The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 9, issue 5
International Institute of Modern Butlers
Message from the Chairman
Enjoy the issue, which is quite long (so better I not make it longer!). However, please let us know if there is anything you’d like to see covered in future MBJs.
Letters to the Editor
“I am reading your book and finding it very interesting as well as informative. Would you by chance know where I might find a reliable online source for (1) a standard 3-tiered silver (or metal) tea stand for tea sandwiches and cakes that plates can be placed on; and (2) a maid’s uniform (dark dress, white collar, white cuffs, apron). Thank you. TS
“Thank you for your prompt reply. I am not a Butler but certainly appreciate reading about how things should be done correctly. The information you provided guided me in refining my search and I have ordered two tea stands that suited my purposes perfectly. Those uniforms are exactly what I had in mind, thank you. TS
“Do you have printed information/guidelines that pertain to domestic staff understanding “Privacy Boundaries” with the Principals? I am having a difficult time with our newest housekeeper understanding and adhering to this concept. She will interrupt me during the day to do little tasks in the room in which I am working and then initiate a conversation. When she walks into a room that my husband or I are in, she will start apologizing for doing so instead of just exiting quietly. I and my other housekeeper have tried to explain why she can’t do this. She claims she understands but it continues to happen. She will also call out to me across the house when I am in her visual field to say things like, “Good Morning!” I had to tell her to please stop “singing” when she is cleaning. I do love her otherwise. She is a good housekeeper but has never worked in an estate…only at our Country Club’s sports facility, where her behavior was permitted to some degree. I don’t want to stifle her spirit…but….I can’t allow this to continue.” P.H.
Ed: Thanks for explaining the situation with your chatty new housekeeper. Yes, that is unfortunately a very common problem, especially in the US and with staff who are not used to working in private households. If you’ve already explained it to her several times, she obviously has other underlying issues that need to be addressed (for example, we find people often have been very specifically “trained” into these wrong habits elsewhere — perhaps someone has told her she “must always be friendly to guests or principals.” This may have occurred at the country club where she worked, which is of course an environment where that would be appropriate behavior. She basically needs to be “retrained” into her new environment, which usually takes a little bit of time and one-on-one attention. The Institute can deliver that sort of training (it would only take a day or so). Or you could simply wait until the butler we have hired for you arrives. He is used to training & correcting private household staff, has the right viewpoint and background and can start addressing the issue immediately. In the meantime, my recommendation would be to repeat your request to her, in a very friendly but firm way. State exactly how you DO want her to behave and then make her watch a series like Downton Abbey on her own time — tell her this will show her “the right way” to deal with her employers in a private household setting. Unfortunately, we at the Institute do not have anything in writing that you could use to correct/retrain her. But you could try a book like Letitia Baldridge’s New Manners for New Times
“I appreciate your input and suggestions. I lent her “Downton Abbey” to take home today. We had a long chat about it on Saturday. She does seem to have listened to me because she is better today. The good news is that she really likes learning to become more professional. I hope it will work out. I will look at New Manners for New Times….already have Butlers and Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals.”
Ed: I am delighted to hear that you are beginning to see some improvements now with your housekeeper. It is a good sign that she is responding to your instructions and that she wants to learn. I am sure (your new butler) will be able to finish up what you’ve started and get her up to par.
Butlers in the Media
Some random thoughts being expressed about the high demand in England for butlers by the extremely wealthy from other countries —including the view that those filling the demand are not being properly trained.
A butler in Norway is being sued by his employers for allegedly stealing $1 million over the twelve years he was in the service of the matriarch. However, not all things are as they seem: he claims he was given bonuses and that monies spent were in the service of the employer, or provided as gifts. There is no substitute for a good paper trail and record of monies coming in and going out, especially when in the service of an elderly employer who may not keep a close eye on finances—or relatives who might suspect the worst. And there is no substitute for having clean hands, either.
An interesting piece about media depictions of butlers not being true to the way butlers really were and how they acted in the old days, and therefore being incorrect. The point that is being missed is that the way a table was laid a century ago is not necessarily the only way to lay a table. What is timeless about the butler is not so much the mechanics of the profession and whether or not he wears white gloves when serving at table, as the understandings and standards for which he strives in the service of the discerning/demanding.
A touching story to inspire hotel butlers: German Chancellor Merkel visited the butler who had served her for four decades at the hotel she visits each year for her vacations—he had left the employ of the hotel and so Chancellor Merkel tracked him down and visited him in his home.
A hotel butler reminisces about serving Prime Minister Thatcher in 1984.
Congratulations to IIMB member Mr. Giovanni Lodigiani, who advised the lead actor, Christian De Sica—who plays a “master of the household” role—on costumes, uniforms, general royal court vocabulary, standards, mannerism and so on in the recently released movie, The Unlawful Prince. It is a comedy with the plot set in a contemporary European royal court. The title for his role, (Gran Ciambellano/Lord Chamberlain) is of medieval origin, from the French “chambellan” and, formerly, from the Latin “Camerarius” (from which the title of “Camerlengo” is still used in the Vatican Court), and signified the person in charge of the treasury or the king’s room.
