The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 9, issue 3
International Institute of Modern Butlers
Message from the Chairman
Throughout all the centuries butlers have been developing the profession, there has been slow advancement of conditions and technologies in and with which to bring about the superior service for which we are renown. Yet nothing compares with the tools at our disposal today. Take a minor miracle performed recently in Russia, in which a cook was acting unmotivated and listless. A gentle enquiry revealed this condition was a result of finding her husband lifeless a short while before. The Butler in the household was given the know-how to alleviate this terrible experience and she did an excellent job of taking the cook through all the grief, upset, and self-blame connected to it, to the point where she not only emerged free of the past, but was re-invigorated with life—determined to find another husband, but also, intent upon excelling again at her job. And so she has, since. In truth, there are really no situations a butler can encounter today for which tools, technology, and know-how do not exist to resolve them, which can only be good news for all in private service. In a way, we are delivering on the promise of the butler/valet, as embodied in the likes of Jeeves, as the solver of all problems the employer can imagine and present.
Letters to the Editor
“It is always a joy to hear about your global escapades and to see first hand what you are doing for our industry. In this particular Journal, I see that you finally made a break through at the university level… Kudos to you—my hope is that you can eventually bring that spirit of interest home to the States.” LW
“I enjoyed your article about spending time recently in Moscow to speak to faculty and students at that city’s university department for hospitality and tourism. As a college student in NY, I was fortunate to spend January 1972 in Moscow and St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) to study Russian history/language. The restaurants I experienced, both with our student group and when out with locals individually, left much to be desired. Foreign visitors during the Brezhnev era were a new phenomenon but welcomed nonetheless. From steamy basement communal/co-ed showers (only short wood walls between shower spigots) in the hotels, to repeat meals of borscht soup and roast chicken, it was a wondrous time for a girl of 20 to be in those exotic cities. Thanks for making me think about Russia again.” DS
“Do you have any recommendations for hotel butlers to take in order to increase occupancy?” KG
Ed: Hotel butlers do not engage much in the way of promotional actions, really, over and above doing their jobs well. If occupancy is high, then simply doing their job well is the promotional action. If occupancy is not always 100%, then outflow to past guests is sensible, especially those with whom they have established a relationship. This outflow takes the form of letters, cards, or emails. Occasionally, such as was done by Head Butlers at the St. Regis in Aspen and the Rosewood in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, they work with their PR departments to assist newspaper or magazine writers with pieces about superior service in their hotels, or in commenting on current events. Otherwise, one could make sure the hotel’s web site mentions the butler service sufficiently well/prominently—and that would extend to any promotional literature being sent out. These days, having guests’ Twitter addresses allows another personal communication avenue to open and be developed, so that the occasional recommendation to return could be made based on twitter comments posted by the guest. This is just an idea, not anything anyone has mentioned doing, and would have to be done discreetly and intelligently. It could be an imposition if applied rotely by hotel butlers who have not developed a good relationship with the guest. Similarly, if linked to Facebook, one could use that information to know when to send an email (Facebook is too public) suggesting another visit.
“Thank you very much for your answer, which is very useful. At what point is writing to past guests considered acceptable before it becomes junk mail?” KG
Ed: Hotels generally contact past guests with various offers or promotional literature on various channels, and these really are junk mail. What makes outflow from hotels of value (and what I advise hotels to do) is when these contacts come from “their butler” and provide some personalized incentive, whether discounting or alerting to some event that is of known strong interest to the guest, as well as personalized communications or news. If the communication is about the guest, hits their reality level, and is at the correct emotional level, they will respond—and from time to time, even come to stay, as hoped.
Butlers in the Media
It used to be that condotels were a strong market for butlers, but that market disappeared with the economic downturn in 2008 (except in China) as units remained unsold or foreclosed on. The Wall Street Journal reports that this market is finally picking up again—with South America, Asia, and elsewhere buying these properties and developers not including so many condos in their luxury hotels, as well as focusing on the top markets of major cities for their new developments.
An interesting take from Travel Weekly on keeping the wealthy interested in the luxury resorts they frequent, based on the new direction being taken by the revamped Six Senses luxury chain. The luxury service, as presented by butlers for instance, is not in question, but new experiences should be offered that are outside the norm.
The Beginnings of a European DEMA: The European Association of Butlers and Household Staff (www.amepm.eu) has just been established with the goal of bringing together Europe’s Butlers and Household Staff in order to promote and protect the profession for the benefit of future generations, employers, and international recruitment agencies. AMEPM is also dedicated to establishing a network and private concierge service of quality suppliers for its members. In partnership with specialised training institutions, the Association also recommends conferences and seminars to broaden members’ knowledge and expertise in this fast-growing profession. Lastly, AMEPM wishes to build a professional social environment, with dinners and events organised regularly in order to make contacts and encourage constructive exchange between members.
Mature domestic couple/caregivers sought for the Ohio estate of an elderly couple. The principals are snowbirds and only in Ohio for part of the year. This is a live-in position. Woman must have good knowledge of housekeeping duties. You will only do light housekeeping from time to time, but you’ll need to supervise housekeeper. Must be able to do all cooking (simple cuisine) and provide daily, personal care to the principles. Nurse training not required, but a plus. The man will supervise and handle all vendors and contractors who look after pool, gardens etc. He will also perform basic maintenance/ handyman/gardening/car work himself. Some driving is required: to/from airport and running of errands. These are kind employers; they are looking for a couple that’s in it for the long haul. Good remuneration package with full benefits. If interested, email resumes, including good quality photo and salary requirements, to firstname.lastname@example.org
Cigars, Part XIII
Selecting Cigar Accoutrement
On more than one occasion, a hotel manager has insisted that it is not necessary to spend money on new ashtrays and lighters when setting up a cigar bar. “Simply use what we already have,” they told me. The problem here was that what they had was designed for cigarettes.
