Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, September 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

And so we come to the final topic of these surveys of our profession: Principal travel.

When your employers traveled, where did they go and what did they do?

“My previous employers traveled extensively for leisure; my current employer traveled globally mostly for business before the Covid lockdowns.”

“I worked for a client for ten years. They lived in the Northeast, where winters are frigid, so their second home was in Naples, Florida, in which they lived for about 3 months each year. They also went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina every year and stayed for a few weeks with all of their children and grandchildren; London for theater openings; Paris and Milan for fashion weeks, where the lady of the house would select her new wardrobe pieces. Then the tailor would fly over with the clothing for final measurements for a final fitting. Shortly thereafter, trunks of haute couture pieces arrived, ranging in price from $10,000 -$40,000 each, with a personal tailor for final fitting and approval of the selections. She had new wardrobe pieces added several times a year. Spring/summer—-Winter/Fall —-Resort/Cruise Wear. They took a cruise every year, too, to different places throughout the world. They loved Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Montana too.”

“I worked for a single male principle for six years who had been married eight times. He travelled to his second home in North Carolina and third home in Aspen. He also traveled the world, playing golf and collecting golf shirts from each course. When he was interested in a new paramour, he would whisk them off on a Concorde flight to France. Other locations for clients over the years have been Italy, Israel, Japan, Russia, Iceland, and Palm Beach, Florida. Plus many other sunny resort locations. The clients I have worked with have had hobbies that range from art collections to safari: Downhill skiing, golfing, equestrians, yachting, sailing, world travel, if they wanted to try it, they did it—money wasn’t a factor!”

What were your duties—to stay at the estate and manage it, or to travel with them?

“With my previous employer, I would often travel with them, generally arriving by commercial flight with most of their baggage prior to their arrival. I would, whenever possible, check-in to their hotel and prepare their suite for them. Everything would be unpacked and laid out according to their wishes. I would also confirm dinner or spa reservations for them. To the best of my abilities, I would try to perform all the duties I would normally preform for them in their home. I would also be “on call” during the duration of their stay. On more than one occasion, I was to order their breakfast via room service but stop the server at their door and bring the tray or cart in personally, as they were still in bed. On the day of departure, I would see them off, pack the baggage, settle the hotel bill and then depart. With my present employer, I spend 65% of my time packing and unpacking his baggage. As he only travels commercially, my goal is to minimize the amount of baggage he travels with whilst ensuring he has all that he will require during his time away. Most of the time I succeed, but occasionally I do fail—such as the time I did not pack snow boots and an unseasonable snowstorm occurred at his destination.”

“I usually only stay with the Principals in their various homes. For travel elsewhere, they utilize luxury travel agents to set up activities, dining, cars, butler and concierge services.”

If at home, was their absence used as an opportunity for catching up with renovation and maintenance/spring clean duties? Please specify.

“If I did not travel with my employers, I always seized the opportunity to have maintenance or deep-cleaning projects done. My present employer prefers that I take my [vacation] time off during his absence.”

“I spend the time the principals are away catching up on projects and bringing in the vendors for service. So many clients do not want to see people working in their homes, so the people who cleaned the gutters, the window washers, tree trimmers, electricians, carpenters, painters outside doing touch-up work all came then. Painting inside was a nightmare because expensive artwork needed to be moved, meaning we would have interior designers and art dealers working while the family was gone, too. Every appliance was serviced; heating, air-conditioners, water tanks, and generators, too. Once a pool was installed while the clients were away: Excavations are messy, backhoes and massive trucks ruin the lawn, so then we needed truckloads of sod to fix the lawn! Everything is “instant gratification,” I saw it, I want it, get it for me NOW!”

If traveling with them, what were your duties?

“I would often be asked to accompany the Mrs. to a salon for an up-do or a blow-out. During the appointment, she would ask me a litany of questions about the agenda: Who they were dining with, where they were lunching the next day, what jewelry was she wearing that evening, etc. It never mattered, because she would never remember. I would always lay out her clothes with a note such as, “Luncheon with Mr. and Mrs. X on their yacht, departing the harbor at 1:00.”  She truly needed the services of a Lady’s Maid in attendance, but I did my best for her as the Estates Manager.”

“When traveling, I would unload the luggage, provide drinks and snack foods (the property manager would pick up some beverages and snacks for our arrival). Then once they left for their activities, I would organize the toiletries, straighten and hang up the clothing, put items in drawers, and re-iron or steam clothing. Then off to the grocery store with my list made, usually for breakfast foods, fruit, snacks, alcoholic and other beverages and lots of vegetables. Lunch might be served, so I had to have supplies on hand for that. As for dinner, it was usually eaten out with friends. I just cleaned, inside and out, served drinks, called vendors if anything needed fixing, and stayed busy. I also took care of the dog or dogs, another time consuming job: walking, grooming, and feeding.”

Anything to add about traveling with the principals?  

“I have had a few awkward meetings with hotel butlers who could not or did not understand what I was doing as a traveling butler. Once I encountered a hotel butler who found that I had unpacked the luggage, ordered their drinks and had a floral arrangement delivered before the principals arrived. He grimaced at me and said, ‘Now what am I supposed to do?’  I replied, ‘Would you be kind enough to bring a bucket of ice please?’  The ice never appeared and nor did the hotel butler.”

“I try to stay amused, not take work overly seriously: It’s a pressurized, chaotic blast sometimes, and other times, it’s just a run-of-the-mill job. I have had this career for forty years now and before that was a babysitter for 8 years. I’m 61 now, and it’s been a very physical job as well as a true philosophical journey: seeing up close the inner workings of several families has been a wonderful experience. We are each deserving of respect and dignity. I find it pays to be gracious to myself and grateful for the opportunity to live life vicariously through my clients. I often thought, I spend more time in these luxury estates than my principals do as they race and chase experiences, money, or power. Whatever it is, it’s an experience to observe and be a participant. What’s still confusing to me, though, is a house with a 10,000 sq. ft. closet for the wife that was jam-packed so full with clothes, shoes and accessories that she could not, wearing three different outfits every day, have worn everything in five years. The multi-millions in jewelry were delivered in armored vehicles and then locked in a safe! (But) it’s a fun career, (even if) time consuming and with all the recently wealthy, a treasure trove of opportunities. Good luck, prevail and wear a smile, because life flies by.”

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, August 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


Most butlers and estate managers do not particularly appear to be engaged in these areas of the lives of their employers, but two who have been, offered the following responses to the questions asked:

Have you serviced employers and/or family who were active in sports?

“Yes. Children sports (high school or younger). College age young adults usually live on campus, so for them it’s more in quarterly increments. High school kids are pretty easy to take care of; they are mostly team sports. I worked with one family, the daughter was a State Champion swimmer and also a Cross-Country runner. It was mostly packing and unpacking gym bags. Making sure her bathing suits, towels, ear plugs, bathing caps, showering toiletries, snacks, drinks, team uniform, were ready to go. Then washing everything and repacking. Same with her track bag: it was obviously a separate gym bag. Cleaning and polishing her track shoes. Looking at the cleats to make sure they were in proper order. We normally had several pairs of the same track shoes, since she had to break them in beforehand. I also travelled with the family, to help load and unload the vehicle. So there was also a cooler of snacks and drinks for the family. We would eat at the event or stop at a restaurant on the way home from a swim or track meet/event. Whenever needed, I drove the individual to practice and waited in the stands, keeping to myself. If I was with the family, I cheered along with them and if alone, I kept quiet.”

“My present employer is a former Triathlete who has become an obsessed cyclist. He now has a large (purpose built) closet just for his cycling gear.”

If so, which ones?

“Adult sports: golf, hunting and equestrian eventing/horse trials. Water sports, skiing, scuba diving and snorkeling.

* Scuba diving was mostly about hosing down the wet suits, gear and equipment. My client dealt with the tanks and hook-ups. Again, it is making sure all the equipment, undergarments, garments, clothing, accessories are in the proper bags and that nothing is missing. Make an inventory list. Letting someone know if something is fraying or cracking and what needs to be replaced.

