The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 8, issue 11
International Institute of Modern Butlers
Message from the Chairman
In our profession, discretion is an admired quality that is also a trademark. Quite rightly so, if we are to ever be allowed into another’s estate to serve them. The downside, which has yet to be identified as such, is that one can fall into smiling at another while thinking daggers—an emotion that is easy to see and unpleasant to be confronted with—and following a hidden agenda. When it becomes a habit, a person will be all smiles and handshakes while being busy undermining the person they pretend to befriend. It is my hope that this element of our profession can be reduced, as it serves neither perpetrator nor victim well. It results in broken promises to communicate or otherwise to do something, and a general culture of distrust and faux relationships. It is possible to maintain one’s integrity, to keep one’s own counsel, and to help others, without falling into pretense. I am sure you will agree with me, if you have ever felt a twinge of betrayal as a result of another’s actions.
On a different and sad note, Ms. Letitia Baldrige just passed away. The NYT provides a suitable eulogy for this bulwark of manners—her view being that manners are not a set of restrictive rules to be followed, but genuine consideration for others.
Letters to the Editor
“This sounds a bit left field, but to explain: Airlines are charging so much for a second bag nowadays, it works out cheaper to take a second passenger and carry one bag each. We thought it would be quite fun to do a story saying ‘If you want to cut the cost of air travel, have a butler travel with you.’ Any thoughts?” DM, National Newspaper Editor, London
Ed: It would be a clever vehicle for having a dig at the airline excesses, which I am sure will continue until passengers say “No more!” If you are wondering what the baggage-fee equivalent may be for renting a butler for the day, however, you are looking at $500 US minimum, so I don’t think it will work in the mathematics department when added to the butler’s fare, even if he is booked in steerage. But please, do what you can to make it fly in the world of emotions—you have our support.
Butlers in the Media
An interesting article on the more lavish hotel suites available for one’s employer when traveling.
A curious article, also about hotel suites and amenities, and claiming to cover the Top Ten Things Luxury Guests Want, talks of Fragrance Butlers, Surf Butlers, Tanning Butlers, and Tartan Butlers, but makes no mention of actual butlers.
Yet another hotel-related article, this time from CNN, while it implies for some reason that there is something wrong with “on-call butlers,” draws attention to what it calls faux butlers—the emergence of “e-butlers who help the hapless get online; BBQ butlers who grill your dinner; boot butlers to refresh your ski boots after a day on the slopes; and a sunglasses butler to clean and repair your eye wear. What’s next? Our guess is an SPF butler to apply sunscreen to your nose.” We couldn’t agree more, and that is why we created the Hotel Butler Rating System in 2007, so as to differentiate between hotels working hard to provide real butler service, and those that just use the word “butler” as a marketing gimmick to identify in the guest’s mind the idea of “superior service” with whatever non-butler service they happen to want to market and sell.
Along the same line, here is another worldly item that has been graced with the moniker “butler” for instant positioning with superior service.
The Art of Being a Personal Assistant
An Interview Gone Wrong
I am sharing this story about an interview I had for a domestic position because the cultural complexities and the intellectual and protocol dynamics might be of interest to others, as I assess what went wrong and why, and offer ways to resolve these issues in the short and long term.
I was invited to a major hedge fund to interview for a residential, domestic project. That was all I knew. The contact was a man who presented himself as the principal, and his family name suggested to me that he came from a developing country. When I arrived at the office, the receptionist laughed when I told her whom I was meeting. I apologized for the mispronunciation and she clarified that she was laughing because the name was an alias. The man I eventually met was from a different developing nation than the one I had guessed, but despite the alias, was nonetheless a partner and major player in the firm. He told me that he wanted to hire me for two reasons:
1. To teach his chauffeur how to be punctual when meeting him and, equally as important, to bring him to his destination on time or even a bit early—he confided that he had been yelling at the chauffeur daily for years, but he just would not change.
2. To teach his housekeeper how to be more efficient and have a better disposition.
I asked him why he had kept her and the gentleman said that his wife liked her and she did not steal the jewelry.
He then asked me to tell him how I was going to accomplish these requests.
Here is what I said and how it unfolded. I began with the idea that he obviously wanted to invest in them by hiring me, so that said a great deal about what he thought of them already. I asked how long the housekeeper and chauffer had been with him and whether they were related.
“Two-to-three years, not related,” was the reply.
I asked what nationalities they were and the gentleman became incensed, saying that was none of my business and had nothing to do with the problems.
I said “Sir, with all due respect, I recently studied a contemporary culture that lives on boats and which has no concept of what day or time it is. Perhaps your chauffeur does not understand the integrity that is evoked by being on time in our Western culture. In that case, I could teach him pragmatically why it is crucial for you to be on time and why it builds self esteem for him.”
The gentleman replied, “Wrong answer!”
I was utterly shocked. Not embarrassed so much as intellectually at a loss as to what the answer should be. I asked if he wanted to have a discussion about the question, but he indicated he was ready for me to leave. I then said I was confident that I could empower the housekeeper to be more efficient and have more joy in her work. I explained my lifetime of esoteric knowledge and how it was directly applicable to her in a pragmatic and tangible way. But he merely repeated that the meeting was over and walked me to the door.
