Butler standards Newsletter Richard Ratliff

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, April 2018, Professional Standards of Performance

Professional Standards of Performance: Applications #4

by Richard Ratliff

There Is a Limit

Scenario: While seeing to an overnight guest at bedtime, the butler outlined the following day’s buffet breakfast menu for a member of a party visiting for a weekend. The breakfast menu would include a selection of hardboiled eggs, hot cereal (oatmeal or wheat cereal), a selection of cold cereals, toast, whole fruit, and a tropical fruit salad. It was to be served at 7:30 a.m. in the family dining room.

Guest in question: “Those are fine, but I hope it will not be a problem if I might have two eggs Florentine with a light curry sauce and a strawberry smoothie. I so enjoyed that menu when I visited here last spring. Oh, and Michael [the butler], I may have trouble sleeping tonight. Would you please arrange some help—you know, something friendlier, cuddlier, and more entertaining than a pharmaceutical sleep aid?”

The Standards: The Standards state plainly that, “Any guest is a very important person (VIP) and should be treated as such. The household staff [including the butler] should cater to guests’ tastes, preferences, and comfort, consistent with house rules and standards….” The IIMB’s Professional Code of Ethics states that a butler is to “serve…guests as they choose to be served, in keeping with [the butler’s] own moral code and the law [and house rules].” The Code also instructs that a butler must “work toward achieving a strong foundation of mutual respect in [his/her] relationships with…guests…[and] strive for a high standard of…moral integrity…in these relationships…[and] behave respectfully toward…all…guests.”

What to do? As inconvenient as it might be, and as rude as the guest’s untimely request for a significant change in a planned menu, a service-minded butler, in an effort to honor his employer’s friend and guest, might well have eggs Florentine and smoothies added to the breakfast menu—even if it meant a midnight run to an all-night grocery for the makings. The butler would also note in his Butler Book the particular guest’s breakfast preference, a reference for future visits.

On the other hand, there is no requirement (professional or legal) for the butler to arrange a bedding companion for the presumptuous visitor. The butler’s polite, principled, and respectful responses might be something like the following:

  • As to the eggs and smoothie: “Of course, sir, I do recall how much you liked the eggs Florentine and strawberry smoothie last year.”
  • As to the bed companion: “I am sorry, sir. As much as I understand your other request, I am unable to provide such service. I do hope you’ll sleep well with the bedding we do provide. Good night.”

If the morally awkward request comes from a permanent member of the household, the butler need not feel obligated to procure such services or do anything else that is illegal or clearly immoral: “I am sorry, much as I would like to oblige you, I am unable to. Unless there is something else you may need now, I shall bid you goodnight, as I have some more things to attend to tonight. Good night, Sir/Madam.”

As a note, some butlers in city hotels, such as Las Vegas, do service such requests in the hope of a sizable show of appreciation; but it is uncertain that any of them make tips quite as large as one of their colleagues, who has been covered in the MBJ previously, who smoothly deflects such requests in the guest’s best interests.

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 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.