* Golf is pretty easy: Cleaning the clubs, checking the hand grips, tightening/replacing cleats, looking at the accessories, washing the golf towel; sending the golf sweater to the dry cleaners; having rain-gear ponchos packed; washing and polishing the golf bag; emptying the pockets of the bag and vacuuming out the grass; making sure to put everything back. There is also ensuring they have lots of golf balls and tees for replacements, a golf umbrella, an extra set of clothing, especially socks for one of my clients; and washing and ironing the clothing. I have had several bosses who loved golf and one had a special room layout for cloths, shoes, golf library, and all things golf. He had a golf shirt for every course he ever played. There were hundreds of shirts, shorts, visors or caps, and pants. Everything needs checklists and inventory lists. If they are going on a golf trip, packing according to the destination. Ireland was a chilly destination-golf is a sun sport normally.

*Hunting is a monster sport with lots of detail regarding the equipment. I did not clean the guns, I only put the gun cases in the truck or plane, as well as the bullets. Depending on the hunting season, I had to prepare a multitude of gear for a warm or cold climate. If you are thrown into a situation, take photographs, so you can visually see what you have and don’t have. Make a physical checklist and check items when done!! Once they are on the Safari or at the location, there are no stores most likely. They are in the wilderness, woods or mountains. Not a good time to have forgotten something. Care must be taken when unloading everything. Wear vinyl gloves to protect from the inevitable blood; look for ticks and spiders that might be on the clothing. This is a sport that is usually not packed ahead of time because the game that is being hunted requires different gear. Hunting bear or moose is different from hunting ducks or quail. Maintain a log of what is becoming worn out so proper replacements can be ordered. There also may be communication with the field guide, if it is a private ranch.

*Eventing/Horse Trials/Horseback Riding; almost always it’s the equestrian assistant’s job to exercise, feed, wash, and care for the horses—they take care of the tack room. Communication is always vital in every aspect of the team on the property. My responsibility is mostly making sure the clothing is clean, ironed, and in place, ready for packing; polishing the boots; looking for holes or splits in fabric and having it fixed; sending items to the dry cleaners or brushing the blazers and helmets. There are so many variables for each sport, but, you’ll learn, and it’s fun.

*Winter skiing is so much work—there is so much stuff, it is always a wet mess. But, it is part of the job. So better to learn to embrace it and hope you have enough staff where you work.”

What duties did you have with regard to their enjoyment of the sport(s)?

“My duties occurred before and after the sport, really: Making sure inventory lists were in place, checking and double checking that everything was included; food, snacks, and drinks in a cooler. Whether or not they are eaten, it is the availability that is important, as well as providing a good balanced meal, if required. Then after the sporting activities, food and drinks: Libations for the adults, milk, juice, water, and limited soda for the children. Fruit and vegetable trays, as they are usually pretty famished if they did not eat a balanced meal on the trip. Food preparation is a time-consuming endeavor so be sure to discuss it beforehand.”

“I have had to learn the names of each item as well as their function and how to clean or care for them. This includes everything from toe covers to base layers to arm warmers. I have also learned when to ask about packing cycling gear depending on where he is traveling. Often, he will travel just for cycling which then requires me to pack an extensive amount of gear, as well as his casual clothes.”

Any advice for keeping the principals, family, and/or guests happy with their sports?

“It is usually good as long as nothing is forgotten, checklists are adhered too, everything is cleaned and polished, packed and repacked in the precise manner. As for guests, we only washed their clothes, no other duties are expected, unless instructed.”

“I quickly learned that I have to lay out all of the cycling gear I am planning to pack so he can look it over first. If I don’t, he will bombard me with questions on the day of his departure as he will be worried/obsessed about having all the “right” gear for his trip. It is also imperative that I never touch any of his bicycles. Each one is precious to him.”

Any further notes?

“I actually like the sports end of my work as it provides variety in the job. The list of things that need to be done is extensive, so double check your workers until you are sure they can handle the job. Sign their checklists, pointing out what was done right; then what needs improvement, and finally what they missed completely so they can learn without being intimidated—no one knows everything and some learning comes in the form of lessons we’d rather forget—like being embarrassed because you forgot something really important. Everything falls on your shoulders, as I am the one training that person. If they do something wrong, I take the responsibility for that flaw. I do not point the finger at the culprit. If I am the leader, then I am to lead. If my team fails at something, it is the leadership that failed. That is how I look at it. Then again, if I have a worker who is problematic, I have to document the situation. This way there is a paper trail for dismissal if needed. I wasn’t perfect on my job at first, so why would I expect perfection from someone else? It will or should become second nature if they are good at their job.

* I worked for someone who had two yachts totally taken care of by different crews. One was a personal vessel and the other was for corporate activities. So my only responsibility was to communicate with the personal assistant, chief stew and chef. Also, I packed for my principals for the occasion, and took them to the port for departure, either by the chauffeur or I drove them myself so I could help unload and go over their itinerary again with them. Either way, I was on location for the smooth switch from land to sea. The logistics were someone else’s responsibility. I worked in unison with the personal secretary/assistant, who did the spreadsheet for food/location/wardrobe for the activities and weather. She also had to communicate with the captain and chief steward. Luckily, my end was very easy: Supply the chef with the food preferences and allergies of any new guests. The paperwork was handled by someone else, not me. I needed to know when they would leave and when they would return, making sure I was there for the departure and arrival. Also, to be available at anytime for questions.

**I had a client who had a personal fishing boat, for which I packed coolers, loaded fishing gear and drove to the mechanic on a boat trailer. It was probably a $350,000 boat that was harrowing to tow. The doctor who owned it would hitch it to the vehicle, which was a Suburban. Once I got it to the shop, they would do the mechanical work, clean and then dry dock the boat. When he wanted to use it again, the company that boarded the boat would drop it off in the drive-way, and hitch it to his vehicle. It was not used much but he loved to fish when he had a chance. One of his business ventures was running a lobster boat, which meant I was given many fresh lobsters over the six years I worked with him.

*** Airplanes, my employer had two personal planes, very much like the yachts where there was a captain to fly the plane and one attendant. Weight had to be measured, so everyone’s personal weight had to be taken into consideration, as well as wardrobe, food and the distribution of where everyone sat and personal items stored. Usually, my only responsibility was to weigh the people, the wardrobes, gear, (golf clubs), the food, beverages, and supply. The flight attendant handled her own paperwork and communication with the private secretary. The pilot handed the FAA, etc. I only needed to know departures, arrivals, wardrobes and logistics on how they were transported to the private airport/hanger. I would follow them or ride in the limousine and discuss any last-minute instructions. Then help unload the car, the flight attendant would distribute the weight of the supplies once in the airplane. After the clients were on board and the wheels were up, it was back to work at the estate.”

“Like many athletes, my employer injures himself and/or is subjected to bruises, cuts and blisters. After discovering that he would acquire ointments, bandages and ice packs on his travels, I began packing some for him. He won’t, however, acknowledge any need for first aid.  But I notice he uses whatever I pack for him.”

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, June 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


Vacation and holidays granted by employers vary from generous to positively medieval.

“Currently I receive 5 weeks of paid vacation and 8 paid holidays.”

“I have had 6 employers in a 40-year career, so vacation and holidays have varied, in part because Federal laws have been changing. I am supposed to have three weeks off this coming year; (starting my seventh year) but still cannot get my second week off. I have been made to take my vacation days for week two, one day at a time here and there, although that usually doesn’t happen either. I just have the accountant add the paid day off to my check. When I began (here), I had five paid holidays. With each passing year, I was given another paid holiday. But, that too, is subject to change if my employer wants to have a party or guests. Currently, I am owed 2 paid holidays, so, I will just ask that also just be added to my pay. Even if I worked 5 1/2 months straight, as I did last year, everything is about the employer, not me. If you are understaffed and overworked, your employer should want to relieve you of your duties for a relaxed vacation or a vacation that is full of excitement and glee. But, when you’re understaffed, more and more responsibilities are placed on the management personnel. As someone who wants happy housekeepers, I insist they take their breaks, holidays and vacation, as their work is never done—it can look finished until someone clutters up the kitchen with dirty dishes, pulls out a game and does not put it away, pool towels are strewn around the yard, etc.”