Needless to say, I was not offered the project. This is the one and only time I have ever had this type of conversation and experience. I welcome your insights into what the answer to his question should have been, and what went wrong in our rapport. Do you think it was personal and he did not like me, the messenger? Perhaps I was right and he wanted my advice for free? Maybe he was so accustomed to yelling, being angry, and belittling others that this was the only way he knew to interact? Please advise if you feel so inclined. I welcome your thoughts.
The location used for the shooting of the popular TV Series DOWNTON ABBEY is Highclere Castle in England, and the real-world occupants (Earl and Countess Carnarvorn) are advertizing for an underbutler. What is of interest is the preferred prior experience: “Experience in the hotel or fine dining industry is important, as is an outgoing personality keen to engage and provide a top-class service to a wide range of people. A knowledge of wine and fine food is useful.”
Cigars, Part IX
Part 1 of 3: Setting up the Humidor
Now that you have selected the right humidor, you will have to set it up. A humidor is not just a pretty box; it essentially tries to mimic the tropical environment in which the cigars originated. A dry cigar is harsh to smoke and has lost aromatic oils. A damp cigar will become mouldy quickly in warm weather and will be hard to light in cold weather. Make sure to position your humidor away from direct sunlight, drafts, fireplaces, and central heating or air-conditioning outlets.
Before you can stock cigars in your humidor, you will need to season it. This takes time and patience. If you are tempted to rush the process you may end up with a situation that takes even longer to remedy. If there is one thing I have learned about regulating humidors, it is that gradual, gentle changes are easier to control than wild swings resulting from rash attempts to change conditions quickly inside a humidor.
Calibrating your Hygrometer
One may assume that the cedar lining of a new humidor will be dry. If you stock a new humidor as is, the dry wood will draw all the moisture from the cigars. In order to know whether you are hitting the target or not, you will need an accurate hygrometer. Most digital hygrometers come already calibrated. Analogue ones must be calibrated before use. Here are some links that show a number of different ways to do this. The most well-know is probably the famous salt test.
While this method is quite accurate, do not use it to test a digital hygrometer as the corrosive atmosphere is not good for electronics (despite the text of one article saying that it is suitable for both types). I don’t imagine a corrosive environment is good for either type. However, if one only does it once, it would probably be alright for an analogue hygrometer.
An alternative is to wrap the hygrometer in a damp cloth for several hours, unwrap it and quickly take a reading. It should read around 95%. Take a note of how far off it is and then allow it to return to an ambient reading before adjusting it.
A better choice (and a very inexpensive one) is the Bóveda One Step Calibration pack. Said to be used by many museums, including the National Gallery, it seems to be well worth the $5 asking price and it is available online.
Follow the instructions in the owner’s manual for making the adjustments to your hygrometer. This can be a rather delicate operation. Should you be wary of tackling this, remember that some people just make a note of the variance and take it into account, never actually adjusting their hygrometers.
Let’s Talk about Wine, Part XI
by Amer Vargas
There are different types of Port made from different grapes and grapes from different vintages (harvesting years). There is also a difference in the amount of time the brew is stored , either in bottles or barrels—where the Port acquire hints of wood and/or benefits from the changes that only time can provide. According to the Instituto do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Institute), there are the nine official Port classifications:
-White: dry and sweet versions generally taken as an aperitif, with the dry versions aged up to ten years.
-Ruby: basic Port that acquires its name from the color of the brew. It’s aged for up to three years in a barrel, then bottled ready for consumption, and has a characteristic sweet and slightly spicy taste. The superior quality Rubies are called Premium Ruby.
-Tawny: also derives its name from the color of the drink. Real Tawny Port is made from grapes of different harvests and then aged from three to forty years (generally, just a percentage of the drink, not necessarily all of it). During that period, it acquires its brown-red color. Some “sharp” Port-makers make Tawnies by adding White Port to Red Port, but the results are a far cry from the dry and nutty flavours with raisin overtones that are found in the original.
-Crusted: of very limited production, this type of Port is named after the “crust” of sediment that forms in the bottle. It involves a blend of several harvests, bottled without being filtered and then allowed to mature, producing a rich and full-bodied Port wine.
-Vintage Character: (do not confuse with Vintage Port, see below) is a mix of Ruby ports that have undergone a total of four or five years of aging to create a better-than-Ruby Port.
-LBV or Late Bottled Vintage Port: wine from a single harvest, the year stated on the label, which has been aged in a barrel from four to six years. If it’s filtered, it doesn’t need decanting. The unfiltered counterpart is richer, rounder, and offers more complex flavors.
-Single Quinta: The same as an LBV, but coming from one specific vineyard or Quinta.
-Colheita’s: The same as a Tawny, but made out of a single harvest, the year of which is stated on the label, along with the year of bottling and a statement that the drink has aged several years in wooden barrels.
-Vintage: The highest quality Port is made out of a single harvest and aged two-to-three years in a wooden barrel, then bottled unfiltered to age for a considerable number of years. This process develops into the best of the Ports, exhibiting a wide range of flavors like plums, liquorice, pepper, blackcurrants, spices…depending on the maker and the harvest. Vintage Port is made only when the harvest is exceptional, which happens roughly three times each decade.
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The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and skills of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resort, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts, & cruise ships around the world.
About the Author (Author Profile)Steven Ferry is chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers and the author of bestsellers "Butlers & Household Managers 21st Century Professionals" and "Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators." He also trains and consults for the profession around the world.
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