The new CEO of Starwood had some interesting things to say recently: “The wealthy today are more diverse—there are more wealthy women, and Asia is home to more millionaires and billionaires even though in the United States there are more millionaires and billionaires than ever before. Great design and great service by itself can’t set you apart anymore. The old notion of luxury of serving ladies and gentleman is a credo for the ages, but I’m not sure it’s a credo for this age of change. Today, one consumer’s definition of luxury might not be another’s definition of luxury. Brands are no longer the arbiters of what luxury is today. It used to be that scarcity was a defining feature for luxury, but now it depends on who a consumer views as the arbiter—a fashion blogger, a concierge or their favorite magazine editor.”
Whatever innovative and satisfying activities, locations, technology and other experiences offered guests, they will value also the kind of solicitous and refined service they expect in their private estates. Maybe the new CEO will help Starwood understand that, in the quest to achieve luxury by cutting costs, they seem to have missed the boat in this regard.
Talking of creating one-of-a-kind experiences, some travel agencies, the equivalent of the butler in terms of expectations being exceeded, do oblige—although those listed in the article do not include the really exclusive sources, such as Fischer Travel, nor the really wild purveyors, such as the old Dreammaker International.
Mature (48 – 56) domestic couple/caregivers sought for the Ohio estate of an elderly couple. The principals are snowbirds and only in Ohio part of the year. This is a live-in position. The woman must have good knowledge of housekeeping duties. You’ll only do light housekeeping yourself, but will need to supervise housekeepers. Must be able to do all cooking (simple cuisine) and provide daily, personal “elderly” 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’ll also perform basic maintenance/ handyman/gardening/ car work from time to time. Some driving required: to/from airport & doctors and running of errands. Employers are looking for a couple that’s in it for the long haul (at least 10 years). Good remuneration package with full benefits. If interested, email enquiries @ modernbutlers.com with resumes including your contact information, a professional photo and your salary requirements.
Selecting a Cigar Lighter, Part One of Two
Before one can light a cigar, one must make a hole in the cap to draw the smoke through. Some smokers, especially the Cubans, bite the end off their cigars. Others pinch off the cap with a fingernail. In order to avoid ruining a cigar, it is preferable to use a cutter. There are differing opinions on the best way to cut a cigar and a wide variety of cutters exist to serve the various schools of thought.
This month we look at some of the types and consider their advantages and disadvantages.
Most cigar lovers use a sharp guillotine-type cutter, leaving a little of the cap to hold the head of the cigar together. If the blades are beveled on both sides, it does not matter which way round you hold it. Single-bladed guillotines are not recommended for those of us called upon to cut cigars for our employers or guests. Single-bladed guillotines are more compact, but it is more difficult to create a straight cut with the single blade, as they can slip. (A straight cut is a cut that runs at a 90◦ angle to the length of a cigar).
If the hole one makes is too small or the blades of your cutter are dull and compress the filler, the cigar will be hard to draw on and liable to overheat. If one cuts off too much of the cap, the cigar may unravel. Good, sharp twin-blade guillotines have the advantage that they can be made to ‘grip’ the head while one checks both sides to ensure the cut will be straight. Then, without shifting the cutter (that would tear the cap), one snips firmly and confidently. A slow, uncertain cut is rough and wanders off-course.
A good guideline for the beginner practicing on a parejo (straight-sided cigar) is to place a sharp, twin-blade guillotine flat on a side plate or salver. Centre the cigar in the guillotine opening vertically, cap down, and snip. Most guillotine cutters are the correct thickness for this to work. However, this technique will mark a person as an amateur and one should only do this once or twice in the beginning, while learning. It is very difficult to ‘trim’ a hole that is too small, so it is best to do it correctly the first time.
Guillotine cutters can cut any shape cigar, as long as the head will fit into the guillotine opening. They are the easiest to use and so are most often the first choice of novices. However, I continue to use this style of cutter for its reliability, ease of use and compact dimensions—it is so easy to slip into a waistcoat (vest) pocket.
They look like normal scissors except that they have rounded ‘parrot beak’ blades designed to encircle the cap before cutting. Some fold over like old-fashioned sewing scissors, so that the handle covers the blade. Although they are bigger than the guillotine cutter, such safety scissors may also be carried in a waistcoat pocket.
Scissors can cut practically any shape cigar, but it is more difficult to judge the amount one is cutting off with scissors than with the twin-blade guillotine. Scissors require a confident hand and are more often the choice of those who are slightly more experienced.
Let’s Talk about Wine, Part XIV
by Amer Vargas
Today we return to South America to have a look at Argentinian wines.