“For the most part I have been blessed with good vacation time and bank holidays. But it’s not always the case and you should read your contract VERY carefully before signing it. NEVER assume because if you do and you don’t have it in writing it will bite you in the rear-end later. I had taken a position with three weeks of vacation that matched my previous post. The contract reflected this but, silly me, I did not question the six bank holidays I had always enjoyed in the past. When my first working bank holiday came, I mentioned to the estate manager that I’ll take the holiday later. I was told ‘You don’t get bank holidays as you have three weeks of vacation.'”

Looking for any difficulty in having vacation time and holidays honored and how best handled brought up the following:

“I have never had a problem, except when I wanted to take my first vacation I was told I could only take nine days at any one time. If I had known this on signing, I would have never agreed to these terms.”

“I never have any issues with holidays or vacations: I make sure my principals know when I will be away and that I make arrangements for certain tasks to be covered during that time. I’m very detailed with this.”

“You have to be extremely careful what is said to the principal, as some are understanding and some will have you escorted off the property. I remember trying to reason with a principal regarding needed time off. Not a lot, when working six days a week for months on end; when I finally asked for two consecutive days off, it was ignored. I had been at the job for five or six years, so I was becoming burned out. So I would wait a week and ask again. This went on for over a month. Then the employer flipped out and said, ”I am not having this conversation again!” They left in their car and came back an hour later. At which time, I was asked to give back my keys, phone, credit card, and to leave immediately. As I left, the principal said “Have a good life,” which meant they gave me the ‘middle finger.’”

“The moral of the story is, if you can have a manager talk for you, they are more likely to see results. If you are the manager, have an iron clad contract that spells out EVERYTHING.  Speaking up for yourself may see you fired. Just like having to read your employer, you need to know your own personal boundaries and what your body is telling you. I am a good saver, so I always have an emergency fund.  Being in this business for decades, I have the sense that material items bring people zero happiness. The cars are nicer, the trips more elaborate, wardrobes of Couture clothes, it doesn’t give someone the right to use you as a pawn in a chess game. Life is short, working an 8-hour shift is a fun job; 14-hour shifts, months on end, just create burnout.

“Do yourself a favor: Make sure you work in a staffed home. One luxury vehicle costs $150,000, $400,000 and up, not to mention airplanes and yachts. So why people won’t hire another worker to lessen the burden on the staff, is just baffling. I don’t blame them, but they do experience a lot of turnover, which does not benefit them.”

Obviously, providing sufficient notice of vacations is important:

“I currently have to give four or more weeks notice, and preferably schedule for when the family is out of town.”

“I just need to make sure I make them aware of time off as much in advance as possible.”

“The higher I am in the food chain, the more I seem to work. Truthfully, the best jobs on an estate are the groundskeeper and the housekeeper. They arrive, work, take their 15-minute breaks, lunch breaks, and leave after the shift is over. Often, I think of saying ‘No’ to taking on extra work, but there is usually pushback from the homeowner, like I am disappointing them.

“There are fabulous employers, kind, considerate and who employ enough staff. Then there are cruel and selfish people. If there were 7-10 people before you on your job in a five-year period, it’s not a good position. Even if you think you can be the ‘one’ who is capable of the job, better to examine why the turnover is on such a grand scale.”

Looking at whether a lack of a personal life ever impinged upon the butler’s or estate manager’s life and performance, it seems this is part of the job description..

“As we all know, we are in the kind of job that is very demanding. For the most part, we have very little-to-no personal life. Long hours and some long work weeks. Even when off, most of us are on-call 24/7/365. I have been at dinner with friends and had to ask for the bill halfway through because the house alarm went off and the police or fire department were on their way. The only time I feel I can really relax is when I’m a plane ride away—smile.”

“I typically work at the residence 45-hours a week, plus I’m on call 24/7. My principals usually don’t contact me on the weekends unless it’s an emergency. They do email and text me a lot though. I make sure that I always acknowledge that I received their messages and, where I can, answer them as soon as possible.”

“I had a twelve-year relationship and currently am in a twenty-year relationship, but I have not married because of my crazy work schedule. My clients have multiple homes, private planes, and yachts. Traveling for work, I am gone 13 days a month, month after month, year after year. Through my work, I live vicariously the lives of high-wealth families. Back and forth from home, devoting my life to my job, not my personal life or wellbeing. My pattern has been, one family at a time: Nanny-6 years, housekeeper 10 years. I hate to say it, but six + years seems to be my threshold as a manager—this is my fourth job as a manager and I just passed the seven-year mark—I would like to break the pattern!”

Asked for the best approach for dealing with schedules that are too demanding, the following was offered:

“You have to speak up early if you see an unacceptable pattern developing. I had one position that my boss would say, as I was leaving after a late night, ‘Thank you for a job well done, no need to come in until lunch time.” Then I have had other bosses who, when you leave at 2am, with hardly a ‘Thank You!’ expect to see you at the same start-time later that day, as though nothing had ever happened; it’s all very sad.”

“Good communication is the key.  Make time to schedule one-on-one meetings to discuss the demands and how they can be accomplished.  I had a mentor many years ago who instilled in me the discipline that if ever I approached him with a problem, I had better also suggest a couple of viable solutions.”

“This is so tricky. First, I hate to make anyone lazy, but the more you do, the more is expected. This is not for every client, some are fair, wonderful, and want a professional atmosphere. Others want to drive you like a plow horse. There needs to be a household manual, with time off and fair business-practices in place. I do make people work, but I don’t grind out a workload that is impossible to follow. I had a principal go through 15 housekeepers in 3 months. How is that even possible? As soon as they were trained, they either walked off the job or they experienced the infamous escorting off the property by security. A homeowner has to be compassionate and have empathy, otherwise they are just better off hiring a cleaning service to do the heavy cleaning. Let the housekeeper(s) do the day-to-day organizing, laundry, ironing, mopping and cleaning.”

“Laugh, love your family, enjoy your friends. Learn to deep breathe, do daily meditation, yoga, exercise, draw, have a hobby or find your gratitude through prayers. Old-monied families are easier to work for, they want a lifestyle and can afford it. The more ‘stuff’ your employer has, and the newer the money, I think the less-understanding they have of what constitutes a fair workload. Again, it depends on the family. I love my career, it is live theater all the time. But I am not the TV character “Bewitched” who can twitch her nose and have everything done. It is a physical job. Oh, and try not to be your employer’s emotional support very frequently— maybe an emotional-support animal is better. Even smarter, let a professional therapist have that job. The less personal-information you know, the better.”

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, May 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

What is the Proper Exchange, Salary, etc. for a Butler/Estate Manager?

This month we examine a topic that impacts every butler and estate manager—their remuneration package.

As some people in the profession and the media have lowballed the exchange given to butlers and estate managers from time to time, which is not helpful when negotiating a salary, especially with an employer not used to having butlers or estate managers, we thought we’d ask what the general experience has been. Salary amounts have been converted to USD for the sake of consistency and refer to net amounts.

Salaries for experienced butlers today range from $85,000-$230,000 net per annum; the salary earned would be 25-50% higher, depending on the country’s taxes—so between $106,000 as the lowest and $345,000 as the highest gross salary.

Starting salaries were lower: In the $40,000’s three decades ago, $50,000’s two decades ago, and in the $60,000’s a decade ago—those canvassed for this article had been in the profession for quite a while now and were seeing their expertise remunerated appropriately as they gained experience.

One estate manager saw a job posting for between $60,000-$100,000—a huge differential—from a principle who recognized that he may be buying into a new-hire he does not wish to overpay, while leaving the door open for a more-experienced candidate to apply.

