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
A lot of interesting subjects (to butlers at least) in this month’s MBJ.
This year has been quite tumultuous, one might think, if one is to believe the media and follow the effects being created by a very small minority of individuals and groups. It is not a dangerous world, as the media and such individuals would have us believe; and whatever problems they hammer continuously into our minds—to the point where we might throw up our arms in defeat and retreat into the smart phone, tablet, laptop, bottle or syringe—something can be done about them.
But more to the point, in the real world, most people continue to enjoy life and take pleasure in interacting and exchanging with their fellow humans, dogs, and life in general. This is the truth of the matter—not this virtual world of blood and guts, tragedy and collapse—and we will all do much better when we ignore the rantings and ravings, disconnect from the (bad) news, and simply focus on flourishing and prospering as individuals and communities. Certainly that is my wish for our profession and the people we serve.
Butlers in the Media
The use of robot butlers to deliver items to hotel guests is spreading, as Hilton joins the bandwagon. Some good news concerning human versus automated service providers: human concierges prove to be superior to app concierges by actual trial. Hopefully, this will help reverse the trend over the last three years that has seen a 20% drop in the number of luxury hotels employing concierges.
One misuse of the word “butler” that seems to have caught the media’s imagination is “Instagram Butler,” wherein a resort photographer provides guests with imaginative shots for their use on Instagram. A Realty Butler apparently makes Realtors’/Real estate Agents’ lives easier online; a Yard Butler landscapes the garden.
As Fran Nachman, concierge of the Sonesta hotel in Philadelphia pointed out in the above-linked article, “The word (concierge) has been co-opted by so many companies and products that some are forgetting that its original meaning refers to a profession.” The same fate could be awaiting butlers unless we keep the definition alive, and refer to any other use of the word “butler” as “any object or service trying to increase its prestige in the mind of the consumer by drawing on the superior-service reputation of the butler in looking after wealthy and powerful people.” Or does anyone have a better definition?
No less than three butlers were interviewed about their work for Hugh Hefner, who just passed away. One was complimentary and another was derogatory, painting two different pictures of the same individual.
Likewise, a butler to the Queen of England, no less, spoke about her abdicating. Whether made as an unofficial statement or an official release, a butler is a highly inappropriate avenue for such revelations, as it forwards the idea that butlers are blabbermouths if they are the first port of call for the media concerning celebrity business—hardly a part of the job description, or something we want to encourage as a reputation.
Finally, the chairman was interviewed for a short article about various things butler.
By Professor Richard Ratliff
The International Institute of Modern Butlers has formulated a comprehensive set of Professional Standards of Performance for butlers and household managers. These standards have been published as detailed additions to A Professional Butler’s Code of Ethics. Copies of these standards are available from the Institute’s web site and are discussed at length in the new publication, Serving the Wealthy: The Modern Butler’s and Household/Estate Manager’s Companion.
We will be running a series in the Modern Butler’s Journal of brief scenarios showing how the new standards may be applied to specific circumstances faced by today’s butlers and household managers. The first in the series follows below.
Additionally, we encourage readers to email questions raised in dealing with difficult situations they may have encountered in the course of their duties—so we can discuss them further.
Scenario: A newly hired butler set the table for a family dinner on his first day of work: a standard, informal setting for plated service. The employer had requested a four-course sequence—soup, salad, lamb and potatoes, and sorbet for dessert. The butler set the soup spoons on the outside right of the plate, salad knives middle right, and main course knives next to the plate on the right. Forks likewise were placed outside left for the salad and inside left for the main course. Sorbet spoons were to be brought on the dessert plates when served.
The employer’s wife requested that salad knives be moved to the left of the dinner knives, and salad forks moved to the right of the main course forks. The wife’s request violates generally accepted practice in Western culture.
Should the butler comply with the demand?
