The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 10, issue 2
International Institute of Modern Butlers
Message from the Chairman
The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article a few days ago on butler schools tussling over what they consider to be proper training for butlers—something the Institute has been soapboxing over for a decade now. In fact, the editorial of the last MBJ touched upon this very subject.
The number of people training others to be butlers has burgeoned over the last few years, and it does not appear that all these trainers have ever been butlers, let alone been well educated on how to be a butler, with all the skills, with the nuances and understandings in application that take a lifetime to develop. I have been in this profession a quarter of a century, and if I were to statisize how much I know of what I should know, it would be about 25%! Maybe by the time I am 135, I will have the job down cold!
I sympathize with both camps: we need to retain the traditional, as well as cater to the technology-centric environment and international cultures that we serve. This requires a synthesis of both standards, which is what we, and no doubt the better schools and trainers, do. Arguing how “the other camp is no good” is the kind of game we butlers seem to enjoy—on a par with “should one serve at table in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction”—an argument usually characterized by raised eyebrows, testy verbiage, and great feelings of muted umbrage.
In truth, as the years march on inexorably, tolerance and the bigger picture seem to come to the fore more, and any ideas that one has to compete, and be the only player allowed to play the game, fall away. If someone wants to teach others how to butle, then good luck to him or her. I am sure they realize that an insufficiency of knowledge and skills will result in a self-defeating poor word of mouth eventually, as well as violation a trust, and so will do their utmost to come up to speed and do a good job.
It would be much better if we could have a standard that all trainers adhered to: that does not mean that all the training by all schools should be the same, but it does mean that certain skills should be taught, the sum total of which would allow a trainee to perform correctly to employer expectations and standards. But surprise, surprise, when we approached butler schools about such an idea on at least three different occasions over the last decade (the Institute was founded with this as one of its key goals), in a spirit of cooperation, the prevailing view was turf protection (sorry to say).
Such a response is understandable, especially when one looks at the leaders of each school: they are refined versions of the classic “rugged individual” who have staked a claim, created a whole edifice, and left their imprimatur (stamp) on the profession. Even though I was pushing for this collaboration, I also suffered from this same malaise, and so did not push sufficiently to overcome the logistical nightmare that was presented by combining curricula, including pet concepts and proprietary systems.
And actually, did we really want to lose the variety offered by different players to service different clients and their differing needs and preferences?
Old style butling definitely calls for invisible and discreet service as a point of defining who we are as butlers. But don’t tell that to the mainland Chinese: I had to return to retrain butlers who were upsetting guests by not being in their face enough (from our point of view in the Occident), and instead, hanging around like specters (from the Oriental point of view).
If we want to stand on our principles, then we will be standing on some of our principals, too, if we feel that there is only one right way to do something. A host passes the port to the guest of honor on his right and then clockwise around the table to the rest of the guests. That is THE way to do it because it has been done that way for centuries by the British navy. But does it mean that such a protocol is a universal truth? Nope. Only for people who want to make sure they are following English tradition.
So, I do not believe the issue is “Traditional or modern?” The real issue we need to address as a still rather small group of butler trainers, is “How can we make it possible for all butler training to deliver the required results, so that our profession, and particularly the sub-set of trainers within it, is regarded well and continues to be in demand because it delivers on the promise.”
That will take a wee bit of humility, good intention, and collaboration, laying aside some of that rugged individualism!
Butlers in the Media
A positive and upbeat article on the demand for, duties and remuneration of, butlers.
Here’s a new one: butlers in holiday cottages in England: this owner obviously gets the message!
The only butler in Central Europe? Not likely, but a positive article, and it is good to know there is at least one butler in Prague.
A survey of hotel guests around the world shows they are looking for personalized services, and ones that reflect their lifestyles and customs—as a mark of respect—this demand coming particularly from guests from emerging countries. The Hotel Butler fits nicely into fulfilling this demand.
Another robot butler in the offing…
An interesting discussion amongst hotel guests concerning concierges and butlers—and the ever perplexing question about proper tipping.
Let’s Talk about Wine, Part XXII
by Amer Vargas
Fortified wines, Part II
Madeira is a fortified wine originally from the Madeira Islands of Portugal and is famous both as a drink and as an ingredient in traditional Portuguese gastronomy. It is produced mainly with Malvasia, Bual, Verdelho and Sercial grapes. Madeira is special, not only because of it being fortified, but also because during aging, the wine is improved by heated it up to 55 0C/130 0F. Depending on the aging time, Madeira wines are categorized as Reserve (5 years), Special Reserve (10), Extra Reserve (+15), Colheita (+15) or Vintage/Frasqueira (20 or more years). For cooking, special Madeira wine is aged for at least three years.
The Vins doux naturels are originally from the South of France and can be produced out of Muscat, Grenache, Macabeo, or Malvoise grapes. Whichever grapes are used, the fermentation process is stopped by adding a maximum of 10% of strong grape spirit. The most famous vins doux are the Muscats from Rivesaltes, Frontignan, Mireval, the Rivesalts, les Maury, and the Banyuls (all of them Denomination of Origin places).