Obviously, there are employers who pay less today, especially in certain markets, and those who pay more: The highest on record is $2 million—not sure if that was gross or net, but when dealing with such numbers, who cares?

Asking for any recommendations on how to manage the employer or agent perception of what constitutes a fair salary, or for ensuring the salary reflects your value, the advice was:

  1. Ensure they are familiar with the industry norms (as given in this article, for instance);
  2. Refer to your years of service, relevant education, production record, the combination of needed skills you bring to the table;
  3. The uniqueness of this combination;
  4. Refer to your salary history, if you have one;
  5. Consider the duties, whether light or complex and onerous;
  6. Consider the hours—24/7/365 availability versus 8/5/245 needs to be reflected in the salary;
  7. Location matters, too—a large city commands a higher salary because the cost of living is greater and often the position is live-out;
  8. Avoid over-asking at the outset, instead negotiating a reasonably low starting salary with options to grow into that desired top-notch salary within a fairly short and stated time frame, once the principle can see the employee has walked the talk.

In an ideal situation, trust your agency/recruiter to look after both your and the principle’s interests and at the outset, state the salary range you wish for and stick to your guns. If the market does not support that range, then search in an area that does. Never argue, plead, or barter for a fair salary either with an agency/recruiter or with a potential employer—just do not apply for those positions that do not match your criteria or sign any agreement that does not pass the fairness test: As one estate manager said, “Regret has a bitter taste that is difficult to remove.”

Salary is only part of the picture: A full remuneration package can include variously:

  1. On- or off-site accommodations, paid for;
  2. Health benefits with a low deductible;
  3. 401K/retirement fund contributions;
  4. Use of a company car, which may/may not be for private use;
  5. Or mileage for use of own car on company business (some people prefer petrol/gas, and car maintenance & insurance as a percentage of the miles driven for business versus personal miles); parking, toll fees, and valet costs also covered;
  6. And/or a monthly travel pass for commuting via public transportation where appropriate;
  7. A telephone, which may/may not be for private use, including the phone and service agreement;
  8. A laptop or tablet, which may/may not be for private use, including wifi;
  9. Paid overtime (not normal, but certainly where the hours are 9-5 and the salary is in a lower range;
  10. Travel bonus;
  11. Business class travel when required to fly more than 4 hours.
  12. Uniform supplied and maintained, or a uniform allowance if there is no set uniform but a certain dress code is required, including outerwear in colder climates; for ladies, accessories can be included;
  13. Per diem for food;
  14. Two- and later three-weeks of paid vacations annually;
  15. One paid sick day per month, cumulative in any calendar year;
  16. National holiday days off, or time-off-in-lieu where one is on duty on those days;
  17. End-of-year bonus;
  18. Annual review of performance and salary;
  19. Professional membership dues paid for;
  20. A relocation allowance.

“During my almost twenty-year career in private service, I have found the perfect employment package to be not the highest income but rather one including gratis housing, transportation, and of course insurance benefits. When combining the value of these perks, I find I enjoy a finer lifestyle than a higher income level can provide.”

For any recommendations on improving the package, the following was offerred:

“Do your research before asking: It’s easy to ask for more, but more difficult to explain why the boss should give you more.”

“I am fine with my package now, but it took me too long a time to stand up for myself and ask for and receive what I deserved.”

“Never agree to use your own credit card or cash for work-related expenses with the expectation that you will receive [immediate] reimbursement. If your employer is unable or unwilling to provide a credit card or cash, then they really do not want or need whatever they wish you to purchase. Ask if making purchases will be part of your duties and whether you will have a cash float or credit card to use. If not, please make clear to the agency, recruiter, or employer prior to employment that you will not use your own funds.

“Always be prepared to provide documentation for any purchase, no matter how small, so you won’t be responsible for reimbursing your employer when using his or her funds.

“I also suggest having an annual cost-of-living increase included in a work agreement, separate and unrelated to your work performance. You may or may not receive an annual bonus or merit increase, but a guaranteed cost-of-living increase is something you can depend on, no matter how small that amount may be.”

“Obtain a letter of recommendation as soon as possible if not just before departure and keep a personal file up to date with credentials—your next application for a position will benefit from having several positive recommendation letters.”

“My last employer had me on a salary and worked me 41 days in a row, close to 80 hours a week, and yet still felt compelled to call me at 2 a.m. for non-emergency business. I didn’t take any vacation time or any holidays, so when I left, I received a $4,500 check to cover the time off that I had been promised. I lasted over 15 months on that position as I needed a reference for my resume. I suggested to the new butler that he ask for an hourly rate. Now, if I work 70 hours, I am paid for them at time-and-a-half after 40 hours.

Asked if they had ever experienced any difficulties receiving what was promised in terms of salary and/or remuneration package, the answers were:

“Not at all—just had to be patient and work hard.”

“If it’s in your contract you should receive what is offered. I know when I brought up all the days my former employer owed me, they weren’t thrilled to hand over the $4,500 they owed me. To which I replied that not only had I read the 17-page contract before I started, but that I had asked a lawyer to do so, too. It is smart business practice to read your contract so you know what is expected of you and what you receive in return. Same with your review, when it comes to increases in pay, more vacation time, or whatever you’re getting, that it be in writing if you find the employer isn’t remembering what they had told you. Make sure you receive what you are worth, as your job entails physical stamina, emotional intelligence, logical thinking, an educated mind, grace under fire, and a thick skin.”

“It is somewhat humiliating to remind an employer to give you something they had previously agreed to provide, even when in writing. Depending on the relationship between employer and employee, it might be best for the agency or recruiter to intercede to resolve the question.”

Another estate manager added, “At the end of the day, you cannot ruffle your employer’s tail feathers. So, learn to read facial expressions and body language. Do not try and have a conversation when you see things are a bit crazy in the household. Do it at a mutually advantageous time. Better attitude means better response. Though I know I am entitled to a third week vacation this year, I have not brought it up [at this time of social distancing and skeleton staff]. It might have to wait until next year. At least I am an essential employee and didn’t lose a day of work!”

“One previous employer delayed signing my work agreement for weeks after I had started, despite my gentle reminders. Finally, although I was rather enjoying my new situation, I decided to hand in my two-week notice—without a work agreement, I did not feel confident that my employer would live up to their end of our arrangement and I was not willing to work for an employer I could not trust.

“Both principals were shocked by this action and immediately phoned the recruiter who had placed me to complain that I was being unfair after all they had done for me (including relocating me from across the country, providing me with corporate accommodation whilst I searched for a new home, and having me fitted for several bespoke uniforms).

“He calmly explained that all I needed to remain on the position was a signed work agreement. The next morning, a copy of the signed agreement was waiting for me—and to my surprise, my new employer increased my pay effective immediately. To this day, I honestly don’t know what I would have done had they accepted my resignation without any rebuttal, but I have no regrets about being true to myself.”

Hopefully, the experience of your peers will help guide you on this subject of interest to all butlers and estate managers, but which we prefer not to discuss because it is not all about the money at all—but for our long-term peace of mind, and to increase the likelihood that we will remain in service to that employer for a long time to our mutual benefit, it is important that we are exchanged with fairly—that what we put out is, in the big picture, roughly equal to what we receive back, so that we can take our attention off that administrative detail and just focus on providing brilliant and solicitous service.

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, April 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Editor Note: We had just one brave soul responding this week—I am sure preparing for lockdown etc. is not only upsetting but also takes a lot of attention. Let’s not allow our attention to be completely distracted from our work by all the noise—panic is not in a butler’s vocabulary, after all!

Dealing with Dishonesty, Theft, or even Criminality

Have you had to deal with staff who might be described as being dishonest or even criminal? If so, what were they doing that did not work well for the professional home environment?

