Newsletter Richard Ratliff

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

Professional Standards of Performance: Application #21

By Richard L. Ratliff 

Today’s Issue: A Worthy Foundation (VI)

This is the sixth and final article in a series discussing foundational principles for the Butler’s Standards for Professional Performance. Mr. Ratliff will be focusing for the next two years on a project for his Church, the Church of Latter Day Saints. We thank him for his contributions and we wish him much success with his new project.

Scenario: An innocent gesture, perhaps, but troubling nonetheless. A guest couple were leaving after a visit with the host family. In an effort to thank the butler for his part in the evening’s activities, the man reached an arm around him in a rough, jostling hug. The butler graciously accepted their compliments with a quiet bow, but the jostling was neither welcome nor called for. The butler would not have been welcome to impose himself in such a way.

The Standards: The Standards for Professional Practice state that a butler must be able to…manage awkward circumstances with poise while preserving the dignity of others and the occasion. “A Butler’s Professional Code of Ethics” also states that a butler must “strive to maintain appropriate…boundaries in all aspects of service.”

Recommended Remedy: In this case, the butler was the unfortunate victim of inconsiderate guests. While the hug probably was just a friendly gesture, there was still compromise of the butler’s dignity and professional position, and violation of the professional boundary between guests and the butler.

In formal associations, touching can express concern for the welfare of and respect for another person. But sometimes touching is used to say physically what is not allowed verbally. Caution is warranted on both sides of the exchange.


  • Touching in the workplace (the employer’s home is the butler’s workplace) should express goodwill without any hint of impropriety. If in doubt, don’t.
  • Touch other people only in conventional forms of greeting and parting, or for assistance. Avoid overly friendly physical expressions beyond conservative norms.
  • Resist, leave, and if serious, report any unwelcome touch.

In this case, the butler was the one receiving the unwelcome hug. How might he have avoided the situation in a respectful, dignified manner? After the fact, the butler did what might be expected—not acknowledging or returning the physical contact, just making a polite bow and no further comment.

Had the butler seen the moment coming, however, he might have reached his right hand out for a handshake, and positioned his left hand against the guest’s right shoulder to softly, but firmly, stop his or her advance for closer contact. He might say, “Thank you for your kindness. I’ll fetch your coats?” Then he would simply leave for the wraps. Friendly, formal, professional.

As an editor’s comment, in more modern times, it is recognized that some people like to express themselves physically and it would be appropriate to follow the lead of the guest if it is meant in good faith. A butler would never initiate such a close embrace, however.

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.