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Would You like Your Service Today Live or Programmed, Madam?

Would You like Your Service Today Live or Programmed, Madam?

During the 1990’s, I interviewed several futurists for various issues of Government Technologies magazine: amongst other predictions, they anticipated the omnipresence of robots in the workforce. In 2001 (unrelated to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), I spoke at a butler convention about a convergence of “hominids” (humans) and robots: the robots becoming more human and the humans becoming more robotic—and warned that this did not augur (signal) well for humans who preferred superior service. Hospitality, basic definition is friendly, which comes from an Indo-European root word meaning love. Met any friendly robots recently who expressed their heartfelt love? Or for that matter, from staff who lack passion for service? The one is as tortuous as the other to anyone seeking meaningful discourse, fulfilling relationships, or genuinely solicitous service.

Hospitality executives are busy handling guest needs and issues, budgets, increasing market share, etc., so may not be looking sufficiently circumspectly at this fast-encroaching, robotic trend. Hence this article examining whence robots came, how far they have advanced into the workplace, and their future in hospitality. As we hominids are part of the equation, we can control where the trend goes: a talking head on TV saying that robots will take over by 2040 only means they will if we all act like robots and do and say whatever we are “programmed” to do and say.

Therein lies the key—as in an early, futuristic silent movie that showed a food conveyor belt in a canteen grinding to a halt after a new worker failed to take his soup bowl off the belt—because he didn’t like soup—and the mechanical breakdowns cascading until the whole, interconnected, automated society ground to a halt. Freedom of choice, a vital component in life, goes against the whole ethos of robotics and automation, which are designed to control according to fixed programs input by others in some distant time and location and according to the dogmas of the time.

The Ghost of Robots Past

Man has envisioned robots performing chores for decades, if not centuries: 2,400 years ago, Philo of Byzantium built a robot wannabe that poured wine when a cup was placed in its hand. A Czech dramatist, Karel Capek, coined the word robota in his 1920 play R.U.R. to describe the artificial creatures featured in the play. Robota means “work” in various Slavic languages, providing a clear indication of the role man envisions for his robots. The character, Harry Domin, declares (unadvisedly) in the play, “Work humiliates, anyone who’s forced to do it, is made small.”

In the 1940’s, they were still just dreaming about robots: a TV program showed a robot butler that would, at the press of a button, perform household chores so that mum did not have to work. An actor was dressed as the robot in the show, because robot technology was still as non-existent as in Philo’s time. As a side note, they called it a robot butler—perhaps based on the role Philo conceived for his robot, the butler profession being founded on wine service—and the moniker has stuck ever since: almost every robot created is marketed as a “robot butler.”

The incessant messaging over the decades from Madison Avenue selling “Don’t work, happiness comes from consumption and relaxation” kept alive the fantasy of a robotic servant—Rosie the Robot in the 1960’s Jetson’s cartoons, for instance, but a change occurred that moved the whole concept beyond the fanciful: robot technology was finally coming into being—General Motors introduced the first robot, Unimate, in an industrial setting—the definition of “robot” being “any machine that is smart enough to make autonomous decisions.”

While we have been exposed to continued fantasy (robot superiority with the faceless and faulty Hal in the 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey, and C-3PO’s human face in the 1977 launch of Star Wars—and in the last couple of years, it seems every other movie involves superhuman robots), always pushing the envelope, science and reality have been not too far behind, pursuing two apparent goals: a) to make us all into docile consumers who are freed from the demands of work; b) to harness human ingenuity and intelligence and make the gods who create the robots, subservient to them in capability—to improve on nature in other words, whether for commercial or militaristic ends.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Just a quarter of a century after R2D2, a Dutch supermarket chain employed Schrobbie, a robot that carefully navigated around obstacles and, if those happened to be hominids, saying, “Excuse me, I’d like to clean here.” Of course, a real maid would know not to disturb customers—but this is a restriction that robots no doubt would find most illogical. When Schrobbie wasn’t scrubbing and vacuuming, it was distributing mail, conducting inspection rounds, and transporting passengers and goods. All work done previously by low-wage and poorly educated hominids.

Why replace hominids with robots?

After an upfront cost and with minimal maintenance, robots work all hours and days of the year, never taking off time for sickness, holidays, vacations, maternity leave; never joining unions nor going on strike nor asking for raises; never refusing work because it is outside its job description (simply requiring re-programming); never having personal problems, vendettas, nor talking back; never faking injuries for long-term disability nor threatening to sue; and requiring not a cent in payroll and payroll taxes.

On the downside, they do break down or malfunction (Hal) occasionally, and infuriate (and lose the trust/patience of) customers because of their inability to think or act outside their programming. After their initial gimmick value, they are an impediment in the same way that a long series of automated phone-tree choices are when a caller just wants to talk to a real person that can think for himself and answer a simple question. Granted, some hominids specialize in stopping, rather than servicing; but for every one of these, there are ten who will listen and help. Not so a poorly programmed phone answering-system/robot—for it certainly is hard to program every eventuality into an automated system/robot.