In my 40 years of service, I have seen my fair share of unethical behavior. Over a decade ago, I worked in a home where the client, a 77 year old male, was verbally abusing and overworking the staff. Though difficult to deal with, I tried not to react but dismissed myself [from each unfortunate interaction] as soon as possible. The butler, whose wife was the Chef, couldn’t take it and, after about 6 months,‘snapped’, grabbing the principal by his shirt collar and shaking him back and forth. Once the incident ended, the man was fired immediately. The client kept the chef, but, about four months later, there was another physical altercation between the chef and the principal’s much younger wife . Obviously, her job was terminated, too. There were no other conversations regarding the domestic couple again. The pressures of the job affects everyone, but physically attacking anyone is never the answer.

What was your approach to dealing with the non-optimum situation?

In a situation where the client is venting on me, and making it personal, I just act stoically, remembering that people act the way they want in their own home. So, if they are having a bad day, sometimes you’re on the receiving end of a not-so-pleasant situation. I back away a few steps, still facing the client, and try to excuse myself, explaining I have a lot of projects to attend to, thereby trying to deactivate the escalation. It is hard to hold your emotions together when your being screamed at, but I have to respect the homeowner. It is difficult not to take it personally, though—I often do.

Have you had to deal with family members or guests who might be described as being dishonest or even criminal? If so, what were they doing that that did not work well for the professional home environment?

I think most families have a manipulator among them. Someone who at the last minute throws a curve ball into the mix. Once a granddaughter wanted to visit for a few days with her boyfriend. They showed up with their two cats, and shortly thereafter, the grandson showed up to stay with his sister. They stayed for months, draining the staff of their energy with demands. First I asked for additional staff, which wasn’t approved. But you cannot have an extra 3 people and two animals, have them stay for months, and not create friction among the staff. Finally, the principal had to ask the grandchildren and menagerie  to vacate the premises, because the principals felt taken advantage of.

What was your approach to dealing with the non-optimum situation?

Well, you can only bring up a subject so many times before your client becomes frustrated with you. Without additional staff, the estate wasn’t being kept the way the client was accustomed. When the subject was broached, it was explained that we needed at least two more staff members to accommodate 3 adults and two animals, who were guests in the home, for three meals a day, snacks, cheese boards, beverages and all the laundry, both bedding and towels, plus their private wardrobe. Then there was the animal care, with cats, feeding, litter boxes and lots of extra vacuuming.

Have you had to deal with employers who might be described as being dishonest or even criminal? If so, what were they doing that that did not work well for the professional home environment?

If the constant pursuit of someone’s spouse is counted, I was always fighting off this man’s advances. He had a mistress, one of his wife’s best friends, who hung herself in the shower eventually. The rumor was that she wrapped a phone cord around her neck and the top the the shower head, and sat down, which I thought sounded odd. When his wife made up her mind to leave him, he took a butcher knife and sliced their mattress to shreds and hung a noose on a tree outside the window. Creepy. Then his wife asked if I had engaged in sex with her husband. Shocked, I stated that even though I was a domestic worker, I considered her a friend. She then blurted out that I was the only friend who didn’t have sex with her husband. Nutshell: Wealth and power can create a stagnant existence in some people, whereby sick intentions can be carried out without much blowback or punishment.

What was your approach to dealing with the non-optimum situation?

At first, I simply changed jobs without burning my bridges. Especially as I had worked with the family for ten years before the final incident. At that point, I actually moved out of the state. Not necessarily because of what happened, though deep down, I was not going to work for the husband after the divorce, which was drama-filled and anxiety ridden. I did work for the ex-wife on occasion when I would come home and visit my family. Since we stayed in touch, she always asked me to come by if I had time on my vacation. She missed me and loved the way I was loyal to her.

Any edifying or amusing anecdotes?

I have witnessed my fair share of unbecoming behavior. As long as I can be true to my ethical standards, I can withstand almost anything as long I am not involved in any deceit. Theft is a different story. Unlike a lot of people, I am never cool with thieves. Debauchery, well, your responsibility is not to judge, it is their life, not yours. If you are going to report something, you better have enough corroborating  evidence to support your claims, otherwise you look like a troublemaker. I have outside activities, when I have time off, like yoga for relaxation, my religion for guidance, and art for a creative outlet.

Ed: Many thanks to the Estates Manager who filled in the survey—you know who you are 🙂

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, March 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Managing individuals with bad attitudes

This is a subject that, unless we are living in a tent in the middle of the Sahara desert, we have all experienced at one time or another. Thanks to those who were willing to share from a professional point of view. I know sometimes these subjects make butlers and household/estate(s) managers clam up for reasons of discretion, but if both butler and the person they are discussing remain anonymous, then no harm done, no foul, no penalty. Discussing this elephant in the room helps members know what to expect and how they might handle the situation, that they are not alone, and not to take such encounters personally. This helps them and the person with whom they are dealing. So our thanks to those who were willing to share.

Asked for attitude problems with staff, one estate manager noted that “I had a housekeeper who would find a quiet spot in the house to lie down and sleep! Her favorite areas were the garage in between cars and a dark corner in the basement. Granted it’s a big house and I can’t always hear or see staff working, but when it was really quiet, I would go searching for her! After finding her a couple of times, I had no choice but to fire her.

“Another time I had a housekeeper looking at personal items of family members, such as reading a teenage daughter’s diary, sitting in an upstairs bedroom with her feet up reading magazines, and even trying on the Principal’s (Mrs.) clothing! All the while, this housekeeper was complaining that she was not able to complete her daily assignments. I spent time reviewing her list and modifying it where possible and then, finally, her co-worker told me what she was doing. I immediately called the housekeeper in question at home (it was her day off) and questioned her. She admitted everything, so I told her that her actions were unacceptable for the household. She asked if she could have a second chance but I had to decline and fired her.

“These incidents happened during the early years of hiring for the house, and my principal and I have used them as learning tools for future hires to good effect: We now have long-term employees who, when they were hired, I made it a point to outline expected behavior, job duties, and standards.”

Another butler told the following story: “I could write a book on this topic, but the eight pages of signed disclaimers as well as personal integrity will not allow me to divulge any of the craziness that I have witnessed over my years in private service. I am however able to share a story that has a hard lesson attached.

“The family chef I had the true pleasure of working with was previously employed by a very high-profile and wealthy patriarch in our community. Unfortunately, as with so many of us, the patriarch had become feeble in his dotage and mentally unable to care for himself without assistance. My friend was asked by the family if he would be willing to include personal care with his cooking duties. The family would then reward him for his extra efforts when the time came. After agreeing to the family terms, the staff was reduced to a housekeeper, a butler, and my friend, the personal chef/care giver.

“During the last two weeks of the patriarch’s life, valuable items such as jewelry, paintings—anything that could be removed easily from the home, started to disappear. My friend noticed the newly created bare spots on the walls and cupboards but did not say anything as he went about his duties—changing adult diapers and bathing duties. Upon the death of the patriarch, the family members in conjunction with the family lawyers, announced to the housekeeper and my friend that they were being dismissed without any special benefits and were told to be thankful that charges would not be pressed for the missing items that the butler reported as now stolen, accusing my friend and housekeeper of the thefts.

“The butler, who was the actual perpetrator, was rewarded with a generous financial gift, the items he absconded with, as well as a good reference for future employment. You could say the Butler really did do it! Of note is that he was eventually terminated from his new position for theft. The hard lesson learned was that my friend should have (immediately) reported the missing items to a family member or the authorities.”

Another butler reported the following: “A previous employer made the decision to hire the brother of a former work colleague who had just left the military and needed a good job. He was given the title of Property Manager but knew nothing about property management nor about working in private service. His attitude from the beginning was that he was above the position he was handed. He refused to submit weekly reports, never answered his mobile, talked down to other staff members, spent a great deal of time off site, and to cap it off, he blatantly disliked me.

“When presented with these facts, my employer told me to: ‘make the best of it.’  I responded by completely ignoring the Property Manager with the exception of e-mails pertaining to his job. In effect, I carried on just as I had before he was hired. At first, he complained to the other staff members, but they had no reason to take his side.

