Path to being a great stew starts with checklists, practice

Jan 18, 2016 by Alene Keenan

Do you ever wonder what other stews think about when they first open their eyes in the morning, especially with the owners or guests onboard? There’s a pretty good chance they are going over checklists in their minds.

Was everything finished on time yesterday? What are the guests going to do today? Will they be off the boat so we can vacuum?

Good stews are always thinking of ways to be efficient and save time.

The secret to great service is knowing what has to be done when, which tools and materials are needed to do the job right, and the best sequence of steps to perform in what order so nothing must be repeated.

Great stews learn how to be organized and efficient so they can operate with a sense of urgency but without looking hurried or stressed. Creating structure and practicing good time management makes the interior job easier. Knowing how to prioritize tasks and anticipate guest needs creates confidence.

The most often overlooked tools stews need to increase efficiency are administrative tools, including schedules, rosters and checklists. Schedules and rosters keep crew informed about where and when work is performed, plus the tasks associated with each. They change according to the mode of operation of the yacht.

For instance, the daily schedule in the shipyard is different from the daily schedule with guests on and “in service”.

Checklists are “To Do” lists that outline what steps need to be taken to finish each task. When they are written down, prioritized and used regularly, they provide predictability and minimize mistakes. As a reminder of each step to be completed, they make it easier to delegate work and guarantee that everything gets done as it should.

The first step is to create a checklist that itemizes all of the day’s tasks. A general list of daily interior jobs when guests are onboard might include:

  1. Opening duties
  2. Check laundry
  3. Set up for breakfast
  4. Serve breakfast
  5. Cabin service / Turn ups
  6. Continue laundry and start ironing, if needed
  7. Clear breakfast
  8. Run dishwasher
  9. Set up for morning activities
  10. Clean and check guest areas
  11. Clean crew areas and bridge
  12. Clean captain’s cabin
  13. Unload dishwasher
  14. Set up for crew lunch
  15. Clear crew lunch
  16. Set up for guest lunch
  17. Serve guest lunch
  18. Clear guest lunch
  19. Set up for afternoon activities
  20. Run dishwasher
  21. Tidy guest areas and check cabins
  22. Continue laundry and ironing
  23. Unload dishwasher
  24. Set up for cocktail hour
  25. Set up for guest dinner
  26. Set up for crew dinner
  27. Serve cocktails and appetizers
  28. Clear crew dinner
  29. Serve guest dinner
  30. Clear guest dinner
  31. Evening turndowns
  32. Run dishwasher
  33. Evening guest service
  34. Unload dishwasher
  35. Pull set-ups for breakfast
  36. Finish laundry and ironing
  37. Fill in daily journal
  38. Close down duties

This extensive list is really just a starting point. The second step is to make a separate checklist for each job. Create a bullet-point list of what needs to be done to finish the job correctly, according to the procedures and protocols of each yacht.

For instance, here is an example of how one boat might expand the “Set up for breakfast” item on the daily jobs list.

  1. Check in with the deck department if set up is outside. Make sure they are finished uncovering cushions and cleaning the area.
  2. Greet the chef, get the menu and find out how much time is needed to get food out once guests are up. Print menu, put it in a frame and post it where guests can see it.
  3. Set the table.
  4. Set up beverage station.
  5. For a buffet, determine when food goes out, how to arrange items, and what is needed for proper service and food hygiene. Organize service pieces.
  6. As guests get up, offer drinks and inform chef. Begin service when they are ready. If there is long wait, quickly make beds.
  7. Stay available for service.

While this second step might seem time-consuming, it is only the beginning. It is critical to reaching the third and most important step: showing crew how to do it. This is where teams fail most often. To have jobs done consistently to a standard, this is the key step. There must be a “how to” training document to explain every step of each task. Photos are helpful, too.

Stews multitask by performing and monitoring several duties at once. The amount of workload and the level of detail depends on whether there is a sole stew or more than one. Timing is crucial, and solo stews have to learn to cut corners. Here are some tips for solo stews:

  • Be sure any swimwear, sports gear and guest items for morning are ready to go before they arise.
  • Turn up cabins in steps. Work fast and don’t neglect the guests. Make the bed, pick up clutter and wet items, and then check on breakfast status. Wait until after breakfast before tackling the bathrooms.
  • Tidy up guest common areas in between trips to the table. Keep the laundry going, and check on crew areas. Once breakfast is finished, return to cabins to finish cleaning.
  • If guests go off the boat, try to finish cleaning common areas. Vacuum if possible.

Great stews move fast and make their work look effortless. They stay organized while taking care of guests by setting up good manuals, and by using schedules and checklists. Knowing every job that needs to be done and in the right sequence is key.

The standards of service will vary by boat, so make sure to know what the department head and captain expect. Ask for feedback from the captain, other crew, and maybe even the owners, if the chain of command allows.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at and on Contact her at


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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