I have had the pleasure of sailing with Desi Kostova on three occasions over the last few months. I must say her effervescent personality and skills as a Maître d’ made my voyages that much more enjoyable. Desi is the only female Maître d’ employed by Carnival Cruises. I spoke with Desi on her life as a Maître d’ on board Carnival Spirit.
How did you start in the hospitality industry?
While living in my home country, Bulgaria, I was actually chasing my husband to be. He was a waiter in a restaurant and I got a job in the same restaurant to get to know him. I had just finished my Masters degree in Navigation, and was also looking forward to going to sea.
When did you join Carnival Spirit?
I saw a Carnival advertisement for staff in the local newspaper. After a two-hour drive to the interview site, I was devastated after being rejected as being too old. I was 30 at that stage. I pursued the interviewer, who eventually relented. I got a job in the hospitality area, starting as a bus girl, setting up and clearing tables (so much for my navigation degree). That was 14 years ago.
I worked my way up in the hospitality area and I now hold the most senior position in that department as Maître d’. I am responsible for running all the dining outlets, including the main dining room, buffet, room service, special dining events throughout the ship, as well as the various crew and officers’ dining rooms. My department is also responsible for all the Camp Carnival Kids Clubs meals. I am also responsible for all hospitality crew training and interacting with guests.
Working for Carnival is like being part of an extended family. I could not think of working anywhere else. I believe my crew and I make a difference and most passengers remember their dining experiences favourably.
How many months between shore leave?
I work eight months on board with two months off between contracts.
What staff do you supervise?
I supervise 170 waiters, plus assistant Maître d’s and room service attendants, which is the department most newcomers start in.
What part of the job do you enjoy most?
From the very beginning, I always wanted to make a difference. I believe that to be a good Maître d’, it is 80 per cent attitude and 20 per cent knowledge.
Are passengers very demanding?
Yes, but it is a delight to serve Australians compared to some other nationalities. Australians come to dine, others come to eat. Australians have a better knowledge of food and wine than most. Also I have found that Australians are very warm and treat staff more as equals.
What has been your most memorable experience as a Maître d’?
Our repositioning cruise in 2012 from the USA to Sydney, where we are now based, was particularly memorable. It was the anticipation of something new that was most exciting. With half the guests being from the US and the other half from Australia, both with different needs, a real challenge to satisfy all was posed.
What has been your worst experience on board?
Sometimes the ship is hired by groups for special charters. Two American charters that stand out, so to speak, were a Swingers Cruise and a Bare Necessities Cruise, during which most of the passengers were naked. We had some rules, one of which was that they had to cover up from the waist down during meal times. Most of the crew were not sure where to look. You appear to be very outgoing.
Were you always like this?
No, it’s something that has developed over the years. I want to give my passengers a memorable experience during dinner, so each night the wait staff and I entertain them with a small show. The guests seem to enjoy this, as does the staff.
How different is it working with Australian passengers?
I find Australians very friendly, they treat the crew more as friends than food servers.
Do you have any advice for hospitality beginners on cruise ships?
Yes, attitude is most important; I believe one is born with it. Certain tasks can be learnt, but a great attitude is paramount.
What is your favourite cuisine?
I love Mexican food.
Do you have input into menu choices?
Our main menus are set by Carnival head office in Miami, but in Australia, the chef often consults me, as I get direct feedback from our guests.
Who was your favourite passenger?
Most famous passenger?
I have served many famous people. Donald Trump was one of the most interesting.
What are your future plans?
I love working for Carnival, and hope to continue to do so for a long time.
“From the very beginning, I always wanted to make a difference. I believe that to be a good Maître d’, it is 80 per cent attitude and 20 per cent knowledge.” Desi Kostova