“He eventually convinced my employer that he should be placed in charge of the security guards, which lead ultimately to his becoming one of them. Because the guards only worked nights, I rarely had to see him. A few months later, I was allowed to hire a brilliant Property Manager who exceeded all expectations and impressed my employer daily. As a result, I was given frequent praise for my ability to manage efficiently the large and complex staff.”

Bad attitudes are not the sole domain of staff: Principals and guests also have been known to harbour them, as one butler noted:

“We have had some issues with family members over the years. Many times, family members are at the residence alone when the principals are at work or appointments. They will ask staff to do things for them during the day—go shopping and pick up certain items, have certain foods prepared above and beyond the meals already being prepared for the principals, do laundry and iron items, babysit younger children, etc. While we have always been happy to do this, some family members do take it too far, expecting the staff to wait upon them hand and foot, serve their every need. The solution? Accommodate their requests, particularly as the principal is very generous with family members. If timing became an issue, I would become involved, but we usually took care of everything.”

Another butler shared that “I encountered a weekend guest who truly was ‘rotten to the core.’  He was horribly rude to the male staff members and made very sexist comments about the female staff members. In front of my employer, he slithered around with a creepy, artificial smile pasted on his face. He would ask for things that, when presented, he would deny requesting. He lied regarding his whereabouts to both staff and my employer. He cornered a housemaid in the laundry room but was interrupted before he could do anything vile. And he demanded to see the security monitors ‘because he was curious.’ It was a very tense and challenging weekend for all the household staff, which our employer was apparently unaware of. It was his private secretary who noted the tension and asked me, in confidence, if there were any ‘concerns’ about the house guest. I simply offered an affirmative nod. The next day, after the guest had departed, the private secretary  whispered discretely in my ear as we passed on a landing, ‘That snake will not be returning.’

“I am very sorry to report that I have worked for too many employers who were ‘bad characters.’ Some were mean for sport, some were constant liars, and others were bullies who made staff feel threatened and unsafe. Over time, my tolerance for employers who are bad characters has dropped. A gap on my CV/resume is far better than ever again enduring an employer who abuses, manipulates, or bullies staff—and no amount of money offered would be enough to stay with them.”

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, February 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


75% of those surveyed have had to work with Family Offices. The successful approach, obviously, is collaboration and working to bring them up to speed on the delicate balances existing in private service, where these are missing in the Family Office personnel—and that does appear to be an issue that will result in conflict if not addressed. With the complexities of life today and the greatly expanded list of duties that butlers/household managers have, it would be impossible for them to manage everything as in the old days, so Family Offices and butlers/estates managers are both of great use to each other, and the one cannot do the work of the other. Here are some of the responses from the butlers and household/estate(s) managers surveyed.

“I spend half-an-hour a day, a small percentage of my time, talking to Family Offices—they tend to be very chatty when I need the nuts and bolts of today’s schedule and any changes there might be. Thankfully, there has been a positive shift regarding my workload over the past decade, as more families hire an Executive Personal Assistant to work in the home office, who takes care of lots of administrative duties that I used to perform. Scheduling household maintenance alone is a time-consuming job here, with 17 outbuildings and hundreds of acres.”

“The Family Office provides various services: All tax preparation and filing for family members; access to all bank accounts and relationships with bank representatives; quarterly meetings with principals; paying monthly bills; IT services – includes purchasing/setting up new cell phones, iPads, laptops, copiers, setting up fire walls, VPNs, troubleshooting issues for family members and their support staff – everything to do with IT; making travel arrangements for principals, including airline tickets, hotel reservations, private transportation, reservations at restaurants; security services, and including travel assessments—especially for trips outside of the US; accompanying certain family members on trips; monitoring local police activity around the Family Office, family members’ homes and businesses; processing payroll for family members’ employees and their entities.”

Looking at what duties traditionally assigned to a butler/HM are being delegated to a Family office, we find “Accounting and bill paying, petty cash oversight, scheduling the family itinerary, handling seasonally hired staff, booking vendors for maintenance, and manning the ever-shifting calendar of events. Although I still receive an occasional 2 a.m. emergency call, it is now a shared effort and mostly the office assistant’s responsibility, since the questions are usually directed at schedules.”

“In the estate where I work, we actually took items away from the Family Office as the principals wanted to have control over some areas. I review and pay all bills for the household using QuickBooks, which I access through the Family Office. I balance and reconcile all bank accounts and credit cards. The Family Office reviews the accounts at the end of every month. I handle the cell services for the principals and family members.”

“Our new person is from the corporate world and is still learning the private-service world. I have been forthright in providing verbal information and also, printed about 25 pages of information regarding the titles and chores of the personnel that work here. I like having the Family Office Assistant fielding time consuming tasks, such as, following up on why a vendor hasn’t arrived on time or didn’t show up at all; rescheduling no-shows; booking travel arrangements for the family (ground transportation, airfare, hotels, restaurant reservations, etc.); handling much of the private drama. I have plenty of physical jobs to perform, and make ample time for my principal, but having a person who can make conversation and small talk with the employer is a huge burden off my shoulders, especially when we are under-staffed.”

“I have never had to report to or be managed by a Family Office. I work hand in hand with them. The Family Office has a good understanding of the duties and challenges of the estate managers for family members. I actually came from the corporate world before working at the Estate, so it was easy for me to manage employees, handle financial information, etc., although I needed to learn the actual house management side of the business when I first arrived.”

“Although I do not plan on looking for another job, if I did, I would want personnel in the home office. They take the brunt of paperwork off the estate manager’s shoulders, such as filing; maintaining a family and home-maintenance calendar; multiple-homes calendar of events; travel itineraries; vacation information and family activities; doctor appointments and executive meetings, to name a few things. If there is a change in a menu, I can send them to the grocery store to pick up what I need.

“I decided to teach our office assistant to make the principal’s favorite meal, what to have prepped for snacks, fixing her favorite drink, how to anticipate what might be needed, all of which becomes very useful if I am on vacation. The principal now relies on them to run some of her personal errands, like going to the post office, sorting the snail mail and sifting through e-mails and answering correspondence, and to make small talk or just be a listening ear. It gives the principal someone else to rely on, which I think is great. We do not discuss each other’s private conversations that we have with the principal, as she might not have confided the same information to both of us—we share all household-related information, however.”

“I found the Family Office personnel to be very helpful and patient during my learning-curve years.”

Naturally, there are some good experiences and some not so good. “The family office subject matter is indeed interesting as well as challenging. I have had to deal with the traditional family office as well as a corporate office, both being antagonists. The challenges seem to compound exponentially in either scenario.  Not only are we expected to be watchful of our principal, but we must also walk equally carefully in the presence of the office staff. It seems that everything we say and do is subject to the old saying that one of my principals used to remind me of every time I attempted to step out of my particular comfort zone while trying to assist him: “No good deed ever goes unpunished!” Always remember that in your position as an extra set of eyes and ears for your principal, your back has a rather large bullseye painted on it for a menagerie of issues, both positive and negative and that everything you say and do in the office domain will be used against you whenever possible! Sorry to be so pessimistic but better to be prepared than not.”

Another individual had a similar negative view of Family Offices, but did find office-based Executive Assistants to be good team players. “I am thankful to report that I have not had to endure working with a Family Office. However, working with an office-based Executive Assistant is rather expected, as they coordinate travel details, manage calendars, book theatre tickets and order food for business lunches (amongst other tasks) that generate important information I need to know. For example, if the EA fails to inform me that our employer made a last-minute decision to attend an art exhibit opening instead of playing handball, I would not be able to redirect the chauffeur or save the chef from preparing a meal that would not be eaten. The EA also relies on me to communicate information and details that potentially will impact business needs. For example, if our employer leaves for the office without eating breakfast, the EA will need to have some food ready so a meeting or appointment is not delayed. It has been my experience that when the EA and the butler function well in tandem, sharing information frequently, our employer is rarely inconvenienced and both office and house staff can manage their time more effectively.”

