Etiquette is an old fashioned word that still counts for a huge amount in the service industry. Just ask Terry Gilmore, a former chief steward, house manager and PA for four decades who has worked on some of the world’s most luxurious superyachts.
Since coming ashore after his last yacht, Terry, 63, has been on a mission to bring etiquette back on board and with this in mind, he set up the Interior Training Academy through his recruitment company Abacus and March.
In association with Bluewater Yachting, he plans to teach inexperienced crew everything they need to know for a successful career on or offshore, from opening a bottle of vintage wine and serving at the best tables right down to blowing out a candle and using a tea towel correctly.
With a training school in Cap d’Antibes led by former chief stewardesses including Lynne Edwards, who spent nine years teaching at Bluewater Yachting, and advice from Crew Coach founder Alison Rentoul, Terry feels the time is right to bring style back to the table. ‘The style and class of the Jackie O days has gone,’ he says as we chat over coffee at his home in Le Bar sur Loup. ‘People would dress for dinner on the yachts I worked on but now most of them wear shorts. It has become very informal.
‘It costs very little to become a chief steward or stewardess and many come into the industry knowing ‘nothing’. If you’re not taught grass roots basics, you don’t get it.
With owners spending more and more on their yachts and wanting five star plus service and luxury, crew have to be able to adapt.
Every yacht is different - Russians enjoy their food being put on the table while English owners generally prefer silver or butler service. There is a reason why stewardesses are sometimes dubbed stupidesses or ‘pretty’ awful. We aim to change this and teach young people the etiquette of service.’
Having served presidents and world leaders during his long yachting career - a framed signed photograph of Nelson Mandela sits in pride of place in the living room alongside photographs of his wife Sally and their four children - Dorset born Terry is well placed to pass on his extensive knowledge to the next generation of interior crew.
He was labouring and waiting tables in his hometown of Wareham when he spotted a newspaper advert for crew and landed his first job on a yacht, earning £10 a week, after passing a practical test for silver service.
He was soon bitten by the bug, working on other yachts before taking a secretarial and wine course to become a travelling personal assistant for a number of high net worth owners including the Saudi royal family, Robert Maxwell, the chairman of Arsenal, various high ranking politicians and Kirk Kerkorian, the head of MGM.
Terry decided to start Abacus and March three years ago when he saw a gap in the market for a good recruitment and training agency. ‘I was approaching the end of my yachting career and thought it would be a good idea as so many people would ask me for a good chief steward or stewardess,’ he reveals. ‘I was already doing the job for free!’
Following encouragement from Joey Meen at PYA, he set up the Interior Training Academy, accredited by the GUEST programme, using an apartment rented to him by a friend in Cap d’Antibes. Their training manual features gems such as how best to clean cashmere throws and place flowers on beds at turn-down as well as how to position meat, fish, vegetables and sauce on a plate. The 40 hour week-long course provides successful students with a diploma that is accredited by the PYA.
So is Terry hoping for a return to the Downton Abbey-style golden era of service, when staff always knew their place and were seen but seldom heard? ‘I think there is a huge demand for this kind of teaching,’ he says. ‘Some people who come to us don’t even know how to use a knife and fork properly or lay a table. I came from a council house background and was one of eight children but I was taught manners, respect, how to behave at the table and to be seen and not heard.
‘We take a maximum of 10 students at a time. I’ve trained a lot of chief stewards and stewardesses over the years and all our trainers are ex-chief stewardesses who have done the job and are old school hence you can’t pull the wool over their eyes. We relate stories from our own past experiences and incorporate these into the course.
‘The students learn through role play everything they need to know for working on a private or charter yacht. They are taught correct etiquette with the guest, how to clean, perform silver service, make beds, walk into a room, serve and clear a table, how to pull out a chair, hold a tea towel, arrange flowers, serve wine, present themselves and shake hands, even how to light and blow out a candle, as well as how to live in close proximity with other crew members.
‘We also teach them how to dress and best portray themselves during an interview and redo their CVs for them if necessary.
Chief stewards sometimes do not have the time to train new interior crew so they are likely to pick up bad habits from the start, like leaving their mobile phone on, which is unforgiveable in my eyes and one of my pet hates.
The skills they learn at the ITA are ideal for housekeeping, running a villa, restaurant and hotel management, even how to run their own home.
You don’t have domestic lessons at school anymore like home economics or sewing. This is grass roots stuff that you can’t learn from a computer.’
Terry personally carries out on board training with one of his team in glamorous locations such as St Barths and oversees placing the right crew on the right yacht. He has ambitious plans for the future of the ITA and is currently working on an idea for an exclusive yachting membership scheme. He adds: ‘I think we can take this style of training worldwide. We have created a niche and we are getting busier purely through word of mouth. With interior crew starting salaries of around €30,000 a year - which in real terms is worth around €60 - €70,000 a year onshore - it’s time to stop the bad habits being passed down and see an overall improvement in service.
‘My motto is: If you get them on the hop, you can stop the rot!’
Terry's dos and don’ts on becoming a successful crew member:
Ensure you are appropriately dressed for an interview and your CV is well presented with a suitable photograph to reflect the position as first impressions are extremely important
Swot up on cultural differences and protocol with different nationalities to avoid causing offence
Remember good manners on board at all times
Remember guest names, knock before entering private cabins and always leave the door open
Keep make up to a minimum
- MOST IMPORTANT: Always look behind you before vacating an area.
Have any visible tattoos or wear nail varnish
Wear sunglasses when talking to guests
Ever take your mobile phone into the accommodation during working hours, leave it in your cabin
Post photographs or information about the yacht’s whereabouts or guests onboard on Facebook or Twitter. This could lead to instant dismissal.