Moore’s Law Applies 

If you think change has been rapid, better not blink during the next few years.

“If current trends of computer development and human replacement continue, the traditional labor market will be a thing of the past as a consequence of machine intelligence.” Moshe Vardi, Rice University computer science professor

Robotics still faces many barriers, but scientists are overcoming them. Project teams such as CloPeMa and University of California Berkeley’s PR2 are working on developing robots that can fold clothing (it is humbling, perhaps, to designers that such simple actions for hominids are extremely complex and challenging for robots to be programmed to do). The focus with Carnegie Mellon University’s Herb is to increase the robot’s ability to sense, evaluate, and handle objects. Right now, he can’t unload a dishwasher, but advances are being made: Waseda University’s Wendy could crack open an egg in 1998; by 2007 its successor, Twendy, could butter toast.

Eight years later, and we have Fraunhofer Institute’s Care-O-bot 4 for homes, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and other industries: able to deliver food and drinks, and assist with cooking and cleaning.

The state of the art sees robots with cutsie names, whether in the home, hospitality, or other service environments, fast acquiring skills and taking over hominid jobs. Nao handles customer-relations in The Bank of Tokyo; Nestlé has robots selling coffee makers in stores; a restaurant in China has robot chefs, and waiters who take food to (the vicinity of) the diners; Henn-na hotel in Japan is the world’s first hotel run mostly (90% ultimately) by robots—which, incidentally, only respond to Japanese, fail to reply to any human emotion or social communications, and only activate at 3pm check-in time. The owner’s goal being to create the most efficient hotel in the world by reducing manpower—a goal that will probably not resonate with hominid guests, but will appear very attractive to robot guests. 

More modest in scope is Botlr, Aloft Hotels’ robot-bellman, delivering small items to guests. The tech-savvy market associates technology with convenience, so such guests are happy to do without live interaction (up to a point, one suspects). Management’s idea is Botlr frees up hominid staff-time to interact with guests—a reason that does not add up, given that face time is an important issue for hominid staff, yet the Botlr is the one with the face time, while the hominid’s role is only to load deliverable items into Botlr.

RoboEarth is another important development in the robot world that promises to increase robotic prowess exponentially: an open-source World Wide Web for robots to learn from each other: once a robot uploads a new skill, the robots connected to the network learn it, too—in effect, creating a common brain for multiple units—much like a colony of ants.

Google’s cars have been driven hundreds of thousands of miles by robots with only one reported minor accident—one easily correctable with a software patch.

Until now, most robotic creations have displaced some blue-collar workers performing routine tasks requiring physical skills, while computer programs have displaced some white-collar workers managing cerebral-oriented tasks. These forces are coming together in the form of robots with much accelerated Artificial Intelligence (AI) which pose a direct threat to multiple skilled laborers and service providers, whether FO staff, butlers and personal assistants à la R2D2, entertainers, designers, teachers, house or baby sitters, elderly care, writers, paralegals, taxi drivers (Robot Taxi Inc. launches in Japan in 2016), et al.

Some scientists have a vision—Hominid Mark II—a convergence of human and robot—more reliable and productive, and most important, easily controlled. Some envision the creation, ultimately by the robots themselves, of hominid-like robots with self-awareness, able to determine their own goals and exhibit emotional behavior and complex language skills. One could say it is modern day eugenics; playing god; playing with fire; or just a natural impulse to create and improve what is there. I see it as a bunch of immature hominids whose understanding of the sciences is as superior as their understanding of themselves and the humanities is inferior.

The Future is Us: The Convergence of AI Robots & Hominids into “Humanized Robots” 

While AI Robots are advancing at breakneck pace—just 54 years since the first basic robot was put into production—another trend is taking place, the robotification of hominids, starting with the fusion of hominids and semi-intelligent machines in the form of implants, whether retina, pacemakers, or hearing aids, as well as chip implants—which tens of thousands of people already have; and all against the backdrop of organs grown in laboratories, genetic surgery, and designer babies.

As a side note, it is predictable that implants will be mandated in the same way that vaccinations are being mandated (for the “good of society” and for the individual’s “health and safety”) for health workers, school children, and if the Obama HHS National Vaccine Advisory Committee’s meeting in February 2015 has its way, all American adults—and this despite study after study that show vaccines do not prevent flu, pandemics, measles or whatever; and being full of toxins such as aluminum, mercury, and live viruses, cause death and horrible side effects.

Then add the trend toward augmented reality applications and wearable computing, whether Google glass or smart gloves that have sensors, computing capability, and wireless communication chips.

