Newsletter Richard Ratliff

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

Professional Standards of Performance: Application #21

By Richard L. Ratliff 

Today’s Issue: A Worthy Foundation (V)

This is the fifth of a series of articles discussing foundational principles for the Butler’s Standards for Professional Performance.

Butlers perform many of their duties “onstage”, as it were, where life’s drama occurs in the employer’s household. The butler’s sartorial precision and quality, groomed perfection, graceful movement, professional manner, and efficiency are noteworthy and admirable. Who wouldn’t notice?

With impeccable appearance and manner, it doesn’t take much to draw attention—slightly extended direct-eye contact with a guest, a theatrical hand gesture, a little extra vocal resonance, or an athletic twist in a turn around a couch, while lightly balancing the wine service on a salver.

But “performance” is but one way to attract personal attention. Other ways include writing a tell-all book about one’s employer, or granting an interview to a member of the press. Another is to speak unnecessarily with members of the household or guests, other than in the performance of duties. Anything that draws attention to the butler, away from the main players, or opens the curtained windows of privacy exposing the main players to unwanted attention, constitutes a breach of professionalism.

A butler is a valuable household furnishing. Of course, a highly skilled butler can be a source of pride for some employers, who may even request a bit of flare in the service of a formal meal or presentation and the lighting of cigars.

But more generally, the spotlight belongs on the members of the household and their guests, not household staff. One’s employer must receive all of the credit for anything good and pleasurable that occurs; and should something unfortunate or less than stellar occur, the butler must accept the blame graciously, without complaint, fix the problem, and return to the background, out of the spotlight.

One performs in the background by moving quietly, away from center stage as much as possible, seldom speaking, anticipating the needs of those present, without their need to request your services. Tone down any grand gestures and unnecessary movement, and avoid speaking to them other than in the specific performance of duty or caring for them. Our success may be measured by the success of the household, everything perfect and the butler unnoticed, in the background.

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.