The Modern Butlers’ Journal
In its 13th year of continuous publication
International Institute of Modern Butlers
Teaching Right Mindset, People Skills, & Superior-service Expertise
Message from the Chairman
The Professional Standards of Performance for butlers and household managers have been published as a detailed addition to A Professional Butler’s Code of Ethics: Copies of these standards have been sent to our members, and are also available on the Institute’s web site. They are discussed at length in the book Serving the Wealthy: The Modern Butler’s and Household/Estate Manager’s Companion, as well as in the continuing series below by Professor Ratliff. We do look forward to input from you on any tricky situations you have run into during your career, to open the discussion on how the Professional Standards of Performance could be applied for a happy outcome. Together, we can pool and collate our skills and experience into useful pointers for those who follow in our footsteps.
Butlers in the Media
One can now purchase a “Charles the Butler 6-Piece Towel Set”; a Fajita Butler (to help restaurant goers make their own fajitas); and a “Menu Board butler” (not clear what this is, but it seems to be a dozen place cards).
Unfortunately, a butler in Northern England had a gambling habit and thought it best to deal with the inevitable debts by hawking the elderly principals’ valuables, and trying to pull the wool over their eyes when they wondered where their Picasso’s and Fabergé’s were disappearing to. Reprehensible. The individual who hired the butler obviously did not check his background well enough, because the warning signs were there. Although the butler was given free accommodation, his pay was pitiful, so this idea amongst some employers that it is fine to pay the help a pittance is probably a mistake they’ll never recognize (despite the expression “Pay peanuts, get monkeys”)—a mistake that cost them two million GBP in heirlooms, versus, say 60,000 GBP if they had simply doubled his salary over the years the butler worked for them. As for the butler—no formal training, just a military background—an old route into the butling profession based on points of discipline and acquiescence more than any other, more relevant skills.
All of this was avoidable with a modicum of intelligent management.
“What a wonderful idea, asking the Butler community for its input on issues that we know we have all experienced at one time or another. I, for one, no longer feel alone in my thoughts and feelings, so thanks for your insight. I look forward to starting a new month with your wonderful news letter, please keep up the good work, Sir.” PW
By Professor Richard Ratliff
An Awkward Dinner Guest
(A Real Life) Scenario: A couple invited to a small dinner party asked permission to bring a visiting friend. Arriving, this friend loudly interrupted and usurped the conversations; he instructed the hostess on how to prepare a “proper” Italian minestrone soup (the first course of the meal); wore a casual shirt and cardigan whereas the dress code was tie and jacket (explaining that people where he was from knew how to hold a “relaxed and enjoyable dinner party”); noted the mental and social inferiors he had met at a Rotary luncheon earlier that day in town with his host; and committed other gross faux pas. The insensitive, ill-mannered guest was ruining the evening for everyone. The couple who had brought him was obviously distressed at his behavior. So the dinner host summoned the butler quietly: “Please do something!”
Standards: Professional Standards of Performance state the following: “A butler must be able to resolve and manage awkward circumstances with poise while preserving the dignity of others and the occasion. The butler…should employ…a relationship-based…philosophy. Any guest is a very important person (VIP) and should be treated as such. [H]ousehold staff should cater to guests’ tastes, preferences, and comfort, consistent with house rules and standards, according to the employer’s wishes.”
A Butler’s Professional Code of Ethics requires the following: “Serve members of the household and guests as they choose to be served…” Work toward achieving a strong foundation of mutual respect in your relationships with…guests….Behave respectfully toward all persons….”
Possible Solution: The butler might quietly inform the offending guest that the chef wanted to make sure he understood the guest’s suggestions for the soup—would the guest please see the chef now in the family dining room? Arranged by the butler, the chef would be waiting in the family dining room, discuss the suggestion, “thank” the guest, and then exit to continue his evening duties. Meanwhile, the butler might request the guest’s further assistance and enjoin another staff member to discuss with the guest—taking profuse notes—an “upcoming event”, including possible themes and details for the affair. The staff member would serve the guest in the family dining room while they talked. Meanwhile, the butler would continue dinner service for the main party, making apologies for the now-absent guest. The empty place and chair would be cleared from the main table. The butler would check on the guest from time to time as to his comfort and how the planning was going. The consultation might well last the entire dinner, ending in time for the guest to join his host before returning home. If he had to miss dessert, then a dessert tray could be prepared in thanks for him to take, and a follow-up thank-you note sent by the butler for his kind assistance.