The Marsala wine is a Sicilian wine presented both in fortified and unfortified versions. First produced as a cheap substitute for Sherry and Port, this drink is name after Sicily’s port, Marsala, from where it was shipped for commercialization (mainly to England). Fortified Marsala is wine produced usually with Grillo, Inzolia and Catarratto white grapes. These are blended with brandy and allowed to age for no less than four months in the case of the basic Fine, two years for Superiore, four years for Superiore Riserva, five years for Vergine/Solera, and ten years for Vergine/Solera Straveccio and Vergine/Soleras Riserva. Whilst Marsala is appreciated in both its fortified and unfortified versions, this wine is used frequently in Italian cuisine.
Vermouth is one of the most famous fortified wines worldwide. Its name was inspired by a German wine flavored with wormwood—a herb used in distilling absinthe. While herbs were used originally to cover rough flavors in cheaper wines, the current recipe aromatizes a neutral grape wine by adding dry aromatic botanicals, like roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs and spices. After fortification and aromatization, the vermouth may undergo a sweetening with cane sugar or caramelized sugar. The original drink from the 18th century was only available in dry and sweet versions, but over time, demand for greater choices resulted in the extra-dry white, sweet white, red, rosso (amber) and rosé versions that are marketed nowadays. Whilst Vermouth is sometimes used in cooking as a substitute for white wine, it is enjoyed widely on its own as an aperitif, or mixed with other spirits; indeed, bartenders find it to be one of the best mixers for their cocktail creations.
This butler suggests the easiest of cocktails: chilled vermouth with lemon peel (or Maraschino cherry if you prefer it sweet) and 2-3 drops of bitters. Cheers!
We would like to thank Mr. Vargas for his excellent series on wines around the world, which is now complete. Tune in for the next series, on spirits, starting with whiskey. Mr. Vargas can be contacted via AmerVargas at modernbutlers.com
Perceptions of the Butler (Part 5 of 7)
by GJ dePillis
Continuing with our questionnaire about an employer’s perception of a butler, we wanted to see how the potential employer viewed the butler in society, and how they would react to other, more serious issues.
What are the sociological implications of an employer with domestic staff?
Frequently, our image of a profession is shaped by our expectations, which are often influenced by media. Television, marketing, books, songs, and movies set an image in our minds. When one mentions a “butler” to a potential employer, more often than not, they think of Jeeves, the all-knowing discreet butler character from the PG Wodehouse books. Today, more often then not Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey comes to mind.
Yet, all these characters simply serve to entertain us. They are not real people who actually hold these positions. The real people need to contend with real problems that their employers expect them to solve, problems like day-to-day maintenance or their own personal lives.
When one mentions the word “slavery,” most people think this is a problem that does not impact people who live in the United States today. Most Americans are actually against the concept of working for only food and shelter and not having any rights at all. Most, also, could not imagine the position of “butler” ever being an unpaid position. Fortunately, United States citizens recognize the expertise that is required to fill the butler role and they could not imagine how such a role could be fulfilled against one’s will (as in the case of a slave).
So, we asked: if the interviewee were to travel to another home, and bring their butler with them, and noticed maltreatment of the staff in the host’s home, how would they, the interviewee, react?
While the majority (65%) wouldn’t stand for it, a surprisingly large group (35 %) said that they would allow the host to manage their own staff as they saw fit. While they would never personally demand anything harshly from their staff, the only instance in which they felt it would be proper to intervene in the management of another’s household was if they saw their own butler in danger, or being maltreated, or if they thought someone’s life was in danger, such as from a severe beating.
- Would you intervene if it was your butler who was mistreated? 100% said yes and that they would leave. They felt the mistreatment of their own staff would be an insult to them, personally;
- Would you intervene if it was the staff or butler of the host who was being mistreated? 35% said they would ignore it. 65% would say something about it to the host and then leave. They would consider calling the authorities if the mistreatment were severe.
How does an employer view the person who is acting as a butler: As a unique person with their own likes and wishes, or as property they can loan out at will?
50% said they would loan out their butler to another household if they thought that household was in dire need and had no resources to find their own butler, or as a business perk for an important client.
100% of those who would lend out the services of their butler, stated they would lend him for just two days or less.
The length of time is brief because the employer has hired this butler for his own household. They would suggest to their friend(s) that they hire their own butler if a request was made to extend beyond two days.
Would you ask your butler first before offering their services to another household?
100% said yes.
One household, consisting of two maids, one cook, two personal assistants and a pilot, had no butler because the master of the home felt he could do the job himself. What occurred in practice, however, was a variety of mix-ups because while he, the owner of the estate, was busy doing his business negotiations, he could not manage the staff. His wife loved to collect expensive art objects. No insurance was purchased for these and no inventory was made. Therefore, in the event of damage or loss, nothing would be covered. In looking at this, they realized they needed a butler to manage such household duties and additional projects requiring contractors, while the master and mistress followed their own pursuits.
Ms. dePillis is a freelance contributor to the Journal who is based on the West Coast of the United States. She can be reached via depillis at gmail.com
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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