Letters to the Editor Newsletter

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, November 2020, Letters to the Editor

PostBoxLetters to the Editor

“I recently purchased your superbly detailed book, Butlers and Household Managers – 21st Century Professionals as I am due to start a new position as house manager next week and finding it most invaluable. One point I would like to make is about the trial period. As I understand via the agent, my prospective employer has spent quite a sum of money on agent commissions in the past to try and find a suitable house manager. Understandably, he is somewhat reticent about hiring someone if it doesn`t work out, so has proposed a trial period for both parties. I have been offered a trial period via the agent but as yet nothing has been put in writing (start date, salary pro rata, and length of trial). The agent said it would be down to personal chemistry and that is why the last house manager left, so the trial period could be short. I know the employer is a busy individual but with my proposed start date of next Wednesday, I would expect more than a few WhatsApp messages. I understand the employer is being careful, since he has had his fingers burned with previous agent commissions, hence I’ll be on a day rate until my trial is finished. I’ve also been trying to find the points you raised about detailing how I will be judged during the trial period and ask for these points to be listed. Any help from your vast experience would be most appreciated. AW

Ed: Thanks for the enquiry, I am glad you have found the book to be of use. We always recommend a trial period because it is the only way to determine if there be chemistry or not, and before any commitments are made by both sides.

I would not be concerned about the criteria against which you will be judged. The employer needs to see you as you are to know whether the chemistry is in place (and basic required skills, too), rather than you trying to give him what he wants to see.

Just settle on a per diem and the trial should last as long as is needed to determine compatibility. If he be hiring you on a per diem that reflects the pro-rated annual salary, then it really does not matter how long the trial goes on for, within reason. If the employer will not settle on a maximum range (we usually recommend a week maximum as sufficient to tell the tale), then I suggest at some point, when you feel the trial should be over, you broach the subject—unless you are happy to continue to be employed temporarily and do not have anything better in the offing. 

Remember, this does work both ways—you may find him to be a horror and be well shot of him. And hopefully, you may confirm that he is the kind of employer that every butler would like to work for and work extra hard to secure the position.

So what to do now? Accept employment on a daily basis for as long as the employer wants but do insist on the per diem being stated upfront, as well as considerations for room, board, and transport. The employer’s demands are reasonable, other than the lack of communication about the terms. Wishing you well.

“Thank you for your prompt reply, which is most helpful. If I need any further details, may I get in touch? It is most reassuring you are there.” AW

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“What Mr. Ferry has done so far is an incredible and honorable achievement for all butlers in the world. I have studied at TIBA and at Starkey International and I have to say that his books are extremely useful.” VM

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“Loose leaf tea is always the best solution for the single cup and is easily accomplished by using infusers—Japanese tea providers such as Lupicier in Melbourne, Australia, offer beautifully crafted single- and multi-cup infusers in stainless steel. There are also silicon versions offered online. “Personally, as a singularly appreciative tea drinker and 30-year advocate of a particular fragrant tea – “Apricot with flowers” based on a Ceylon tea blend embodying a subtle flavour profile (best served black no sugar), I make it a firm and unwavering policy to consume only tea brewed in a tea pot and served in a fine porcelain cup (with saucer) and NEVER in a mug/beaker. The comparison could be made to drinking French Champagne out of a heavy based water glass. And, for the sake of convenience I have three different serving-size tea pots and two infusers always at hand, always on the go on a tray ready at a moment’s notice. Lastly, when you have a favourite loose-leaf tea, consider making a volume purchase (I prefer by the kilo, presented in individual vacuum-sealed 100g sachets). AK

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“I’m sure I’m the oldest of you all, considering I was serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in 1953 as a young Naval Steward and working in private households in the same year for admirals and their families and staff. I worked with butlers from the 20’s and 30 ‘s and so much that one hears about the profession these days is what people think and two thirds is not true. Why doesn’t someone bother to ask someone in the business who was actually doing the work? I watched Mr. x and the ____ man giving the worst webinar and so-called house managers were asking such stupid questions and Mr. X was replying with ridiculous answers. I think it’s about time that all these people started to do the job properly. I’m not trying to slag off anyone but I become really annoyed reading and listening to such rubbish. I know you understand, but I feel today people are just doing what they think is right.” RF

Ed: Yes, you are certainly the senior amongst us all—the year you started as a stu I was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And yes, you are quite right, we have people passing on incorrect information because they were never trained and apprenticed bottom up and know no better. You will have seen the last of the articles on what it is like working as a butler or estates manager in the 21st Century. We are also continuing to run the Butler’s Remembrancer from the early 19th Century. How about you fill in the 20th Century and what it was really like in the trenches, so that the information is not lost forever? The closest we have is Agar’s Way, but there is so much it does not cover.

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“I always enjoy your journal and am so impressed with how you continue to generate content during these odd times. I was told by my current employer that I might transfer to a location in or near Zurich, Switzerland for a year or two. May I ask your opinion regarding what you think is a good location to live and if you have any tips regarding the best way to obtain housing in Switzerland?  GJ

Ed: The prospect of living in Switzerland is intriguing and quite an opportunity! Why not go into the Swiss countryside? It has the advantage of not being as pricey as city dwelling with great beauty and outdoor treasures to explore. As for how to find lodging, I would suggest renting an apartment for a longer period such as this, and starting the search with the usual culprits—online portals! The US Embassy may have some recommended sources.

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.