Sunday, 13 January 2008

What makes a good one?

It truly is a beautiful morning here on the Rio Dulce. The sun is shining there is a gentle breeze blowing across the water as I sit on the veranda of the Cayuco Club awaiting my breakfast.

We are out so bright and early because the boat is in complete chaos. As TBH struggles to insert the new bilge pump, we have abandoned all expectation of cooking on the boat for the next few days.

The old pipe came out reasonably easily but having to empty just about every locker and lift every piece of cabin sole on the boat does not make for easy living. It's one of those jobs that I really only feel comfortable tackling in a marina.

Your comfort with where you are is much influenced by the people that you are with. We have a marvelous core of boaters at Mario's. Just how much they influence the atmosphere here became obvious when some of them were absent for a while recently. It's hard to explain but the 'sense' of community just disappeared overnight... Well they are back and good natured laughter fills the air again from dawn until dusk.

It must be a difficult job managing a marina. Its not just about maintaining the docks, unblocking the loos, keeping the showers clean but maintaining the atmosphere that, I guess, in the end is what differentiates a good from a great marina.

We don't stay in marinas often but when we do we tend to stay for a considerable time. It is interesting how that exposes the management styles, and how those that concentrate of creating the right ambiance are the ones that you will always go back to .

Probably the most outstanding place we have stayed was Puerto Calero in Lanzarote, Canary Islands. The fabric of the docks and surroundings was outstanding, clean, attractive and well designed. The facilities exceptional, a small but well equipped boatyard, travel lift, workshops, a good labour base but the best feature of all was the superb manner of the manager, Mel. A bi-lingual capable young woman she walked that thin line between professionalism and friendliness. So easy to talk about but, in practise, a very difficult position to master.

Probably the most unsatisfactory place we have spent time was Shelter Bay in Panama. To be fair it was a very new facility when we were there but there were already some fundamental issues building. The docks and facilities cannot be bettered. New, gleaming and all those great things. It was interesting though that from the start of our stay there were serious maintenance issues. Basically it just wasn't done! A dock started to list, the showers wouldn't drain, the food in the restaurant was poor and pricey. On top of this the treatment of staff was appalling. Exploitation of the locals included not paying them on time, not providing sufficient food and the most basic of living accommodations.

Here are Morton's previously unpublished criteria of excellence in restaurants. They apply to marinas as well:

1. At the core is the quality of the Food. If the food is no good, nothing is any good. For a marina, this could equate to clean facilities, the quality of the pontoons, water, reliability of power and wifi, and so on.

2. Next comes service. You can have great food but if they get your order wrong or keep you waiting for hours it certainly detracts from the experience.

3. Most people just think of Food and Service (task and process, if you like) when describing a restaurant but the difference between a good cook and a great cook is Imagination which you could describe as innovation, diversity, flair in the menu. Or creativity in the additional services (yes, maybe even offering Karaoke some nights).

4. Last but not least comes Ambiance, which is sometimes so tangible "you can cut it with a knife."

It is the happy coincidence of all four that makes a meal a lifetime experience, a moment you will never forget, or a stay in a marina something you will commend to others.

It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to apply these criteria to any management of any service business...

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