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Fitting Out a New Build: Linen & Tableware

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The rate of expansion in our industry in the last 20 years, combined with natural attrition, has resulted in a shortage of experienced interior crew. Training opportunities have certainly improved, and relative experience always helps, but it’s never quite the same as the good old hands-on experience that enables veteran crew to make purchasing decisions with relative ease.

I frequently receive emails from Chief Stewardesses who have been tasked with fitting out a new build (or bare boat, as the result of a refit or sale). Often they’re looking for guidance because they lack confidence to perform the task at hand.  It’s intimidating because you worry you’ll find yourself stuck in a remote location one day and suddenly realize you neglected to purchase an all-important item or totally miscalculated how many sheets you needed to buy.

Although years of experience will make you more well-rounded, I believe the logic behind purchasing decisions can be taught, and I’m going to share that logic with you over a series of articles.

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How many sheets should I buy?

If you factor in predictable logistics, you’ll find it quite easy to make this calculation. 

The general rule of thumb is 3 sets for each bed - one on the bed, one in the laundry and a backup set in the cupboard.  

If your laundry facility is small or not fully functional, it’s a good idea to increase the quantity of sheets.

Other variables that may alter that calculation include:


If your team struggles to keep on top of things the laundry is likely to suffer. Purchasing additional sheets will give you some breathing space.

Many beds of the same size:

On one yacht we had ample crew, a great laundry, and this cabin configuration:

Master – King Bed with dedicated linen (not interchangeable with guest cabins)

4 x Guest Cabins with King Beds (same linen)

1 x Guest Cabin with Queen Bed

1 x Guest Cabin with Single Beds x 3

In this case we bought slightly fewer sheet sets. We changed the linen every third day and staggered the linen changes by starting some on the second day. So I used the three-times multiple for the Master, Queen and Single Beds but lowered the multiplier for the other guest cabins to 2.5 because I knew I’d always have plenty of spares. NB: 4 King Beds x 2.5 = 10 rather than 12 sets.

Linen that’s difficult to launder:

Sometimes the owners will insist on a particular style of bed linen that isn’t practical for laundering. My advice is to try your best to convince them otherwise. Provide them with evidence to support your case and offer an attractive alternative. Owners like solutions, not problems. If that doesn’t work, go ahead and order extras.

Insufficient Storage:

Sadly, some yachts are designed with a severe lack of functional storage. If that’s the case, you’ll need to consider where to keep the linen. There are better ways to save space than playing with bed linen numbers, but you might consider decreasing them if (as in the example above) you have multiple beds of the same size.

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Charter Yachts:

Charter yachts are usually busier than private yachts, and the clients may require daily bed linen changes. Charter guests also tend to be less concerned about damaging property, including sheets, so in this case I’d definitely go above the usual three-times rule.

Finally, I recommend that you always (private and charter) increase the number of pillowslips to cater to the inevitable need for unscheduled changes.

Guest Towels

In short: Use the same logic we applied to the bed linen. Don’t forget bath mats, and always buy extra Face Washers & Hand Towels for the cabins as well as an ample supply for the Dayheads.

If you’re not using a reputable yachting purveyor, do your homework. Research:

Fibers (Turkish Cotton, Egyptian Cotton, Pima Cotton, Modal etc.)

Fiber processing techniques (combed, ring spun, twist)

GSM weight (grams per square meter)

Quality of finishes such as feel, edge and weaves etc.

Most importantly, buy a sample, use it daily and launder if a few times before making a final decision.

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What About China?

Most large yachts carry at least one casual and one formal set. One build I worked on had 23 different sets!  Small yachts often carry only one set because they operate less formally and have space limitations.

Here are some points to consider:

Buy a minimum of 2 (preferably 3 or 4) extra place settings above your maximum guest capacity.

Busy china designs look lovely in the shop, but chefs usually prefer a plain canvas for presentation.

Most chefs also like a large canvas, which means there’s a good chance the entre, main and dessert will all be plated on dinner plates. Washing plates between each course is not practical, so buy double the quantity of dinner plates whenever you have the opportunity.

A Rim Soup Plate is more versatile than a Cream Soup Bowl and requires much less space to stow. Another advantage is that the liner plate only requires a quick rinse and dry, which is quite achievable during dinner service, making it available for dessert service.

If you have multiple china sets, consider buying plain sugar bowls and milk jug creamers that will complement all sets. Likewise you can add variety to your settings by purchasing Charger plates that complement a few different sets. Solid black, gold, silver or navy rims often work well for that purpose.

1896 stack of plates

If your owner likes to entertain large crowds on a regular basis, ensure that you have at least one set with large numbers. This can be creatively achieved by having one china design in a couple of different colours so that you can use them independently or mix and match them together. I’ve also used crew china with the owner’s approval. In that case we had 28 crew, and I purchased 50 dinner plates so that we had plenty of spares, and they doubled for casual beach events. Be sure to have some paper plates on hand for the crew to use during the odd event when the crew china is being borrowed!

If you’re on board a smaller yacht and can only accommodate one china set, keep it reasonably plain to allow your tablescapes and the chef’s presentation to shine.


Guests aboard large yachts expect their beverages to be served in the appropriate glass style, and large yachts have both the capacity and the need for a greater range of glassware.  Small yachts should stick to the basics and/or choose multipurpose glassware.