The next stages are already well in progress: the ability to control brain function via computers, and reversely, the transmission of human thoughts to computers that control machines (such as a skateboard—you decide where you want to go, and the computerized, motorized skateboard takes you there). Once human brains are chipped/linked to computers, thoughts will be sent (and received) over the Internet: Arizona State University’s Trans-cranial Magnetic Stimulation project is funded by DARPA with the purpose of stopping individuals from thinking certain thoughts and making them think approved thoughts through the use of electromagnetic fields that stimulate the temporal lobe of the brain. Don’t believe me? Look it up!

Or the University of California, Berkeley’s breakthrough in creating neural dust that is so small, it can be implanted into the front of the brain without the knowledge of the individual and run forever, collecting information and controlling people’s thoughts and emotions (and presumably, ultimately, their actions).

Pentagon program Silent Talk aims to implant soldiers with chips that read electrical signals of brain activity and transmit these via the Internet so that armies can communicate without radios. As with all ill-conceived endeavours, this opens up a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences and complexities—the possibility of viruses being introduced that prompt the soldiers to start sunbathing just before an artillery barrage on their positions!

Currently, The US Brian Initiative and the European Human Brian Project are decoding the human brain in order to develop full brain-computer-interface technology. We already have manufactured DNA being combined with graphene (sheets of bonded carbon one atom thick) to create living transistors with huge computing power. 

The Human Body Version 2.0 project’s goal is to rewire the hominid brain using nanobots by 2020—they already having successfully targeted hominid DNA “for drug therapy or destruction.” Our robotification pathway includes nanobot computers being inserted into hominid brains and connecting them to Cloud computing, and thereafter, even replacing organs. The goal by 2030, with the expected completion of the reverse-engineering of the brain, will be the merging of biological and non-biological intelligence, as well as biological and non-biological body parts, all connected by computers—the control processors being smaller than a human nerve cell and requiring very little energy to run.

Meanwhile, the next step for Avatars (human-like robots) is to program them with feelings and emotions. In one of these videos, a robot says “Bye-bye, I am going to miss you.”

Some programmers, recognizing that robots lack emotion and that emotions are needed in interacting with hominids, have painstakingly programmed a robot, Pepper, to recognize body language and key words to assess the emotion of a hominid and then to respond with what the programmers think is an appropriate statement or action. If the person is upset, Pepper might dance or tell a joke to cheer them up—some consultant psychologist’s idea of how to interact with people with predictably Titanic results: If a lady is upset at her husband cheating, her response to a robot butler, whether in home or resort, telling a joke is likely to be memorable. 

Flawed Logic and Intelligence, Missing Emotional Engagement—The Scientist at Work

No amount of programmed facial expressions or even, perchance in the future, crocodile tears, or dancing dummies, will ever make up for the lack of…what is it? One could say sincerity, but the actual missing element is the one element that these gods of the aspiring religion of science, have neither awareness nor understanding: spirit!

The simple definition of man for millennia has been, “Body, mind, and spirit.” But that is not how such scientists describe man, because the humanities went astray in 1879 when Marxist Professor, WilhelmWundt, of Leipzig University in Germany, declared that the mind was simply the brain (based on the observation that most nerves were in the brain and all nerve channels went to the brain). He taught that man was a stimulus-response animal and had neither spirit nor self-determinism. Psychology and then psychiatry based their entire works on these erroneous opinions, and so we have mind as brain, software as hardware. Suddenly everything mental is physical, which is why psychiatry has a pantheon of just three “therapies,” all physical: lobotomy and its variations (making people into vegetables by severing the front of the brain); ECT (electric shock) and its variations; and drugging. None of these work (if by work we mean to correctly diagnose and alleviate a condition to the benefit/increased abilities of the patient) because the brain is not the mind. These cruel treatments fix things as effectively as smashing the headlights when the oil needs changing.

And then we come to the spiritual—psychiatrists and such scientists think they are bodies. They have persuaded many people to believe the same thing by onerous repetition from a self-proclaimed point of authority with unlimited funds to forward that message. So for them, there is no mind and spirit in man, it is all just “body.”

So, of course, from their perspective, rebuilding bodies into better bodies is a key goal, requiring only fiddling with neurons, DNA, atoms, and bits and bytes. It is not an incorrect goal in their mind, to go beyond a benign augmenting of physically failing parts with the wonders of implants and such in order to improve the quality of life; and to push instead for a complete robotization of humans and supra control of them mentally and physically through the Cloud. A wet dream for control freaks, this vector is definitely in play when we talk about the future of mankind, driven by materialistic scientists, control-happy central governments, bottom-line-happy corporations, and obviously, a natural urge to play a game.

Some people in the scientific community are sounding the alarm, though, such as Stephan Hawkins and Elon Musk. A similar alarm was sounded to President Roosevelt and the world, after Einstein had suggested the atomic bomb to Roosevelt, and Roosevelt had it built. Then, after the horse had bolted, Einstein, Oppenheimer and others tried to close the door. And here we are, two atomic bombs exploded over cities and one Fukushima-polluted planet later, and one button-push away from Armageddon.