Another person experienced problems with a Family Office employee, but worked to bring her up to speed on private-service skillsets. “Oh my, during my extreme busy season, I was highly agitated with the reading and listening skills of the family office hire. I was always defending them to the principal, mostly about how slow they were to pick up on their job duties, especially the private service nuances that they did not have. Always pointing out what they did well and reminding her that I have 40 years of private service, and that is why I find it easy to anticipate the needs of my clients individual needs. I have been at this position 7 years, plus my degree was in theater, so I have great listening and reading skills and a flare for the drama that can be baffling to some. I try to remind the Office Manager that like any family, there is joy, love, mayhem and maybe an alcoholic, drug addict or philanderer in the mix. Take the ‘good with the bad’ mentality. That is why confidentiality and trust are so important. At the end of the day; which can be mentally exhausting, there are many people on the farm that are physically exhausted. I suppose, I am a bit of both. Every day at my job It is like live theater and I love it!”

This approach was adopted by another Estates Manager: “We hired someone about 20 months ago who was recommended by a family member; while a star in the accounting realm, this person was an extremely slow learner regarding private/personal service. The solution has been to be friendly, patient, helpful, supportive, hospitable, sympathetic to their new position—a beneficial team player.”

The same collaborative approach is successful for another Estates Manager: “Being respectful and responding as soon as possible to any requests has always helped me. They remember that when I call in with an urgent issue and need their help immediately.”

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, January 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


It seems assisting housekeepers when needed is a standard part of the modern butler’s duties—in line with the downsizing of household staffs a century ago that left the butler rolling up his sleeves and doing work previously covered by housekeepers and others. This trend was re-enforced by the new tools and equipment beginning to appear in households, such as dishwashers (1888) and vacuum cleaners (1905).

And so today, what is it that butlers do particularly for the housekeeper in the spirit of teamwork? Cover weekends, sick days, vacation time, personal time, and covering for emergencies, such as when the housekeeper’s children have a day off from school and the babysitter fell through—or stepping up to the plate and assuming the role of Executive Housekeeper when the current one falls through for one reason or another, until a new one has been found.

“Normally, most of my time is spent as an Estate Manager, but as long as I have time to do it, housekeeping is one of my favorite duties—I love a gleaming interior and exterior! For periods when we have no housekeeper, 40% of my time is spent on housekeeping: Making the beds, cleaning the bathrooms, and doing the laundry. When I have to be the chef also, sometimes, I change my clothes after the house keeping to do the kitchen preps and food service. I am very organized, thorough, and quick, so can make it all happen.”

Without treading on toes, the duties of the Butler or Estates Manager generally include overseeing the housekeeping work; showing newly hired housekeepers the ropes and being a working example.

“I like the housekeepers to be steady, methodical, careful and meticulous. I train them myself, to learn the routines of the current client. Taking as much time as needed for a full understanding of the process, not having a ‘sloppy-get-it-done-as-quickly-as-I-can’ attitude.”

A key challenge with managing the housekeeping staff is boredom creeping in, as routines can create laziness. One solution offered by one Estates Manager is to switch schedules between housekeepers, when there are more than one. Apart from being beneficial for cross training, it gives the housekeepers variety and one is not stuck doing the less-popular functions all the time.

When it comes to the more exquisite and expensive garments, the Estates Manager sometimes finds himself or herself laundering and ironing them where the current staff have yet to acquire the appropriate expertise and professional cleaners are not available locally.

In addition to having a section in the household manual for product lists and what they are used for, it is helpful to stick smart tags on the washers and dryers to translate the settings for ESL (English as a Second Language) staff  and to provide them with laminated instructions in their language explaining the symbols on garments.

Additionally, it is smart to provide checklists for new housekeepers to help guide them in what is needed and wanted by the employer, which may not be the same as in earlier homes worked.

There are a number of areas that can be tricky to train on and execute properly, requiring extra attention to ensure no damage is done in the laundry to employer garments—spot treatment, folding and placing the items at the bottom of the correct pile/stack, steaming, using chemical cleaners (even less-toxic “green products” need careful consideration on certain surfaces), and antiques. It takes working side-by-side and open communication and an understanding attitude to bring about the required work ethic—a single quick instruction won’t do it.

There are other challenges, though, with managing Housekeepers: “Keeping someone on task and not cutting corners as they rush through their tasks, is a challenge, and then seeing them sitting around, being too chatty, watching TV, or preoccupied with their phone. This scenario does not fly with me. I have a rule that phones are for 15-minute breaks or lunchtimes, or extreme emergencies. Otherwise, my phone number is given to family members to reach the housekeeper in emergencies. It turned out to be amazing how few emergencies the employees really had, when I first put this rule in place. I am not authoritative when it comes to a Housekeeper being late because their children are sick or school starts late or gets out early, or if traffic is heavy. It only becomes a problem when it becomes a daily excuse, at which point we discuss. Also, for those without children who do not come in late or leave early, I usually give them a half-day paid leave every few months, so animosity does not build in the group.”

Other points of note with regard to managing the Housekeepers include:

  1. Not reacting to the inevitable blank stares.;
  2. Reading body language and facial expressions properly;
  3. While enjoying each other’s company, reminding staff of the need to be quiet during their breaks and keeping conversations low-volume while working;
  4. Not sitting on the employer’s furniture outside the designated area for the staff.

Finally, asked for a housekeeping challenge, one Butler offered the time he had to clear up a dog mess in the G-5 at 45,000 feet. The cleaning was not the problem, but there were no windows to open to provide relief to the sense of smell.

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, December 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


This month’s subject examines the butler and the chef, or having to be the chef, too.One third of the butlers surveyed have never had to cook, but the majority had the skill and were required to use it. All had had to work with chefs and manage them delicately.

One butler had three chefs to prepare all meals for the employer, the staff, events, and for the employer’s aircrafts. This butler did, however, provide fruit preparation and an egg every now and then when serving breakfast. Another, while working as head steward on board of one of the employer’s vessels, would cook for a crew of 9 whenever the chef was on leave. “Although I am not a trained chef, everyone survived and as far as I know no extra sick leave had to be taken, so, I guess my qualities were sufficient!”

One butler worked on one position with three different chefs over a four-year period but found it necessary to take culinary classes and a bartenders course, because each of the chefs flaked out and the butler became the de-facto chef. The first chef lost her job because she was intentionally injuring people. The second had a substance abuse problem and wasn’t asked back after his contract was completed. The last one walked off the job without telling anyone, leaving several-hundred-dollars-worth of groceries in his vehicle. “We became concerned when our guests were arriving in an hour and the chef was nowhere to be found. The Principal and I whipped up Chicken Milanese and served it over a bed of greens. Plus a fresh fruit crisp for dessert. Consequently, I have been doing some basic food service for about two years for the employer and an occasional luncheon for 3-4 people.”

Duties expected depended on the time of year for one butler and which residence was being occupied. In one, it was necessary to do the grocery shopping and cooking four-or-five light meals a week for six months. The other six months required simply purchasing breakfast foods and a variety of cheese and crackers for the week.

Dealing with the chef can be tough, as the chef has a huge responsibility, so staying calm and not reacting to the intensity of the moment is a must, according to one butler. “You must cooperate and be an asset in the kitchen, listen closely and follow directions. It is best to communicate before the cooking begins. I notice chefs are focused, so learning to read cues and having items staged for service increases the success of the evening. Helpful, thoughtful, careful and calm. As you become more knowledgeable of the routine and of the chef’s behaviors, it is easier to navigate the kitchen. Stay out of the way, too. The chef has to have access to the stove, oven, sink, pots and pans, cutting surfaces to do preparation and cooking. I think the chef has an enormous responsibility and communication and teamwork is extremely important to have an exceptional and memorable event.”