Standards: While the new Professional Standards of Performance state that a butler should master generally accepted meal service practices, his “primary concerns are the comfort, pleasure, welfare, and security of the members of the household.” The standards clearly indicate that the butler is employed by, serves at the pleasure of, and “usually works directly under the head householder…,” and must be “gracious” and “flexible.” The standards specify “a properly working relationship between an employer and butler includes clearly defined roles, professional courtesy, mutual respect and trust, and effective communication.”
The correct answer: The butler works for the employer, and by extension, would cater to the wishes of the lady of the house as long as her wishes are not immoral, unethical, or illegal. The correct way is “how it is done in this house”.
Households differ, as expert opinions often differ—and who is to say what is right or wrong. Still, there must be consensus between the employer, butler, and members of the household. Unless the employer is recently wealthy and has no idea of normal protocol, in which case the butler might mention tactfully the standard practice (while signaling his willingness to acquiesce), he should simply move the knives and forks as instructed
Professor Ratliff began his butling career at 69 years of age, proving that it is never too late to enter the profession. While retired from full-time butling assignments, he still offers his services as a temporary butler. He co-authored Volume 1 of Serving the Wealthy and has published three other books and over thirty articles.
The Wisdom of Butlers Past, Part 6
In the last issue, we considered the nature of the employer one serves. In this month, we consider our own nature and that of those with whom we associate and bring into contact with the employer’s household. It may seem that the few who break the golden rules of butling (by stealing, breaking confidences, etc.) and capitalize, via a mass media yearning for sensation, on their new-found celebrity, succeed by growing rich; but one only has to look at the quality of their lives to see them struggling to find happiness in a life tainted by their own misdeeds.
“I trust, for your own sakes, you will make intimate companions of none other than persons of this [ethical] description. You must always bear in mind that your character is your bread and your all; you must therefore watch over it incessantly, to keep it unstained and undeniable, as without this, it is useless to seek after any respectable service whatsoever.
“Nor can we wonder at the scrupulousness of ladies and gentlemen in this particular, or at-the-minute inquiries they make into every point of a stranger’s character, before they are willing to admit him in the capacity of a servant beneath the roof; as, from the moment they do it, he becomes of necessity entrusted, to a certain degree, with their property, and even their lives. And how many sad instances are there, of which we have all heard, of masters being robbed by dishonest servants, and even their lives being exposed to danger through evil connections, formed unknown to them by the inmates* of their family!
“Remember also, that is not sufficient that your own conduct be good; if you associate with those whose conduct is bad, you’ll be judged by them at least as much as by yourself.”
* A meaning rarely used today, “one of several occupants of a house.”
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 (alan @ pryor-publications.co.uk) and telling him you read about the offer in the Modern Butlers’ Journal.
This year, the Institute has held about thirty graduations in hospitality venues around the world. Here are some photos of recent proud graduates, equipped to excel:
The Butlers Speak
Finding & Managing Staff, Part 2 of 3
What do you do to introduce new hires to their positions and environment?
“We have developed written policies and procedures. For housekeeping staff, we have the residence split into zones with their own cleaning timetable each week. I switch the cleaning lists each week so the staff are fully cross trained. We also have pictures of the bedrooms on how beds are made, etc. I go over each room in detail and clarify expectations.” NS
“I spend as much time as is needed with new hires, asking and answering as many questions. I show them the house, highlighting the the standards of the house and what we expect. I have them shadow another staff member for the day and then meet with them at the end of the day to chat about their experiences and any concerns they may have. I also speak with the staff member who has been with them and ask for their input on how the day went.” PBW
“Initially, we do a property walk while the principals are not in residence. Hopefully, once hired, there’s an opportunity for a probationary period without principals present to train the new hire in a less-pressured environment. We also hold a new-employee welcoming party off-campus.” SA
“Introducing them to all other household staff is essential. If possible, I try to spend the whole of their first day at their side to literally walk them through their duties (establishing expectations and demonstrating standards) and to guide them through the house.” CH
How effective have these proven?