Going back to the video link above, one robot wonders when he will attain consciousness. “When will I be a real person?” His programmer is using the robot as a proxy, it seems, simply because the programmer’s definition and understanding of mankind is incomplete, and he does not know how to program life force into an object—for the simple reason that one cannot. Life forces take over objects, whether hominid or robot. They are not part of the physical universe, they are no more the object than a truck driver is his truck. Life force (you) plays a game of controlling objects. So no amount of bits and bytes, computers, atoms and cells will ever create a life force—they only modify whatever object the life force is controlling.

This life force is the source of the ideas and thoughts that drive the objects in the game of life, the source of the emotions, the entity that is alive. And this is what we sense when dealing with other people, compared with when dealing with objects or confronted by a dead body. If in doubt, watch Tom Hanks in Castaway again: as good a face as he drew on the basketball and talked to it, imagined it talking back, it was not the real deal—and why he eventually had to escape the island and find real people, real life force, to interact with.

Rather than trying to create life force, how about taking the 7.3 billion that already exist on this planet, and freeing them from the impediments they face in life, so they can improve that way? Why advertise a failure to understand and direct sensibly fellow humans by dismissing them as inferior and seeking to create machines they can control and to replace those inferior hominids? All it takes is understanding what makes people tick—but that is hard when one is missing 2/3rds of the picture of man.

There is nothing wrong with robot bodies, they have many pluses, but in the absence of an understanding of life, they will be created in the image of the maker, and when that image is 2/3rds off-the-mark, we are not heading towards a viable future, but disaster.

The purpose of this article is not a Luddite (English workers two centuries ago who destroyed machinery they believed correctly threatened their existing jobs) rejection of technological advance, but a rapid injection of the humanities into the development, so that the urge to control and replace is sublimated into the urge to use technology to help manage dangerous or boring tasks, to replace failing organic systems, to explore new frontiers, and to open up other purposeful activities (the definition of work) for mankind. Work does not have to be a 9-5 grind to secure a paycheck so as to maintain the 9-5 grind.

Contrary to popular opinion, leisure is a grind, because a very good definition of leisure is “activity without a purpose,” and as any wealthy do-nothing person knows, that is death, despite all the glitz and glamour associated with it by Madison Avenue. Climbing a mountain to take photographs or just to do it as a challenge, has a purpose and could be considered work. If robots are handling 50% of the chores, then we have more time to climb mountains and civilization is that much more advanced that it can afford to support activities of peoples’ choosing without those people being tied to the fields to put food in their stomach so they can continue to tend the fields.

Ray Kurzweil predicts in his book, Age of Spiritual Machines (an oxymoron, if ever there were one), that computers will be implanted in human brains so they can access the Internet with their brains (he thinks their minds) by 2019.

As computer chips have been doubling their speed every 18 months, computers will be powerful enough by 2029 to replicate electronically a person’s brain onto a machine, and either eliminate the hominid or have the hominid cloned in robot form—depending on the scientist talking—and with The Matrix in mind, both linked with, and controlled through, the Smart Grid/Internet.

The convergence of man with AI robots is anticipated to become a reality between 2029 and 2045. Individuals refusing to become part of the Singularity, as it is termed, will be relegated to a “human underclass,” according to Kurzweil. Which gives us one or two generations to insert some humanities into this “Brave New World.”

These visions come from myopic scientists, or their fevered bosses, pursuing the “robots are ideal, humans are superfluous” motif. They lack understanding of the humanities and personally, lack life/aliveness; and so naturally, have an affinity for robots.

If we temper their visions with the voice of reason and a modicum of understanding of how humans work and what great service is, we see that robots have their uses and so do humans; the real challenge in developing mankind is abandoning the pernicious and fixed ideas promoted by psychology and psychiatry that have turned mankind into a programmed animal, and bringing forward a real understanding of man and the humanities; and the real challenges in developing AI are bringing about creativity; ethical and correct decision-making; intuition; close observation of, and response to, the myriad nuances that turn one situation into something completely different; and instilling the civilizing influence that raises us above the tooth and claw concept of the materialist. Right now, the robot is hopeless at all these elements, because he is being made in the image of his maker and the majority of humans who should be standing up and saying something in debate, remain mostly unaware and quiet.

Just one example: When asked by a human what was immoral, one AI robot replied, “The fact that you have a child.” To be sure, in an AI-dominated world, the perpetuation of the human species is neither logical nor necessary; and there is many a population-reduction proponent in the ranks of robot makers and their bosses.

Humans Need Not Apply

Some hominids seem as hopeless as robots at the finer points of life or service. We think of them as the colleagues, friends, or family members who just can’t seem to learn or be sensitive to guest service needs. They act like robots—no responsibility, no awareness, no finesse, no life—constantly having to be pushed around and stopping whenever we cease to push them. They are exhausting to have in the workplace and a drag on production. They fill seats but add nothing to the drive and bottom line.

