The Restaurant Godfather: Memories of Cruise Ship Mafia

Apr 27, 2019

When I say the word "mafia" most often people imagine the movie The Godfather with a whole lot of bullets, kidnapping, and severely illegal manipulative actions lead by a group of people who are pawns to one master mind. However, for our ship mates, the word "mafia" does have a slightly different meaning. I arrived on my first cruise ship filled with excitement slightly naive of the world and completely unprepared for the experience proven by the fact that I did not even have the correct shoes to wear for work, yet no ability in the schedule to even exit the ship for the next 2 weeks. I asked my supervisor after being scolded like a little child for coming unprepared where to get the things I so much needed to survive at least for the first 2 weeks. I did not receive a very helpful or supportive response "figure it out, not my problem" he said. I remember that the first couple of days my feet were in blisters after the 14-hour shifts and I in pain and tears even though I have a high pain tolerance. Luckily, I was blessed with a very bubbly and sweet personality who have never met a stranger. Sitting on crew deck watching the water contemplating sending myself back home, I started talking to another crew member who has been working on cruise ships for over 10 years. I think he took pity on me or simply found me amusing and entertaining, thus pointed me to a person who can get me anything I need at any given time for a nominal fee. My feet cared none for monetary cost, I think at the time I would have seen more value in a good pair of shoes over any amount of money. Fast forward, I met with this person to whom I explained my need. All he said was the amount of money I need to pay and "what's your cabin number, I'll call you when I have them for you." Next thing I remember is not even 48 hours later, I had brand new comfy shoes and as a bonus, he threw in a Neosporin cream for my blisters. He followed with "you're very likable, you'll do well here." Before I knew it, I was able to get foods not allowed for crew members, items that I could not find on the ship but needed. the cook made sure that my orders were ready on time and waving me in the galley, etc. At first, I thought that people simply took pity on me because I am new and heaven knows innocent but later discovered that somehow I was being favorite by a whole bunch of different ship "mafias."

So, what are ship "mafias" for better understanding on the above-mentioned experience? Much like the Godfather movie -- minus the killing of course -- ship mafia is either a person or group of people who have some form of authority over something, knowledge, resourcefulness, etc. and can either make your ship personal and professional life amazing or living hell on burning water. For example, if you work in a restaurant on land the cook will make the orders based on how they come in and if something is presented as favoritism all you need to do is speak with the manager, supervisor or Mater D who will assure that balance is restored. However, on a ship when approaching these concerns your supervisor will only tell you that you need to work on your resourcefulness and that the ship will either make or break you.

How often did you end up without the same amount of silverware that you left the dining room after coming early to set it up? Then you are scrambling for whatever you can? How often did you get the shift that you keep wanting to get out of or the responsibility that no one wants? Yet, you see this person who barely does any additional work, always gets the preferred section and shift, never misses any silverware, walks into the galley and walk out with their food just as fast with nothing more than a big fat smile on their face. Yeah, everyone hates that person, well everyone who is pretty new to the cruise ship life because it seems that they are doing ship life right and with breeze. However, here is the difference that a person has probably figured out the ship mafia system well, utilizes it and plays it in his or her favor. 

One day I was able to sit down with one of those hated people and ask the question "how you do it? Please teach me!" He laughed and said, "it's a secret!" I laughed and simply said "I'm good at keeping secrets, I promise. Plus, I'm so tired I will probably forget before I get to the cabin and fall on that thing people here call bed then wake up in the morning thinking it was just a vague dream too crazy to be true." He looked at me funny, laughed and continued with "you're funny, use that to your advantage. People forget to laugh and be human on ships. I'll show you because of that, but not tonight." At the time I was an assistant waitress and he was way ahead of the game. The next day I was informed that I have a new section, waiter, and shift. I arrived for duty and who do I see, Mr. Got Ship Life Just Right with a big fat smile. I approached him confused and he said: "I'll show you everything I know cause I like you, but you have to continue making me laugh." If I was confused before he opened his mouth, I sure as heck was even more so afterward. Luckily for me, I was blessed with a good sense of humor and ability to make any situation quite funny. You should see the most embarrassing moment of my waitress career when 12 lobsters went flying into the air because I did not know how to use the escalator right, yet made Mr. Got Ship Life Just Right laugh his rear end off. Anyways, he explained that he has and, in some shape or form, pays -- not always with money, sometimes with goods and in my circumstance with laughter -- a person for every little thing that he needs. He sent me to set up the table and told me who to ask for and whose name to give. Before I knew it, I had all the things I needed to set up the table. Then he sent me to get the order in and said, "find this person," to just mention his name and that I am his assistant waitress. I had the food waiting for me in no time. When it came time for cleanup and doing the other responsibilities, it was a breeze because out of nowhere this person who works in room service showed up ready to help out. My naive self thought "wow, he is so kind to want to help." Yeah right! Mr. Got Ship Life Just Right laughed at my remark and said "he is hoping to get to the dining room and make more money. So I'm giving him the experience and if he proves good I'll put in a good word for him to get to the dining room quicker." After working with him awhile I realized that he is the dining room mafia Godfather and made sense since he has been on ships close to as long as I was at the time alive. You had a problem, you did not go to the supervisor or Mater D to solve it, but him. He was able to put even my supervisor in place after screaming at me for the lobster incident and next thing I know is the same person who was screaming at me was being extra nice.

You can find mafias anywhere on a cruise ship. I heard of the bar mafia where the bartender would make the drinks for one person over another assuring that person makes a heck of a lot of money in one night, while the other person who is still clueless of what is going on is barely scraping at the bottom of the barrel for any tips because waiting for a drink long time is absolutely unacceptable for our instant gratification 

"I paid a lot of money for this cruise" guests. I think by now you get the idea, they are everywhere. You may think to yourself now, "that's so unfair." Yes, I agree it is not fair especially when getting time for rest is such a hard thing to get and we are all there to make more money to go back home and eventually quit ships. But one thing that I have learned on ships is that my supervisor was right, ships either make or break you. And in all fairness, that person that you hate because of the above-mentioned reasons has made it on ships unfortunately by using the mafia system or being a part of it. So, if you figured by now that mafias are just a simple part of ship life, world and system and find your niche about hot to find out who, where, what when, and how, life may be on the brighter side, but do remember it is always with some form of cost or at a price.

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