Newsletter Richard Ratliff

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

Professional Standards of Performance: Application #20

By Richard L. Ratliff 

Today’s Issue: A Worthy Foundation (IV)

This fourth in a series of articles on foundational principles focuses on excellence. The first three principle ideas discussed in the series were (1) butlers as masters of relationships, (2) what is a high quality of life, and (3) the butler’s moral imperative.

I recently had an extended conversation with a retired household manager for a prominent family in Florida. I asked what she felt was the most important contribution she made in her service. Her answer: “Excellence.”

Migrating from England, Frances (not her real name) found employment with a young American family. The husband and wife had never had the services of a butler before. Frances was given responsibility for all household operations, employing various service vendors, including a groundskeeper, auto mechanic and detailer, assistant housekeeper, and kitchen assistant. Frances acted as head housekeeper, chef, and part-time nanny/”grandmother”. She contracted other services as needed. She also kept all household financial accounts.

Frances had been reared and trained in a gentile English tradition. According to Frances, as she introduced various systems and procedures into the household, her new employers “liked my English way of doing things.”

The family even invited Frances to discuss her “English way” with visitors. They were intrigued with pressed sheets, precise folds in linens, polished silver, fresh flowers everywhere, perpetually sparkling bathroom fixtures, orderly pantries, well organized closets and drawers, a systematic family schedule and calendaring system, dressing for dinner and the remarkable effect that a slightly more formal food service had on family meals and dinner conversation, the effect that a more formal manner of addressing one another had on the behavior of the children, and many more refinements Frances introduced into the home in accordance with her traditional English background.

Frances emphasized excellence at every turn in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, details of finish, ease of use, durability, reliability, aesthetics, respect for individual differences and wishes, promptness, and genuine politeness and courtesy, all the while honoring the standards and preferences of the employer.

The standards of excellence made the difference, for the benefit of everyone. A specifically English tradition may not suit every household, but by whatever manner of standards, excellence defines the butler’s pursuit.

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.