For a more direct approach, especially if the dinner party would last longer than the guest could be kept separated, the butler might simply tell the guest, once the chef had left the room, that the host felt the evening might proceed more smoothly for all concerned if the guest made a point of listening, rather than talking, for the balance of the evening. The butler might need to handle guest upset or objections, and if not resolving, suggest that it might be better if the guest enjoy the balance of the meal with a good movie.
I encourage readers to email us with suggestions and questions raised in dealing with difficult situations you may have encountered in the course of your duties—so we can discuss them further.
Professor Ratliff is a retired butler who co-authored Volume 1 of Serving the Wealthy and has published three other books and over thirty articles.
The Wisdom of Butlers Past, Part 7
In the final section of the introduction, the author states that he is about to retire as a butler and wants to pass on his knowledge, which he has found to be workable and to result in a lifetime of service that has been pleasing to his employers. He exhorts those coming into the profession to avoid various “sins” (drunkenness, womanizing—he might have added drugs to the list, had they been an issue two centuries ago), and to “improve yourselves by every means within your power.” All of this is pretty obvious to any professional, but if we look at the state of the society in which we operate, and from which we have to hire staff, we might wonder at the collective insanity that is enforced by law or peer pressure as “normal” these days.
Take-away from his introduction? Society has changed and standards have shifted in the last two centuries and so, while the challenges we face in establishing and managing a household are fundamentally the same, they are different on the surface. The tools we have are different, too. Back then, we had the Church and moral standards and peer pressure to keep things strictly in line. Today, we have knowledge and technology to assist us in providing what can ultimately be a happier and more pleasing estate for employers and staff alike.
Extracted from the 1823 book, The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remembrancer, re-published in hardback by Pryor Publications.
You may obtain your discounted copy (with free s&h) by emailing the publisher: Mr. Pryor (alanATpryor-publications.co.uk) and telling him you read about the offer in the Modern Butlers’ Journal.
The Butlers Speak
Finding & Managing Staff, Part 3 of 3
How do you manage the staff once they are on board?
“When staff are first hired, I meet them one-on-one every week to go over any issues or concerns. We also talk every day about their schedules and how things are going that day. Any serious issues are taken care of immediately. I encourage the staff to work out any personal issues they have with their co-workers. I am always open to suggestions on how to do things better, in a more timely fashion, and I do value their opinions. I never share personal information about an employee with another. My principal defers any household decisions to me. If an employee asks him/her about something, they are referred back to me. In my opinion, this is the best possible way to keep everyone informed and up to date on issues. It prevents the ‘he said, she said’ problem, too.” NS
“I find giving new hires as much information about the position and what is required is very important, as well as telling them any and all house rules. I make a point of encouraging them to ask as many questions as they want, the only silly question being the one not asked. I find it takes a good month for the new hires to start to feel comfortable, I make it a point to check in with them during the day, to check on their work, and I find that giving praise is equally as important as pointing out things that may be wrong and how to improve them—it’s all in the delivery, really.” PBW
“Once trained, their task is to apply all their best skills and traits, while looking to expand their awareness of the workplace and principals. I have never had to ‘manage’ or even ‘supervise’ employees, because all have been a cohesive team with the highest regard for each other and the daily goals. I’m there to organize, make decisions, interface with principals, and be their primary source of daily information. I’m also there to offer a shoulder to cry upon, if needed.” SA
“I try to relay relevant information to the staff as it is given to me. Nothing kills morale faster than a staff who feels left out. They cannot successfully perform their duties if they do not have important information. And I relay this information in person, whenever possible, conveying my expectations as it relates to them. For example, I may inform the chauffeur of a change in the evening’s activities whilst adding ‘This isn’t quite what Mr. wanted, so be sure to keep a cheery disposition, lest we add to his grief. Perhaps you could suggest a game he might be interested in watching, since the traffic will slow his journey?'” CH
How do you keep them motivated?
