What are the four key ingredients to P&O Ferries’ success?

Good food tastes better with attentive service, while a cheerful restaurant ambience is enhanced by thoughtful interior design. Jon Ingleton reports on how P&O Ferries provides all four

What are the four key ingredients to P&O Ferries’ success?
Bright and colourful food takes centre stage in The Kitchen

The trend towards veganism quadrupled in the five years leading up to 2017, according to the Vegan Society. More people adopted the diet in 2018 and 2019, implying that the lifestyle is on a sustainable trajectory. Certainly, veganism is now almost pop culture and vegans represent an influential demographic that is too vocal for canny ferry operators to overlook. UK-based brand P&O Ferries has formed a formidable team with new hospitality partner, BaxterStorey, and together, the companies have fully committed to satisfying the needs of these passengers.

Renowned for its innovation, BaxterStorey has been quick off the mark in preparing P&O Ferries’ onboard staff for updated menus in eateries across the fleet, including a good selection of dishes for vegans and those with other dietary needs.

“Passengers have always liked the food, but now they love it – we’re getting more ‘wows’,” says Gary Parkin, executive chef for ro-pax ferry Pride of Hull. “We have always used really good quality, fresh ingredients but the new contemporary presentation in the Brasserie is really lifting passenger appeal.”

Having sampled soup, linguine and a white bean cassoulet while sailing onboard Pride of Hull, Parkin’s comments certainly resonate with me. Great meat-free dishes don’t necessarily have an identifiable star on the plate; every ingredient simply works in harmony – and the cassoulet hit that standard. In the unlikely event that a passenger doesn’t fancy anything on the menu, P&O Ferries is prepared to be flexible.

“Gary will pop out and chat to them before preparing something exactly to their liking and dietary preferences,” says Jason Moore, food and beverage manager for Pride of Hull.

The high quality of P&O Ferries’ fare is truly exposed in The Kitchen, a buffet dining venue where food is centre stage. “The salad counter looked amazing today,” says Maite Bilbao, assistant food and beverage manager, clearly still pleased with BaxterStorey’s decision to reduce the number of dishes to accommodate larger bowls. Not only has this enhanced visual impact, but it has also reduced the time staff spend refilling produce.

BaxterStorey has made several other small tweaks in The Kitchen. “There’s a little more theatre at breakfast now,” says Bilbao, talking about new features such as the waffle irons. “Plus, the layout of the spread for dinner looks amazing because it’s so colourful.”

There’s no question that P&O Ferries has indubitably upped its restaurant game, delivering a feast for the eyes as well as the tongue.

Service has also been significantly enhanced, largely through an optimised galley arrangement and attentive, well-informed staff. “In advance of launching the new menus, BaxterStorey surveyed all of the galleys, reviewed the set-up and met the team,” explains Moore. “The company knows that quality service relies on efficient back-house operations and our team really appreciated the opportunity to influence change. The real test will be in peak season when we’ll serve 500 breakfasts in 90 minutes, but now we know the last one we serve will be as good as the first.”

Another key element of good service is people who are happy in their work. Bilbao, Moore and Parkin have served P&O Ferries’ passengers for a combined 80 years. “It’s more than a job; we’re a big family and we’re proud of our heritage and wearing the P&O Ferries badge,” says Moore, on behalf of the group. “Happy staff take care of the small details that endear customers to a big brand. For example, I was impressed when my waiter, Albertino Nunes, remembered my drink order on my return journey.”

“The Brasserie is on a ship, but it’s a premium restaurant and we still need to deliver the quality of service that people expect from a premium restaurant on land,” says Parkin.

Thoughtful interior design also plays a role on Pride of Hull. She is a smart ship with well-maintained interiors and she looks much younger than her age – a sign of a loving crew. Some areas are predictably functional and follow the industry standard, such as the cabins and shops. Other spaces, however, truly elevate the passenger experience. Often, it’s just a small detail that makes the room stand out, like the horizontal LED lighting in the Starbucks coffee lounge or the white trim around the wooden panels in front of the bar in the Irish pub.

Everything works in the Brasserie despite its natural shortcomings. “We’ve got limited space, but the design enables everyone to have an intimate meal,” says Moore.

Frankly, I hadn’t noticed a size issue, which is an indication of the quality of the interior design. But Moore is right about intimacy; every diner will enjoy a very private experience with their companions while still profiting from the gently uplifting ambiance.

The staff are the starting point for this cheery ambience – even a dreary restaurant can create a buzz with the right front-of-house team. But the trio of good food, service and design leads to satisfied, relaxed customers who collectively create a happy hubbub. “Everything and everyone works well together,” comments Bilbao.

And she’s right. In the Brasserie there’s a respectful whisper interspersed with laughter at a waiter’s wit or exclamations of delight as dishes are presented to happy passengers. There’s a similarly happy, but busier, mood in The Kitchen as passengers serve themselves while attentive staff take drinks orders and clear crockery. This ambience disseminates throughout the ship to the bars, theatre and other public spaces. It’s the perfect start, or end, to a happy vacation or a productive business trip.

Good food, service, restaurant ambience and interior design are the four key ingredients to memorable hospitality and, with the help of BaxterStorey, P&O Ferries seems to have found the perfect recipe – with plenty of Grandma’s secret sauce. While BaxterStorey will change the menu every four weeks, these four attributes will endure on Pride of Hull and combine with old customs to satisfy every guest. “We’ve got ship traditions that you can’t ever change,” concludes Parkin, “Fish and chips on Friday, steak on Saturday and a roast on Sunday.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
16 January 2020

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