The perennial and quixotic drive to build metal versions of the same personality is flawed, from the perspective of the true service-professional. The pipe dream of programming robots or people to handle every single situation that can arise, so they can be left to do their job unsupervised, will never be achieved. There is no substitute for alive and intelligent management of situations by alive and intelligent, self-determined staff, whether made of flesh or metal. It is simply a question of knowing how to fix what is broken with humans, so they can achieve this standard, and this should be a sufficiently challenging game to warrant immersing oneself in as a hospitality professional.

And so we have a challenge to increase the life and intelligence of humans as the best antidote to the encroachment of metal versions, which will merely give us more of the same.

In 1910, it took 6 people to produce what 4 people could in 1940, 2 people in 1970, and so on. Job markets shift, and automation/robots have been and are part of that picture. Since 2009, corporate spending on equipment and software has increased by 26%, while payrolls have remained unchanged (i.e. negative, given inflation). This says something about the future.

This is a lesson that the likes of Starwood would do well to grasp: it plans to introduce robot butlers to tend to guests in 100 hotels.

A report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia predicts 40% of Australian jobs could disappear by 2030 years as a result of technological advances—not just call centers, but even some nursing and surgical jobs.

NPR created a calculator based on Oxford University research to determine which of 702 jobs are most likely to be automated based on anticipated robotic skills. Accountants and telemarketing roles are most at risk, while people who do more creative jobs are less likely to be put out of work by machines. How so? Some aspects of a job are easier to automate than others. It all depends on the tasks. A job that requires helping others, negotiating, or being creative is less likely to be automated.

Check out the video, Humans Need not Apply.

Where a service professional rotely performs his/her duties without passion, he/she is in danger of being superseded by robots programmed to perform the same duties with the same level of engagement. Trying to out-robot a robot will not meet with much success; we are much better focused on demonstrating the one thing that no programmer can ever imbue into their creations: life itself. It is the life and understanding of live beings that people look for in relationships. Granted, there are some guests who have become so swamped in materialism that they do not seek life, and prefer to deal with robots as the ideal servant; but as the movie The Cast Away showed, most people crave real, live people, with all their idiosyncrasies, all their demands and problems, over simply talking to matter devoid of emotions, self-determinism, and life.

Entering the Debate, Returning Balance to the Progress

Change is one certainty in life, and evolving job markets with the advance of technology, whether of fire, wheel, horse, steam, mass production, computer or robotics, will always have winners and losers; overall, these advances tend in the direction of improved standards of living. This may still hold true with the great AI/robotics breakthroughs, however.

Mankind will find a way to combine man with AI/robots in order to make great things possible for many—if given the chance. But not if the change is forced on him swiftly by materialistic men who reject the humanities and see all life as a matter of the material, of profit and control; and who in the process unleash a Frankenstein that overwhelms, and renders redundant, mankind.

Work is not drudgery, but a vital component of life, giving meaning and purpose. If we can organize for robots to take on the repetitive or dangerous or onerous tasks, we can redefine what is considered work: just as we have done with athletes who are paid handsomely for playing, and actors for acting. Every activity is creative and when encouraged as such, can become a pleasure. Take housekeeping: maybe a robot purchased to vacuum will free the housekeeper to hit all those spots that she usually does not have time for, and so can take pride in delivering a shining suite for the guests.

Somehow we have to seize the initiative on the debate, and find a role for humans, and a humanity for the robot makers, so that we transition smoothly to the future.

Although this article was published by and for the hospitality industry, it applies to all professions and indeed walks of life, including private service butlers and house/estate(s) managers. 

Originally published by Hotel Executive Review in two parts in November and December of 2015, and reprinted by Hotel OnlineHotel News ResourceBusiness Media GuideHospitality TrendsHospitality Net, as well as
The World of Hospitality
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University of Berge

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, March 2016, International Institute of Modern Butlers

BlueLogo2011web The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 12, issue 3

International Institute of Modern Butlers

Teaching Right Mindset, People Skills, & Superior-service Expertise

IIMB Chairman Steven Ferry The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012

Message from the Chairman

As the story below, about the young butler being sued illustrates, one can sometimes run afoul of house rules for the managing of work-issued credit cards—where the lines are to be drawn. Another example of exactly this trap crossed my desk(top) yesterday, whereby a young lady, fresh on a household manager position and eagerly awaited by the employer to take control of the estate management, was fired for this exact same transgression within days of being hired. A lose-lose for all concerned.

There is no substitute for making sure that clear instructions are given and received on the subject of what purchases are permitted on a company credit card—and it is ultimately the butler’s responsibility to make sure that the rules are made known and clear to everyone in a staff manual: employer, family office, butler, and other employees.

While the employer will presumably find other employees after further search, we sincerely hope that the household managers/butlers who fell short will pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes.

Bevvy of Butlers, Ireland, 1904
Reportedly, a bevy of butlers congregated in a castle in Ireland 112 years ago.

