Lessons on Professionalism from Bravo’s ‘Below Deck’

I have a client in the meetings and events industry and I was submitting a couple of story pitches to them this week, based on a new survey of event planners.

One of the key takeaways from the survey is that 59% of planners say a lack of professionalism among the venue management and staff is the primary factor that deters them from giving the venue repeat business.

As a former, failing member of the hospitality and service industry and as a current, small business owner, I thought that statistic on professionalism was very, very interesting. So I did submit a pitch on that topic/statistical point, but after reviewing the client’s website, I went with a pretty safe pitch.

But what I really wanted to pitch was something a bit more trendy, a bit more current, a bit more reality-television focused. I wanted to discuss my current favorite TV show, “Below Deck Mediterranean,” which the Washington Post’s Hank Stuever recently declared to be “TV’s ideal mental vacation.”

And while I respect and admire Hank, and read everything my former Austin American-Statesman cohort writes, I disagree about the mental vacation aspect. I actually spend a lot of mental time wondering just how the heck some of these yachties get away with hiding their total lack of professionalism from the charter guests and sometimes even the captain? From sleeping with the guests (and each other) to dropping a guest on the ground and breaking a glass that a child then cuts his foot on (both in one episode, aptly titled “Flesh Wounds Are Not Five Star,”) it’s all pretty ballsy.

So here are my lessons on professionalism from the crew of “Below Deck.” Because, really, doesn’t everything in life tie back to reality TV?

Don’t lie about your abilities and think no one will notice. Yes, I am specifically thinking about Chef Nachos de Mila this go round, honestly, she’s not the first “professional” to outright lie about her abilities to gain employment on a “Below Deck” superyacht and I don’t think she’ll be the last.

She looks in over her head. And, she was.

Remember third stew Kasey Cohen in last season’s “Below Deck Med?” She lied on her resume about having barista skills and being trained in silver service. It was soon obvious that neither of those things were true. And remember deck hand Andrew Sturby way back in season 2 of Below Deck? He lied about his experience level as well.

Real service professionals know that this is not an industry where you can just “fake-it-till-you-make-it.” That goes for event and venue professionals as well.

Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and throw a beach picnic or pull out all the water toys. Listen, I promise, as a former member of the service industry, I would never, ever ask the crew to haul half the galley to the beach (or worse, to the top of some mountain castle ruins) just so I could eat a meal in a different location. Eating a salad and sandwiches in a Jacuzzi on a SUPERYACHT is plenty exotic and entitled for little ole me. And don’t get me started on those water toys? What a hassle! I’m Team Chrissy Tiegen here: Just say no to the slide.

So believe me when I say: I totally get it. But listen, people pay big bucks (around $35,000 to $75,000 plus a 10 to 15 percent cash tip) to come on this amazing boat and make stupid, annoying demands. And apparently, rich people get really bored, really easily and have to be entertained constantly, preferably by watching others break their backs jumping through hoops for a tip.

Josiah Carter, the ultimate yacht professional.

Providing good service means an event professional has to make it look like they’re positively thrilled to do a back breaking amount of work for finicky, short-attention span clients.

It’s always a good idea to treat the client with respect, even if they look and act like Snooki and crew. In season 2’s episode 9, head stew Kate, who I love and adore, showed her not-so-nice, terribly elitist side, looking down her nose a group of (admittedly, questionable taste levels) charter guests from New Jersey, noting that she went into yacht waitressing to serve the Leonardo DiCaprio’s of the world, not the cast of Jersey Shore. Not very professional, Kate.

While she and the rest of the crew provided good, if albeit, chilly service on that charter, Captain Lee picked up on the attitude, calling out the entire crew for prejudging the guests and reminding them that they (the crew) work for them (the guests) before handing out the fattest tip envelopes of the season. As “Below Deck Med” alumni Julia D’Albert Pusey wisely said, “Five-star treatment is holding someone’s hair extensions and wrapping them up in a napkin, with a smile.”

Sometimes, being professional means looking the other way.

Always follow the preference sheet. And I don’t even mean for their likes, but mostly, for their dislikes. Chefs tend to get so much more heat not for ignoring something that the guest said they liked on their preference sheet, but for going along and making something they specifically said they hated. Like, onions. Honestly, “Below Deck Med” Chef Adam’s obsession with sneaking onions into everything that non-onion liking charter guest ate was self-sabotaging and borderline psychopathic. It was unexplainable.  

Particularly in the event and hospitality industry: clients spell these things out. It’s a good idea to hew close to those written guidances.

But, you also have to be flexible and accommodating. OK, I know I said always follow the preference sheet, but that “always” is really encased in invisible quote marks. A professional also has to be willing to shift gears, especially in the event or services industry.

In season 3 of “Below Deck,” Chef “Beef Cheeks” Leon butted heads repeatedly with head stew Kate over his lackadaisical service and lackluster menus. But even worse, he was very rigid and refused readjust his menu or cooking plans to accommodate guests. Listen Chef Leon, if a guest wants sliders and quesadillas after a long day of drinking and hot tubbing, you better get busy in that galley. Plans change. A professional can handle it.

Just look at how Kate improvised mojitos in season 2 of Below Deck, using mint extract and some mystery green herb (Parsley? Cilantro?) after discovering they did not have any mint on the boat. I’m not saying a professional shouldn’t come clean with a client, but I do admire her ingenuity. But yeah. She should have told the client they didn’t have the ingredient and offer to make them something else. A professional should definitely not lie (see lesson 1).

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