Any trainer will tell you that the most challenging class to teach is not the class who questions your facts, but is in fact the class who simply sit there and accept every word without comment. Teaching a class of living dead is a disheartening, energy sapping exercise at best. I enjoy being challenged; it means I have to be sure of my facts. What I enjoy most however, is when I student asks a question that opens up a whole new area of discussion.
This week a student asked me a seemingly innocuous question about lunching with guests on day trips. It seemed that quite a few guests had some degree of confusion regarding the butler’s role on the excursion; were they there to serve, or were they there to participate? A few more questions and we got to the source of the confusion – the head butler had instructed the team to wear civilian clothes while accompanying the guests off-premises. This had naturally opened up innumerable possibilities for confusion. Of course such confusion can also occur even when one is in uniform and butlers often ask me what they should do in such situations. They are always a little taken aback when I tell them that it is best not to allow such situations to arise in the first place.
The reality is that when a butler accompanies the guest off-premises, they are still on duty and they are there to serve, not to be entertained at the guest’s expense. These misunderstandings happen when the lines are blurred. This is not to say one may not be friendly, but when one accompanies the guest on an excursion, one must have a clear role or function in the excursion. If not, then there is no reason to go along is there? Ascertain what it is the guest wants to do, arrange it for them and see them off. If you do accompany them, wearing civilian clothes blurs the line between on-duty and off-duty, opening the door to misunderstandings. This gives rise to uncomfortable situations which complicate the butler-guest dynamic, such as my student being invited into a bar to have a drink with his guest.
Avoid this by having a clear departmental policy for guest excursions. Be in uniform, be proactive and take the lead. Actively host the guest, plan the day (remain flexible) and be on the front foot when offering services. If you stand around dithering, the guest may invite you in simply because they don’t know what else to do with you! Present them to the manager of the establishment, make sure they are well taken care of and, having arranged a time to return and collect them, make your exit. If one does this with aplomb and style, all the while remaining polite, you avoid opening the door to uncertainty. In short, you are not distant; you simply have a clearly defined role to play which you execute with friendly and faultless efficiency.
About the Author (Author Profile)Vice President Africa, Middle East and Indian Ocean The International Institute of Modern Butlers
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