Letters to the Editor

I am serving afternoon tea to Lord and Lady […] this coming weekend. In the 20+ years I worked with [employer name], his mother and I had a pot of tea every afternoon when she was in residence. She always served, so I have never served tea myself! I have reviewed Chapter 9 in Butlers & Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals. I had planned on wearing a long coat with a black vest and long tie with a batwing shirt. What do you suggest? AS

Ed: It sounds like you will have fun creating a wonderful experience for Lord and Lady […]. There is not much to add to the English Afternoon Tea section of the 2008 edition of Butlers & Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals.

I suggest dummy running (practicing) by serving tea to a friend following the procedure (and checklist) in the book, and so polishing your presentation while also making sure that all the proper items are in supply. If possible, do so in the exact spaces where you will be serving the guests, so that problem areas will make themselves apparent and you can pre-empt them in a timely fashion. Here’s to a flawless presentation and smiling guests (and host, no doubt).

How does my uniform sound? I decided not to wear white tie and vest (English translation: “waistcoat”) because that outfit appears to be too formal for 4:00 pm. Am I correct? AS

Ed: To be frank, the uniform is a bit over the top for afternoon tea. Probably what the Lord and Lady would expect of butlers in America, though! One would normally wear day dress for afternoon tea rather than evening wear: lose the tails and instead don a black waistcoat, normal-collared shirt, grey or black tie, black or grey/black-striped trousers, Oxfords. 

People tend to think of butlers as wearing tails and white gloves all the time, but the fact is these are evening wear and for formal occasions. If you want to ham it up, go ahead and wear the black tails, etc., but I am pretty sure the guests would think you were trying to attract attention and had it wrong.

Thank you, Sir. My final question: should I wear white gloves? AS

Ed: No—real butlers never did and don’t. They are for formal occasions, or possibly for laying silver and crystal on a table so as to avoid smearing oils from the hand on them that would spoil their polished look.

Thank you so much. I never wore gloves when serving anything to [employer]. He didn’t trust the laundry to kill all the germs. When I worked for [earlier employer], I believe we wore them to set table as you suggested, to keep the oil from our hands off the flatware, which were made of gold and silver. Those were the days, but that is a story for another day. AS

Ed: Indeed!

As a follow-up, [the event] went very smoothly and I was magnificent! AS 

Butlers in the Media

To the long list of goods and services including the word «butler» in their name, we can now add «Pocket Butler» (unclear what it is); a «Boot Butler» to organize one’s boots; a Battery Butler—a Sheraton employee who recharges various electronic devices for hotel guests; and lastly, a new twist on «Dog Butler» in that it is not someone who walks the dogs, but who merely cleans up after them—which says something about dog owners these days.

And as we drop down the scale of propriety, we have topless (male) «butlers» doing their thing, and finally, a «butler» who is currently being sued for using a co-worker’s credit card (for business-related expenses) for a meal for himself; when fired, he used the work credit cards assigned to four other staff to make further personal purchases in protest of his firing. The fired butler’s lawyer is claiming the butler had been «having trouble recently as he is bipolar and off his medication;» also that he comes from ‘a family of means’ who live in an ‘affluent suburb’ and are prepared to pay full restitution.

If these are all accurate statements of fact, then one can only shake one’s head at the lack of responsibility and low ethics level exhibited by this young man, who took it upon himself to join the profession with an obvious lack of understanding of how to execute his duties faithfully—if indeed he were ever trained in the duties in the first place—and having perhaps too much of a sense of entitlement and an idea of the need for status over substance. We hope he can can find  guidance that will help disentangle him from this morass he has wandered into, and that he can start to make something of his life.

As for the bigger picture, since the young man was in the position only one month, hopefully employers reading this sad story will not feel compelled to tar all butlers and household managers with the same brush.

Amer1x1inch The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012

Let’s Talk about Mixology, Part 10

by Amer Vargas 

Of Grasshoppers

Especially for those who like to laugh at the exploits of the geeks in Big Bang Theory, today we will discover the recipe that may have awoken the ability of shy-with-the-ladies Rajesh Koothrappali to talk to them.

Grasshopper by Cindy H PhotographyIt starts when Raj attends a blind date set up by his parents with Penny, who is keen to practice her mixology skills so that she can perform more professionally during her barkeeper shifts. After preparing a Tequila Sunrise for Leonard, a mutual colleague, Penny asks Raj what he would like. Since he finds it uncomfortable to talk to her, he whispers in Leonard’s ear to tell her he would like whatever she suggests; to which she replies, “What about a grasshopper? I make a mean grasshopper.” And so ends the episode.

Let’s see how this soft and sweet cocktail is made. The Grasshopper has a distinctive green color (the reason for its name), as a consequence of having crème de menthe among its ingredients—the others being fresh cream and crème de cacao.

The preparation is really simple: the ingredients are poured in equal parts, generally 1 oz/3 cl each, into a shaker with ice. Once the mix is shaken and chilled, it is served strained in a classic cocktail glass and decorated with a two or three leaves of mint.

