Newsletter Richard Ratliff

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, April 2019, Professional Standards of Performance

Professional Standards of Performance: Application #14

By Richard L. Ratliff 

Today’s Issue: Anticipation

Scenario: An invited guest brings an unexpected guest to a formal dinner party. The unexpected guest is unknown to both the host and the butler. Guests, all of whom otherwise know each other, are gathering for cocktails in the library prior to the meal. All dinner settings have been placed; the food has been prepared and is ready to be served.

The butler’s problem: Help the host (1) seamlessly cope with the unexpected guest at the last minute; (2) welcome and integrate the new guest into the group.

The Standards: The Standards of Professional Practice state that “a butler must be a consummate professional…” Among several characteristics that describe a butler as a “consummate professional” is the ability to anticipate, i.e., to know the employer’s habits and mindset, to completely understand the demands of any usual situation of the household and intuitively to comprehend unusual situations, enabling the butler to act, even to know what will be needed so as to respond with confidence, effectiveness, and aplomb.

Recommendations: Here the unexpected guest might slip an awkward wrinkle into the fabric of the occasion; the butler must anticipate possible effects from the time of her entrance to the concluding departure. Several things must happen quickly. The butler should:

  • Welcome the guest, learn her name and discreetly inquire of any dietary requirements, preferences from the menu, and other special needs;
  • Immediately report the additional meal to the chef and server, with any accommodations required by the new guest;
  • Arrange the additional place setting, with name (if necessary) and menu cards;
  • Conduct a rapid internet search on the new guest and prepare a small printout or summary briefing for the employer. If the guest is someone especially noteworthy, perhaps draft a brief toast to welcome and honor the person at that point in the dinner when other toasts may be offered;
  • Ensure the guest has the opportunity to sign the household visitor’s log before departing.

The butler has set the stage quietly for the guest’s entrance and integration, for the employer’s role of gracious host, avoiding embarrassment of the invited guest who breached proper etiquette in the first place, the butler all the while remaining unobtrusively in the background. Complete mastery of the details of the occasion and anticipating the needs of the players made it possible.

A complimentary booklet on the standards of service, upon which this column is based, and also written by Professor Ratliff, is available for download in electronic format.

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. He can be reached via the Institute.

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.