needs.

Today, there is hardly a crew member out there who is not on some form of a diet or who doesn’t have special nutritional needs. If you come across a captain who says “we all eat the

same thing,” then either he is lying or he doesn’t know his crew very well.

First, we as chefs have to know what is expected of us. If the crew expect more than what we were told to give, the lines of communication have failed from the beginning. The captain said no breakfast, but the first mate is asking for an egg-white omelet.

The first step is establishing our roles and how detailed they are. Without such information, we are probably doing too much, not doing what we are supposed to do or failing miserably. These duties about how best to care for the crew is not set, nor is it dictated by the crew. Instead, it is established by the captain or manager, with the chief stew and owner.

So here’s my chef’s blueprint for success with crew.

Rule of Thumb No. 1: Pay attention to the people who have longevity on your yacht. Probably, they have seen other chefs fail, and can offer what they know as constructive criticism to help you in caring for them. The people you cook for will tell you what they want, but make sure their demands were first discussed with a higher authority so you are not going over someone’s head to get the job accomplished.

Rule of Thumb No. 2: Don’t raise the bar. If the crew are on their own for breakfast, let them manage. If you make them a hot breakfast every day, you may be going against the captain’s wish and task of teaching his crew time management skills.

Rule of Thumb No. 3: Create a list of what is expected. Make note of what not to do. Highlight it if necessary to stay focused. How many meals a day are you expected to prepare for the crew? Does the captain or crew have preferences, such as sandwiches for lunch or a hot meal with three vegetables and a salad? Is there a snack basket and if so, who stocks it?

Rule of Thumb No. 4: Show respect. Sure the crew may be kids half our age but they work hard just like we do. To gain respect, you must be able to do your job but also show respect for others who do their job just as well.

Rule of Thumb No. 5: Don’t be a pushover. Some crew will interpret you being nice as you being a pushover. Stand your ground when circumstances call for it.

Rule of Thumb No. 6: Don’t take sides. Our industry is known for the crew cliques that form onboard. Don’t do it. Stay neutral, enjoy your time being part of a bigger picture with others who share the same love of the profession you do.

Rule of Thumb No. 7: Show genuine interest in food crew love. It is hard for a crew member to be thousands of miles away from home and eat something new that they might not like. Get permission, if need be, to create a food preference sheet of what the crew like and once a week, make a dish from the list for the crew. They will remember this and appreciate it. Even get a recipe from them, which really shows you want to learn to make as they know it.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at


About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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