Enjoy responsibly and have fun with the drink (and the TV show, if it suits you).

Mr. Vargas is the Institute’s President and can be contacted via AmerVargas @

Personalized Amenities

A new example from Mr. Gutman of that extra creative touch in personalizing an amenity for a guest.IMG-20160207-01390



Of Butlers and Roses, Part 23 of 25

by GJ dePillis

A Rose by Any Other Name can be Delicious

While the chef is focused on creating attractive, nutritious, and delectable dishes for the family and guests, it might be a good idea to augment the service with roses from the garden.

A large centerpiece with delightfully arranged roses, for instance, could be a talking point during the meal. Rose petals can be placed in finger bowls when guests need to use their fingers for a particular dish. Rose boutonnières can be provided for the gentlemen when the occasion calls for it. Or maybe for the ladies, a single long stem rose by which to remember the evening. Bowls of rose potpourri could be used to scent the air.

All of these are excellent uses of the rose, but how about eating one?

Rosa Gallica Officinalis, photo by David Austin Roses
Rosa Gallica Officinalis, photo (c) by David Austin Roses

Rose (Rosa Rugosa or Gallica Officinalis) petals have been described as having a mild sweet taste (once the bitter, white parts have been removed). The stronger the fragrance of the rose, the more intense the flavor. The rose bud (Cercis Canadensis) is also edible. Rose hips, or the little pill-sized red fruits left behind after the rose bloom has faded and fallen off, has medicinal properties and contains high amounts of vitamin C. The rose hip has been described as fruity yet spicy, like a cranberry. The Rosa Rugosa variety is considered one of the most flavorful.

To harvest rose hips, wait until the first frost and pick soon before the rose hips become overripe, as characterized by becoming soft and wrinkled. If the chef is not familiar with cooking rose hips, you may want to remind him to remove the hairy seeds inside and avoid using metal pans and utensils during preparation (other than stainless steel).

Next month, we will discuss some recipes using roses. Until then, happy rose-menu planning

Ms. dePillis is a freelance contributor to the Journal who is based on the West Coast of the United States. She can be reached via depillis @

Jeff Herman Consulting the Silver Expert

 by Jeffrey Herman

Q: Should I lacquer my silver?

A: Lacquering silver and silverplate is generally not recommended for a number of reasons:

  1. The individual may not properly prepare the object’s surface to accept the lacquer.
  2. It’s very difficult to obtain a uniform coating, even when applied by a professional.
  3. If the coating is not applied well, it may have streaks and small holes, allowing tarnish to form.
  4. Lacquer will eventually yellow and crack, allowing tarnish to form within the fissures and eventually under the protective coating. Strong solvents must then be used to remove the lacquer and the piece refinished. Take a look at these pieces that were once lacquered.

6c0e539d-a6f5-467a-b64d-fc5adf82fb78Because of the above issues, Renaissance wax – an archival micro-crystalline product – is recommended for those wanting to lacquer their silver.

Renaissance will not yellow or crack and will last for years if handled properly. Renaissance wax is not as durable as lacquer, so the object should be handled with heavyweight natural cotton jersey inspection gloves as acid from fingers may eventually remove it. Since dust can be acidic and eventually wear through the wax, placing your silver in a closed display will help insure that particulate matter will not fall on the object’s surface. Whether inside or outside a display case, every few months gently wipe the object with a Selvyt* cloth or soft cotton cloth. This will keep the wax or silver polish with tarnish protectant from breaking down prematurely.

Renaissance wax should not be used on flatware or other objects that will be used to eat from. When applying Renaissance, do so in small areas at a time (no larger than a 3″ square). Buff immediately with a soft cotton cloth, cotton ball, or make-up pad. Overlap each area to insure the entire surface is coated.

* [A trade name for a microfiber cloth available in England for £11 each. Terga cloths from Sweden were the originals and are about the same price. Cheaper Chinese knock-offs can be found in stores that have, so far, not been found to be as reliable in performance or as long lasting by the editor].

Mr. Herman continues to offer his services to our readers for any questions you may have about the care of silver. Either call him at (800) 339-0417 (USA) or email jeff @

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.


The Modern Butlers’ Journal, October 2015, International Institute of Modern Butlers

 BlueLogo2011web The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 11, issue 10

International Institute of Modern Butlers

IIMB Chairman Steven Ferry The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012Message from the Chairman

At the tail end of a two-month training program at several five-star resorts in the Maldives, I stumbled upon a living legend: a most loquacious and knowledgable general manager at the southern-most island of the Maldives chain, who happened to be the very first hotel butler. He shared many stories, as well as accomplishments, that show that determination and intelligence know no bounds. His name is Mr. Allwyn Drago, and he is from India. When Mr. Oberoi Senior decided to implement butler service in his hotel palaces around the country, he called upon quite a few individuals to be the first butlers; recognizing Mr. Drago as an exceptional gentleman, he made him his personal butler, too.