Tips for large yachts:

Try to use one consistent base design for the majority of the yacht so that you’ll be able to pull glasses from various locations when you need larger quantities.

If possible, choose a durable style for your base glassware. The thinner the crystal, the more fragile it will be. I’ve broken a Lalique glass while polishing more times than I care to admit! Slightly heavier crystal is also more practical for those unexpected gusts of wind or rogue waves.

Unpopular glassware patterns are quickly retired by manufacturers. If you choose your base set from one of the large manufacturers’ popular lines, you should be able to order replacements for years to come.

Additional sets of glassware can come from a boutique manufacturer and can be more decorative and less practical. You only need purchase enough to cater to your regular maximum quantity of guests (plus spares).
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Tips for small yachts:
As few styles as possible with large quantities of each will work best.

Stemless glasses are a great option because they take up less storage space, are more stable, fit in the dishwasher better and look trendy.

If you’re using stemmed glasses, keep it simple: red, white, champagne and water. You won’t have space for dedicated Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay glasses.

A tall V-shaped glass doubles well for a variety of cocktails and beer service, but care should be taken because the dairy in cocktails can leave a residue that will quickly flatten beer.

A short V-shaped glass works well for many cocktails and can double for both starter and dessert service.

Tall shot glasses can also double for canapé service.

Some glasses cannot be substituted so, if your owner or guests enjoy Cognac, you’ll need the appropriate glassware. Again, stemless is a great option.

Good old Highball and Old Fashioned glasses will never go to waste.

Buy dishwasher-proof acrylic glassware for rough passages and beach trips. Palm Products has a reliable product available in a variety of colours.


Smaller yachts will often have one multi-purpose flatware set while large yachts will have a basic minimum of:

•    One casual set for breakfast and lunch

•    One formal set for elegant dinner service

Frequently they’ll have at least one other flatware set, and often it will be more ornate or unique.

Basic set(s) need to cater to most circumstances while the additional set(s) will often lack special pieces such as cocktail forks, demitasse spoons, cream soup spoons and possibly even fish knives and forks.

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Spoons and Forks can be surprisingly confusing!

If you take a look at the Christofle website, you’ll notice that the table spoon (or place spoon) is approximately 3cm larger than the soup and dessert spoons. The dessert spoon description clearly states that it can be “paired with the dessert fork and knife and used for desserts, salads or starters”. The table spoon comes as part of a standard 5-piece setting, but it isn’t always needed or preferred because of its oversized feel. It does, however, pair beautifully with a dinner fork, so it can be used for silver service when the traditional serving spoon and fork are too large for the item being served (approximately 6cm longer than the table spoon).

The luncheon fork is 20cm long, the salad fork is 17cm long (and is wider than a dinner fork “to facilitate cutting through lettuce with ease”) and the dessert fork is 17cm and “can be paired with the dessert spoon and knife to be used with desserts, salads or starters”.
The dessert knife is 19.5cm long and the luncheon knife is 23cm long.

The fact that you have so many options can make the purchasing decision difficult. Whenever possible I advise sticking with tradition unless the owner, captain or another person in authority decides otherwise. A traditional set should, as a minimum, include the following items:

•    Standard 5-piece place setting

•    Dessert Knife, Spoon and Fork (or cake fork)

•    Cream Soup Spoon

•    Fish Knife and Fork

•    Butter Spreader

•    Demitasse Spoon

If a set is only being used for breakfast and lunch, you can purchase the luncheon knife and fork in place of the dinner knife and fork. The set would look like this:

•    Dinner Knife & Fork OR Luncheon Knife and Fork

•    Dessert Knife, Spoon and Fork

•    Salad Knife

•    Additional Spoon (Cream Soup or additional Dessert Spoon)

•    Fish Knife and Fork

•    Butter Spreader

•    Teaspoons

•    Demitasse Spoons

A small yacht, particularly those that carry only one set, might prefer a set that provides more versatility. This can be achieved by dropping some of the more specialized pieces, such as the salad and cake forks, and doubling up on the dessert forks.

A few important points:

•    I consider a fish knife and fork set to be essential unless the owner is very casual, and the fish fork should not ever be used in place of a dessert or salad fork.

•    Being old school, I have never been comfortable using a place (or dessert) spoon for soup service, but I have noted that many American guests are comfortable doing exactly that.

•    Don’t underestimate how many teaspoons you’ll need. Those devils are a bit like socks in the dryer; they always seem to get lost, and you never seem to have enough.  Aside from unthinkable hazards like falling into the garbage disposal or inadvertently vanishing with the trash, think about sugar bowls, condiment/sauce ramekins and the like. Buy extra! Demitasse spoons also tend to disappear.


•    The general rule of thumb for flatware is to buy your maximum guest capacity plus 4 (at a minimum).

•    I have worked on yachts where the formal set contained the maximum guest capacity plus 2 and it worked well, primarily because we couldn’t seat any extras at the dining table anyway.

•    Don’t forget serving spoons and forks, cake/pie slides, sauce ladles, steak knives, chopsticks, crustacean forks, fish serving knife, cheese knives and sugar tongs etc.

•    I’ve referenced Christofle above but Ercuis is also popular and many alternate brands exist.

Image credit: iha /Flickr/Shutterstock/pdpics Pixabay/Pixabay/Flickr

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