“As a big team,” adds another butler, “we provide the meals for our employer. I bring my thoughts about the menu, the way it is served or presented. I always hope the chefs use this information, which is usually the case. But in the end, the chefs are responsible for the items served, and I like to trust them in that. Of course, I can overrule decisions when necessary, but this is almost never the case.”

“Chefs are high functioning and can be demanding, since so much of cooking is about timing. The food service needs to run smoothly, it is time consuming to plan and execute, they are artisans. Skilled, precise and professional. Perfectionists. Having a chef is a luxury and food is meant to be nutritious, visually appealing and delicious. Being thick-skinned as a butler helps, too!”

“We currently have a chef who works three days a week at the residence. We meet and talk weekly (or more often if necessary) to discuss the principal’s schedules. There are many lunch and dinner meetings on the schedule, as well as family and extended-family meals. The chef searches for recipes that fit the dietary needs of the family members, keeping a list of their allergies and food sensitivities as well as those of frequent guests. She does the grocery shopping, maintains the pantry, refrigerator and freezer staples, prepares any number of meals a week as well as preparing food for the principal to take with her for lunch at work. The chef maintains the kitchen equipment in good working order and cleans and sanitizes the kitchen before she leaves for the day.  She also has a kitchen garden in the summer where she grows a variety of herbs, peppers, tomatoes and lettuces.

“Her duties over the 11+ years she has worked here have changed. The principals’ dietary wants and needs have fluctuated and the chef has been expected to make the necessary adjustments—and done so very well. The principals actually prefer eating at home because they know the quality of the food is excellent, it’s exactly what they like, the portions are controlled, and frankly they just love her cooking!”

Looking for any challenges and recommendations for dealing with chefs successfully, one butler suggested, “I found that chefs often can be very stubborn—and they should be, as should anyone who believes in his or her qualities as a professional, whatever role they play in the team. Therefore, it is very important to establish a good working relationship within the team where there is liberty for discussion to ensure a perfect result for the employer.”

“Respect, and if you ever watched a cooking show on TV with Gordon Ramsey, you know you don’t argue with the chef. You are in someone’s private home, so you cannot create a commotion or be combative. There is a hefty budget for chefs to purchase food, so you need to let them concentrate and do their job. They can be testy, since so much responsibility is placed on their performance in the kitchen and presentation of food.”

“Time management can be an issue, especially when our chef needs to go shopping on a Monday morning before lunch is prepared. The principals request mainly fresh foods —organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, etc. Because of that, it takes a little longer shopping and preparing the dishes they like because everything is so fresh.

“Another area we have had to work on was the amount of food prepared. In the beginning, the chef was making too much food and it was going to waste (or I was eating it ?).  We had to work on paring down the purchases and then using all of the food purchased before it spoiled. Our chef became very creative out of necessity.”

Asked for amusing anecdotes, one butler demurred, saying that while he had many, most of them were not suitable to share in the MBJ and he would rather keep them for a shared moment in the pantry!

Another offered, “I am trying to be tactful, but for me, chefs are the most challenging to work with. They’re very focused. Since their job is like a theatrical performance of sorts, and a time-consuming venture. This quote from Epictetu is a good one to remember for following directions. “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

“There have been many times where family members have stopped by around dinner time. Of course, our principal invites them to stay for dinner. I remember one time where there were four planned for dinner and at least 4-5 others showed up and were invited to stay. While our chef was surprised at the number of people now dining, she was able to accommodate everyone, even those with food allergies! By the time she had finished cooking and serving, the food in the freezer was noticeably lower and she had used virtually everything that was in the refrigerator! That was amazing to me, that she pulled it off so remarkably well, was praised by the principals and visitors and finished with a smile. Well done! I’m not a chef and a situation like that would have had me calling a local restaurant for urgent delivery!”

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, November 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


This month’s subject covers formal entertainment, which most participants felt they had already covered in last month’s Journal. We therefore quote a typical response we received from a household manager who does a lot of formal entertaining for her principal:

What duties have you had over the years regarding formal entertainment for employers, family, and guests?

Since I have been in private service for decades, I have helped homeowners in many capacities. My current job uses the same caterer for non-family events to which are invited friends, acquaintances, business associates and/or celebrity guests. I work with the chef, his assistant and their service staff. We normally hire a butler as the bartender and he works with the dining room manager to execute the event. My job is to be the liaison for a successful event. The pre-event of setting up of the tables and chairs is done by our staff the day before. We have closets full of various china, linens, glassware and silver that is chosen after the meal has been decided. We usually have about 24 guests, tops. My client likes smaller, intimate gatherings in her home since she attends large galas on a regular basis.

The chef and owner of the catering company present a list of food options a couple weeks before the events. We normally have one every Sunday, 9 or 10 weeks in a row during the summer. So, the logistics are similar, depending on the number of guests attending. Then the other events are usually birthday/anniversaries, special celebrations or holidays. Occasionally she’ll have me order a variety of desserts to compliment what the chef is serving. We probably overdo with lots of extra choices: we have vegetarian or beef available, for instance, in case someone doesn’t eat the fish chosen for the menu. It is my job to order the wine, liquor, and mixers.

Once the guests arrive, I am the one who oversees and answers questions that might normally be directed to the principal. She and I discuss the details, such as the times she wants to begin the meal, when each course is served, how to assist guests with special requests, and answer questions that might arise.

I worked at another home where we hired an event planner, since we had three parties a week. We would rent tables, chairs, linens, tableware, silver and have a florist come in to do the centerpieces and flower arrangements. The chefs would vary according to the type of cuisine we were serving. If we had two chefs flown in from Italy for ten days, for instance, it was my responsibility to greet them at the estate when our chauffeur dropped them off, set them up in their rooms, purchase any specific items or products they needed and familiarize them with the kitchen. The regular chef we had on staff never liked being around to help, so as household manager, that would fall in my lap. The chef was married to the butler, so whenever we had guest chefs, the principals let the couple have time off—understandable that there would be a bit of professional jealousy.

What percentage of your duties did these comprise?

Maybe 20-25%. They seemed to increase as I learned the way principals liked things done. Additionally, we put on smaller events at the penthouse where the space is much smaller. It is always a special event when there is a visitor, each being treated like royalty—the staff being expected to treat the principal, family, and distinguished guests with the same formality.

Did any prove particularly challenging and/or satisfying?

It is always satisfying to have a happy employer and appreciation from the guests. It is my job to help make sure things go well and that everyone enjoys the event. The challenge is being calm under pressure. My employer tends to be a perfectionist, which makes me into one also. Making sure all the moving parts are working well together and reinforcing the team, (ensuring) that they are doing a wonderful job.

What general approaches have you found work best for ensuring a smooth occasion that brings a smile to employer and guest faces alike?

In the planning phase, I take notes, use my phone camera to photograph the guest list and the menu. We have seven different sets of China, so knowing how the table will be set and where the guests will be seated is important to establish. We have two informal dining rooms and a formal dining room. Plus, an outdoor dining area that can seat about 14. Again the logistics: Who’s coming, what are we serving, what drinks, cheese board, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dessert, coffee, and after-dinner drinks will be served, when guests are arriving and estimated times for each course—my current employer likes guests gone by midnight unless they are overnighting in the guest house, so keeping the evening moving along without being intrusive.

Sometimes I need to bring the guest cars to the back of the house, where there is an easy way to exit without negotiating steps.

Finally, go with the flow and think on your feet, smile, be gracious and be extremely careful: The glassware might be $400 for each glass, the wine might be $3,000 a bottle (so watch that cork), that might be a special edition $1,500 plate, and you are handling dozens of these items. So keep up the good work, do your job and enjoy watching the festivities. Oh, and don’t drop that glass, and if you do, point it out so a replacement can be purchased. Because if you think it won’t be missed out of the inventory…think again. I would rather know; no one loses their job, no one faints and it is not life or death. It’s replaceable (cross your fingers) either way, bring any concerns to the management and continue doing a terrific job! If you love your job, do your best. Even if it might be a bit stressful at first, you learn the skills necessary and you’ll be successful.

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.