“Very. I’m a believer in team work and that you can never have too much information. I will always assist our staff in any way I can to help them develop their skills.” NS
“Invaluable, I wouldn’t do it any other way. I think it helps both parties tremendously.” PBW
“Works for me. The trick is to convince your principal that these steps remove a myriad of unknowns, and that I can be trusted to evaluate effectively the candidates beyond the capabilities of the agent. Since I know the context and environment, I become an essential bridge to a seamless transition of duties. When an employer tries to do more than endorse my conclusions, their criteria will inevitably lead to the wrong candidate. I have yet to meet an employer who is skilled at personality assessment. Skills are either good or can be learned. But personalities and motivation cannot be changed, or improved: either they are in place or they are not.” SA
“When I have been able to spend a day with a new staff member, the results have been delightful. Introducing them to (existing) staff—and detailing their responsibilities—has also proven to be quite effective in curtailing disputes over ‘who does what’ and in creating a team feeling.” CH
Temporary Butler Wanted in Carmel-by-the-Sea
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 bar
Serving the Wealthy’s section on stocking the bar and managing the cellar serves as a reminder for the expert and a useful guide to one with intermediate exposure to fermented beverages. It does not mention biodynamic wines, however, so my next few articles focus on sulfites, which are present in all wines, but only in very small quantities in biodynamic wines. Generally, when it comes to what we eat and drink, sulfites act as a preservative and can slow the browning of fruits, and inhibit bacterial spoilage as well as fermentation.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of sulfites in fresh foods in 1986, but sulfites are still added as preservatives in commercially prepared drinks and foods. In case an employer or guest has an allergy to sulfites, it might help to know which bar items include heavy doses of sulfites: wines, Maraschino cherries; pickled cocktail onions; bottled non-frozen lemon or lime juice; and grape juice. Medium amounts of sulfites are added to ciders, corn syrup, pickled peppers, cordials (alcoholic), and soft drinks.
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
Let’s Talk about Mixology, Part 26
The Champagne Cocktail
by Amer Vargas
This month we return with a classy, classic, elegant, and simple cocktail based upon everyone’s favorite French bubbly: Champagne.
Other than the main ingredient, three others compose this stylish cocktail: a sugar cube, Angostura bitters, and a lemon peel as garnish. With so few ingredients, preparation is really simple: place the sugar cube in a champagne flute (not a Pompadour low glass) and add 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters to the cube. Pour the champagne gently, as the sugar will have a tendency to create more bubbles than usual with the fizzy wine. Before serving, decorate with the lemon garnish.
This lovely and sophisticated cocktail is ideal for casual receptions with colleagues and even for not-so-formal gala dinners with friends and family.
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 6
by Jeffrey Herman
If you have purchased a silver object with a price label that won’t peel off, don’t reach for a scrubby pad or steel wool. Instead, try using a hair dryer on a LOW setting (a heat gun is too hot) to gently warm the glue of the label. The label should then peel off cleanly.
If the label leaves a sticky residue, wait for the piece to cool and try removing it with some hand sanitizer, canola oil, or olive oil on a cotton ball or make-up pad. If that fails, rub a cotton ball or makeup pad, saturated with oil, on the residue and let it sit for one hour. The oils won’t harm the silver.
If this does not work the first time, repeat until the adhesive has dissolved and wipe away with a paper towel, cotton ball, or makeup pad.
Use Better Life Natural Glass Cleaner (which has a neutral pH) to remove any signs of the oil. If a discolored spot remains where the adhesive had been, remove it with one of the least-abrasive silver polishes.
Note 1: Never use a hair dryer on lacquered pieces.
Note 2: Products like Acetone, Goo Gone, Krud Cutter, Goof Off, and WD-40 will remove adhesive residue more quickly, but are less environmentally-friendly. Should you decide to use these products, make sure to wear nitrile gloves and perform the task in a well-ventilated area.
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.”