“I make it a point to celebrate all birthdays together. We have lunch every day together, so I bring in treats or a surprise for them. I make a point of thanking each staff member throughout the day if, after making a special request, I notice they are doing a great job, or they have a good idea to share, etc. Again, I value their input and I want them to succeed and know they are appreciated. Whenever I have a chance to give them a special task, I do. Whether it’s preparing for an upcoming event at the residence, preparing guest rooms for overnight guests, assisting with a lunch meeting, etc. They always jump at the chance to do something a little different. They really enjoy the break from their normal schedule.” NS
“I try to make everyone who works with me feel a part of the team, for without the team we, the house, are nothing. The same person signs my check as signs theirs. Motivating one’s team comes from the top; if the top is willing to unblock a toilet when everyone else is doing something else, it shows the rest that ‘Yes, he can ask me to unblock it, but he never gives me a job he wouldn’t or couldn’t do himself.'” PBW
“I create a feeling of family and belonging. Celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and even weddings when invited. Annual performance bonuses, generous compensation, and laughter.” SA
“As the household budget allows, I periodically offer to refresh their supplies or tools or uniforms. I also invite them to tell me what they might need to be successful. I visit their supply cabinets regularly and pay attention to the condition of their break room and uniforms. Early in my career, I found a house staff having to eat their lunch in a windowless garage: Before I left that employer, the staff were eating their lunch in a climate-controlled, cheerful break room with a big window. I request that my employer pay for every staff member to be CPR/First Aid trained, scheduled on-site, so everyone is certified or re-certified at the same time. Finally, I maintain the tradition of allowing staff members to request the dessert of their choice on their birthday. They are welcome to share it with other staff or to take it home to share with their family or friends.” CH
How successful are f) and g) in terms of performance and longevity?
“Very successful!!! We have two employees who have been with us for eleven years and another for nine years. I’ve been in my position for fourteen years. I give a lot of the credit to our principals and their willingness to let go, to let their employees work for them. In the beginning that was a little bit of a challenge.” NS
“For me, support, clear direction, fairness, compromise are all key, a delicate balance that on some days is off for a moment…it’s called life. We are at work a good many hours, I want to make it as enjoyable as possible for both sides: that’s called give and take. The family comes first of course, but without my staff and a good team effort, I am nothing, I can’t do it alone. Making everyone happy is hard, but as long as I try, I feel I’m doing my job.” PBW
“The most recent hire celebrated her tenth anniversary with the family in July. The oldest employee pre-dates me by 18-years. Each day, we know our goals and know the principals so well that we can easily manage the inevitable daily variations and unexpected curves. I would say we are slightly spare on staff, but that leanness appeals to the gentleman. We have call-in help for special projects or events, and that’s essential when working lean. I keep them ‘in the fold’ by calling them in for deep cleaning, which takes place incrementally all year long whenever the family is traveling.” SA
“If, and only if, the employer endorses the management and motivation practices I have outlined above, is there any success in reaching and maintaining performance excellence and longevity.” CH
Temporary Butler Sought in Carmel-by-the-Sea for May 2018
Temporary butler wanted to assist with a 4-day family vacation in a rented home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, during May 18-21, 2018. The family consists of 15 people and will be having one formal dinner during their time at the estate. They are looking for someone who can set up meals with already-prepared food, clean up after meals, keep the kitchen clean during their 4-day stay, mix drinks, make coffee/hot chocolate/snacks when requested, and set up/prepare some light decorations for the dinner (centerpieces, dessert table). The ideal candidate should be comfortable handling the above requirements and dealing with family gatherings and could be male or female; preferably you live fairly local (SFO/Bay area), although the family is willing to cover travel costs if needed for the right candidate.
If you’re interested in this assignment for May of 2018, please contact the Institute at enquiries @ modernbutlers.com with your current résumé and photo, for more details.
by Gretchen dePillis
Biodynamics and sulfites in wines
The owner of a biodynamic vineyard I visited recently outside Lucca in Italy, told me that a one-liter bottle of commercial wine may contain up to 200 milligrams of sulfites, because sulfites are added to non-organic wines.
Compare this to organic and biodynamic (which is actually an even higher standard) wines, which have naturally forming sulfites (sulfur dioxide) of 10 milligrams per liter.
This distinction is important because those with allergic reactions to sulfites may experience decreased lung functionality after consuming or inhaling sulfites, and/or headaches, asthma, and skin irritation.