Argentinian wine-making tradition dates back to the 16th century, when Spanish colonizers brought in vitis vinifera (grapes suitable for wine production) to enable the Catholic missionaries in that country to offer wine for Mass. Excellent soil and climate conditions in the regions around the Andes led to a quick expansion of viticulture. In the 19th century, European immigrants started introducing new wine-making techniques based on scientific research and new technologies. So began a great increase in the country’s wine production.
However, not everything was as great as expected. Since the mid-1800s and early 1900’s, the land devoted to vineyards had multiplied more than a hundredfold, which had stimulated the focus on low quality wine for mass consumption. Then, the arrival of soda drinks in the 20th century and the increased world-wide popularity of beer in the 1970s, led to many Argentinian winemakers losing their markets. Since then, more attention has been put on making quality wines, rather than on producing huge amounts of wine to be sold to mass markets, and today Argentinian wines once again enjoy a bright reputation.
The Andes—the mountain range that acts as a natural boundary between Argentina and Chile—provides a wide range of different soils at their base, which are rich in clay and sand and allow for the cultivation of vineyards. High-quality water of extreme purity flows down the mountains, also providing just the right amount of humidity to the region. This feeds the vines as they need, whilst the dry continental climate, together with the distance from big cities and contaminated areas, make it very easy to produce organic wines with almost no artificial treatments.
Talking about Argentinian red wines means talking about Malbec, Argentina’s flagship variety original from France that was wiped out in Europe after the phylloxera attack there at the end of the 19th century. But its growth carried on in Argentina, where winemakers consolidated their appreciation for the grape and the wonderful wines that it produced. Nowadays, Argentina has the largest Malbec acreage in the world, involving more than a third of the red wine varieties. Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot are also produced in the country.
For the white wine varieties, the sweet Pedro Gimenez is the most cultivated, followed by Torrontés (Riojano and Sanjuanino), Chardonnay and Chenin. Argentina is extremely proud of Torrontés, a variety of incomparable flavor produced only in Argentina and found across all wine-making regions there.
Pairing wines from these two varieties is very easy and straightforward, because they have a strong personality that needs to be matched with the food they accompany. Thus, Malbec pairs well with red meats, grilled meats, strong flavored cheeses, and pasta with tomato based sauces; as for Torrontés, its perfume and freshness match excellently with white fish and shellfish—or you may want to play with the contrast of aromatic and spicy Indian, Chinese or Thai cuisine.
I raise my glass of fresh and pale Torrontés Riojano to all of you. Salud!
Great Expectations, Part One of Two
by Bonnie Low-Kramen
It is crystal clear to me that many of the problems between employers and assistants in our workplace could be prevented by a clear set of written expectations. It surprises me to learn that many assistants begin Day #1 of their jobs without anything in writing as regards to a job description or compensation package. This scenario is a set-up for miscommunications, resentments, and ultimately, failure. Most often it is the assistant who ends up quitting her/his job which is a lose/lose situation. I believe that these ideas can be applied equally well to everyone in private service.
The Wharton School of Business recently issued an interesting report regarding the reasons why women earn 80% of what men earn. It said that only 7% of women will negotiate their compensation offers, as compared with 57% of men who decide to negotiate a better deal. The report explained that 93% of women accepted what they were offered without questioning it, mainly because of their fear of not being liked. Women view negotiation as an uncomfortable confrontation to be avoided. Men, on the other hand, (at least 57% of them) view negotiation as “fun” and “a game” that can result in increased compensation.
Given that the profession of being an assistant consists of 95% women in the United States and 98% women in the United Kingdom, we need to look at realistic solutions to the issues facing us regarding not only successfully negotiating compensation but also job expectations.
Assistants need to have their deal in writing as an important place to begin their work. Job descriptions do not have to be written in stone, but they do need to be written. The document is subject to change by mutual agreement. Inevitably, assistants report “scope creep,” a term which means the scope of work starts growing…and growing and growing…unless it is controlled and anticipated. Documentation enables the assistant to negotiate an adjusted package, factually and calmly based on the revised job description.
There is too much suffering in silence and fear in today’s workplace and this includes private homes. This is the case with both assistants and principals and the consequences all too often include bullying and destructive behaviors, which lower morale and productivity. Given this reality, we need to put our minds on positive and reasonable ways to speak to one another to handle the inevitable problematic situations.
As a tool, I have created a Code of Ethics and Conduct for Employers and Assistants (Editor’s note: which will be published in next month’s MBJ, so stay tuned). It is a place to start as you begin what I hope will be a long and mutually satisfying term of work with your employer and company.
Assistants and employers alike have challenging and demanding jobs. Let us help one another by clearly discussing our expectations up front and put them in writing. Doing this at the beginning will pay off in the long run and fewer staffers will feel the need to quit.
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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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