By Don George
Toni Neumeister is Vice President of Hotel Procurement and Food and Beverage Operations for Crystal Cruises. I sat down with him for a wide-ranging conversation about the challenges and joys of overseeing the provisioning and service of a world-sailing cruise line. We present Part Two of that interview below.
Is there a typical day in your life? Can you describe what you do in a day?
Normally, when I’m in the office—I work from Monday through Friday—I start at 7:30 a.m. at the latest and go home at 6 or 6:15 p.m. It’s a long day, but I am always in contact with the onboard management and front-liners— our service staff, front office staff, chefs, waiters, bar staff and so on. It is important to be in contact with them as often as I can, so I know that what I’ve created in the office is actually the right product for the customers. With e-mail and cell phones and everything that we have these days, it is easier than it used to be, but it’s still very important to be together, talking person to person. That’s why I spend about 80 to 90 days of the year on the ships.
In-port days or cruising days?
Most of them are cruising days.
How many people are working for you?
In the office, only five. Most of my support crew is working on the ships. On Serenity, we have 290 staff; on Symphony, we have about 260 working in the food and beverage department.
How do you decide whom to hire? What are you looking for?
First of all, in our business, attitude is pretty much everything. If you don’t have the right personality and the right attitude, you shouldn’t be in the service industry. So in the hiring process, attitude is first, and of course, they have to have a very good professional background and technical training. For a chef, the technical side is more important, but you still have to have the right attitude as well.
We have more than 50 different nationalities from all over the globe, with different backgrounds and mentalities, and you have to be a person who can adapt and adjust. Ship life is so different from living on land. You not only work together, you also live together.
Right, shore people go home at night.
Yes, they leave everything and they don’t need to talk to each other if they don’t want to. But here, the workers go into the crew areas and their own areas, and they cannot just ignore their co-workers; they’re present all the time.
Yes, and it’s especially interesting to me that you have Serbs and Croats, for example, people whose countries were once fighting each other.
Yes, we have people from all over the world, including South Africa, South America, the U.S., many European countries, Asia, the Philippines, India, Indonesia and more.
So that’s a big challenge, I would think, in a cultural way.
Yes, and again, that’s why attitude is extremely important in our book.
If the person has the right attitude, then you can mold the rest…
Yes. Also, we always think, does the person have the opportunity to grow professionally and privately? That’s very important. We really support their continued development.
How about you? Do you have any professional and personal growth goals for this year?
I have a lot of goals. Professionally, my goal is that all of the implementations I have planned will be successful. One of them is the new Tastes concept, which I am very, very happy with. That has worked out very well. Another is a new concept in the Crystal Dining Room: In addition to our traditional classic menu, we’re now offering a modern cuisine menu.
So people have a choice of menus when they sit down?
Actually, guests can pick and choose from both menus. You can have an appetizer modern style and a main, like T-bone steak, classic style. What’s happened in the food world over the last 10 years—the progress and the changes—that is pretty amazing. I think that, if you go back 100 years, we have not seen the changes that have happened in the last 10 years. They are extreme.
Towards more healthy eating?
Yes, that’s a part of it, but also the technology and using the technology to enhance the product—not manipulating it, just enhancing it. We still have to use good quality food items.
We are always thinking about humanely treated, organic, more sustainable food. Sustainability is very important. I want to know that, if I eat meat, the animal has been treated a certain way. When it comes to the modern side, it comes to using the technology from slow cooking methods. When you go back in history, slow cooking existed some 300 or 400 years ago, but now you can control the temperature. You couldn’t do that back then. You can cook something at 57.6 degrees Celsius. For years, it was impossible to do that; and if you do that consistently and perfectly, your product is different. It’s going to be better. We can take advantage of these changes to offer more variety and better quality than ever before.