Cigars are bigger than cigarettes; they will cause small ashtrays to tip and they produce ash in far larger quantities than a cigarette ashtray can cope with. You will disturb the smoker if you keep changing the ashtray every few minutes. It makes no sense investing a large amount in a stock of fine cigars, only to skimp on the details. So, here are a few things to consider:
Fine china ashtrays come in many attractive designs, while crystal remains a classy choice. Never wash your ashtrays in a dishwasher. There is nothing worse than being served food and finding flecks of ash on your plate, glass or fork. Also, if your ashtray is ceramic and has fine gold detailing, this will wear away in the dishwasher. Crystal will go milky and become rough. Wash the ashtray by hand. Steam it under the espresso machine if it goes dull and buff it with a dry cloth – it will return to a brilliant shine. (This trick once fooled a GM into thinking I had bought new ashtrays without asking.)
There is only one modern option for lighting a cigar and that is a butane gas lighter. These produce a blue flame in a tight jet with a soft roar. The gas is odourless, can heat the foot of the cigar quickly and is the only thing that will light a cigar on a windy day (useful for lighting stubborn candles too.) Do not be tempted to buy a cheap knockoff. I can tell you from experience that it will not last in a commercial environment. There can be few things more embarrassing in service than trying to light a cigar in front of a guest and having your lighter play up. If your property will not invest in a quality lighter, why not consider buying your own? If you get a good one, look after it and don’t loan it out to all and sundry. It will not let you down or run out of gas at an inopportune moment. Remember that if the flame is not blue, the gas is not pure and will contaminate the cigar with fuel odours. Cigarette lighters are therefore out of the question.
Traditional alternatives include very long matches or tapers split off the cedar lining of an old cigar box. It is more difficult to light a cigar with these and I cannot recommend this unless the bar is quiet and you have a patient and appreciative guest. Traditionally, these would be brought to the table on a trolley and lit with a candle. This has given rise to the misconception that you should use a candle to light a cigar. Candles impart waxy flavours to a cigar and must be avoided. It is quite in order to use the candle to light the cedar taper however, and then use the taper to light the cigar. The reason for the candle is that you will go through several tapers lighting a single cigar and if you stop to light each one your cigar will go cold between tapers and never be lit.
For the same reason you cannot light a cigar with ordinary household matches – you would need too many. Very long matches will do the trick, but be sure to burn off the smelly sulphur at the end before lighting the cigar with the match.
Next month, we will look at various designs for cigar cutters and discuss the merits of each type before moving on to finally cutting and lighting a cigar for a guest.
Let’s Talk about Wine, Part XII
by Amer Vargas
The Wines of South Africa
This time we are in South Africa, one of the very few African countries that produce fine wines.
Wine production in South Africa dates back to the mid-1600s, when a Dutch surgeon and governor, Van Riebeeck, was put in charge of the Dutch East India Company in Cape Town, then a supply station, to produce grapes and wines to ward off scurvy amongst sailors during their voyages along the spice route. Thus, on 2 February 1659, Van Riebeeck wrote on his diary, “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes.”
When Simon van der Steel replaced Van Riebeeck in the government, he started planting his own vineyards in the former Wildebosch (currently Constantia) with the help of French refugees, the Huguenots, who were experts in viniculture and wine production, and then spread the plantations to a region he called Stellenbosch – meaning: ‘Van der Steel woods’.
The nineteenth century saw the growth in importance of South African wines, most especially sweet wines from Constantia, as well as fortified wines and other spirits. Since then, climate ups and downs, economical and political changes have come and gone while South African libations have survived and improved all throughout the years, achieving high quality and taking the country to the top 10 wine producers worldwide.
South Africa is located at the southern tip of the African continent. Most wine regions are located near the confluences of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, in a Mediterranean climate that is characterized by mild weather in spring, intense sunlight and dry heat in summer, and cold, wet winters.
In general, South African soils tend to retain moisture and drain well as a consequence of their proportion of clay. Some of the soils are so unique that their wines are labeled also by their ward (or terroir).
There are a number of Wines of Origin (WO, a qualification begun in 1973) in South Africa, the majority and most important ones being in the Western and Northern Cape regions. The WO are determined by the sites of the vineyards but, unlike the French AOCs, do not imply a limitation on the varietals allowed to be cultivated.
There are four WO categories: Geographical units (i.e. Western Cape), Regions (Breede River Valley), Districts (Constantia), and Wards (Calitzdorp). Generally speaking, the smaller the WO (e.g. ward rather than geographical unit), the better is the wine.
Around 80% of the vineyards grow white grapes, the most important ones being Steen (local name for Chenin Blanc, by far the most cultivated grape in South Africa), Hanepoot, Colombard, Sauvignon and Cape Riesling; as for the reds, Cinsaut (also known as Hermitage) is the most cultivated, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage.
South African wines are well known for their versatility in pairing, which makes the task very easy. These are some recommendations: crispy Chenin Blancs match very well with light dishes such as chicken, many cheeses, salads and most seafood; sweeter ‘chenins’ contrast deliciously with spicy food, especially if cooked Asian style; Sauvignon blanc pairs very well with soy dressing and salmon dishes; and Pinotage is excellent when combined with sweet salads (with fruit), and duck or lamb.
This writer raises his Raat’s Family Chenin Blanc and wishes his readers all the best!
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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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