The United States requires a statement “contains sulfites” on wine labels whenever the sulfites exceed 10 parts per million (ppm), although it is not necessary to state how many. Some connoisseurs can smell sulfites as low as 50 ppm — a “cooked egg” smell (from hydrogen sulfide or dimethyl sulfide) when first opening a bottle, although the smell dissipates after the wine has been allowed to breathe a while.
As the National Organic Standard Board in the US voted down a petition to add sulfites to organic wines, one may want to stock the cellar with organic wines for sulfite sensitive principals or guests.
However, as with so many other food and drink labels, one has to pay attention to how unpopular information is disguised in the effort to sell. Made With Organic Grapes does not mean the wine is organic, nor that sulfites have not been added. The label has to specify that the wine is organic or Biodynamic to know that no extra sulfites have been added.
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 @ gmail.com
Christmas Tree Napkin Fold
by Kobi Gutman
Following the rose napkin fold in the September issue, here is one that’s perfect for the holiday season!
2. All the corners of the unfolded napkin will end up at the same corner in four layers. Pull the first layer up towards the top corner.
3. Do the same with the rest of the layers. Each layer should be slightly underneath the previous one.
4. Flip the napkin and fold one side, as shown in the picture
5. Fold the other side the same way.
6. Flip the napkin again.
7. Fold the top layer upward.
10. Tuck the remaining part fully under the last layer.
- There you have it, the Christmas tree napkin.
Mr. Kobi Gutman is the head butler at a private resort hotel in Florida and can be reached via the Institute.
Let’s Talk about Mixology, Part 27
Strawberry Daiquiri Cocktail and Mocktail
by Amer Vargas
As Christmas Season approaches, our souls feel more inclined to spend time with family and friends, to warm up in the closeness of a relaxing fire and in the company of our dearest ones. The magic of the last days of the year surround us and happiness fills the lives of children (and adults alike) with the arrival of Santa Claus.
This month’s cocktail (and mocktail) pays homage to the gentle big fat man from the North Pole who delivers happiness and fun not only to the little ones of the family, but also to the not-so-little ones who prepare for Santa’s arrival armed with loads of enthusiasm and passion.
As it couldn’t be otherwise, a vivid red color predominates in this delicious strawberry cocktail, and we are adding a thick sugar brim to match Santa’s typical outfit.
These are the ingredients needed for a serving of Strawberry Daiquiri: 2 oz of rum of your choice, the juice of half a lime, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 6 frozen strawberries and 4-6 oz of a lemon- or lime-flavored carbonated drink. To prepare the cocktail, put all the ingredients, except for the carbonated drink, in a blender and blend until smooth. Then add the carbonated lemon or lime drink and blend to ensure the mix is homogeneous.
We generally present daiquiris in a hurricane glass. Before serving you can make a thick, sugar frost around the brim and after serving, finish by decorating with a slice of lemon or lime.
If you want a daiquiri for all ages, just skip the rum. Everyone will love it!
Merry Christmas and Ho Ho Ho!
Mr. Vargas is the Institute’s President—feel free to contact him via email, AmerVargas @ modernbutlers.com
Consulting the Silver Expert
Cleaning and Polishing Silver, Part 7
by Jeffrey Herman
KEEP SILVER OUT OF THE DISHWASHER!
It’s that simple. There are four major reasons for keeping your prized sterling and silverplate out of the ‘chamber of doom.’
(1) Any factory-applied patina (the blackening in recessed areas) will be removed eventually;
(2) The harsh detergent, combined with the washer’s high cleaning temperature, are much too abrasive for silver—they will eventually turn the silver grey or white, with a dull, non-reflective surface;
(3) Most older, and some repaired hollow-handled knives, are filled with pitch. This low-melting cement will expand with heat, possibly forcing open a thin solder seam, or exploding the knife blade out of the handle;
(4) Silver that touches stainless in the dishwasher can create a chemical reaction, producing black spots or pitting on the stainless and possibly requiring the silver to be professionally refinished.
Sterling, like a fine automobile, must be handled with tender, loving care. Would anyone drive a Rolls Royce through a car wash?
Mr. Herman continues to offer his services to our readers for any questions you may have about the care of silver. Either contact him at (800) 339-0417 (USA) or via email jeff @ hermansilver.com
The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.”