Mr. Allwyn Drago worked for many years as a butler while earning degrees, even from Cornell, and is currently GM at Shangri-la's successful resort in the Maldives
Mr. Allwyn Drago worked for many years as a butler while earning degrees, even from Cornell, and is currently GM at Shangri-la’s successful resort in the Maldives

Technically, hotel butlers have existed for the last 150 years in a handful of luxury hotels (since the first was founded in London—the Langham—in 1865): each hotel had a butler on staff to service royalty or nobility in order to provide the level of service to which they were accustomed in their own palaces.

It was Mr. Oberoi Senior who took the initiative in modern times to bring butler service to VIP guests. It is gratifying to see that the butlers originally performed quite a few of the services that one would expect of a butler who had been trained properly. The full range of services is greater today, for those trained by the Institute, but this is only to be expected as the profession found its feet and more people offered creative ways of servicing guests.

One point I was able to correct after many years of teaching the wrong information: I had thought the Oberoi chain had implemented butler service in 1982, but it was actually 1986. Which means that other hotels and chains were not far behind in catching on to the notion.


Not All Soaps are Created Equal

Mr. Kobi Gutman continues to work in his free time on creating custom-made soaps for his guests. He plans to produce a short technical manual for the use of butlers who would like to be able to turn this commodity into a «wow» factor with minimal outlay of effort and cost. Stay tuned for more information!




Butlers in the Media

«Butler robots» that are four times more productive than humans, handle cargo in a Hong Kong e-commerce fulfillment center. And a scientist writes about the complexities of creating a robot that can fold clothes, which gives some idea of how much robot butlers have to catch up with us mere hominids. The article opens with some interesting facts, too: «The idea of a robotic servant is a lot older than you probably realize. It doesn’t just go back to the 1960’s cartoon series The Jetsons, whose Rosie the Robot could prepare meals, clean the house, and solve unexpected troubles. As early as the 3rd century BC, the ancient Greek scientist, Philo of Byzantium, built an iconic human-like robot maid that could pour wine when a cup was placed in its hand.»

The news this last month was heavier on real butlers than on robot butlers, which is a pleasant change, although in the case of the remorseful paedophile butler who was busted, the less of that sort of exposure for our profession, the better. The same goes for Mr. Burrell’s continued antics, this time on Celebrity Big Brother: cashing in on his past glory by giving away private details of his former employers. Will he ever get it? Probably not.

One interesting angle on Downton Abbey is how Jim Carter, the actor who pays Carson, the butler in the television series, is asked continually by his fans to be their real-life butler—showing that there is still plenty of demand, or nostalgia at least, for the stiff butler of old. The views Mr. Carter  is reported as expressing in the article show him to be suitably curmudgeonly, so it seems he has immersed himself deeply in his role, and like his fans, is not distinguishing 100% between reality and TV—unless, of course, he was picked for the role precisely because he has a butler mindset!

Danone yoghurt is offering ten winners of a promotional campaign the opportunity to be served by handsome «hunks» who will «undergoing intensive butler training.» My goodness, what a circus society is turning into—again.

Kudos to Mr. Andrew Lowrey of Precise Home Management, who had a good write-up in the Baltimore Style magazine on his life in, and of,  service.

A good article on St Regis butlers—the scope of their services could be improved quite dramatically by doing many more, less high-key but useful and  relevant services than the sabering of champagne bottles.

Another butler school, and another butler who talks too much about his previous employers; but overall, an interesting article and we wish the school well.

And lastly, a well-written article about hotel butlers: «I think about the strange butler-guest relationship that is increasingly being imposed by the hospitality industry. High-end hotels are going gangbusters with butlers, the ultimate luxury service accessory.» But then the writer launches off into the likes of pillow butlers and bath butlers.

What a tangled web we, butler trainers, have weaved in our rush to bring something butler-ish, anything butlerish, to the world of hospitality. And what confused ideas now exist in hotels and the public mind about the nature, scope, and worth of a butler. As mentioned in the message above from the Chairman, butlers originally were bona fide butlers in a few five-star hotels—the Bugatti’s and Royce’s of service staff and mirror images of their private-service counterparts. The mass production of butlers over the last three decades has resulted in stripped-down versions, the great oxymoron of «economy class butlers.»  I understand why the old timers sneer so convincingly about the direction the profession has taken.
The author goes on, «Hotel butlers are moving away from strictly The Remains of the Day roles to increasingly niche duties. Here are some of the more unusual options,» and what ensues is another long list of off-the-wall  «___ Butler» roles, most of which are new to us, too, such as Tie Butler, Doggie Butler, and Cocktail Butler.
As long our profession has a cachet based on superior service style and stays relevant to guest needs and expectations, we will always represent the pinnacle of service and be copied by multiple other services. However, unless we, as trainers, really push to have the qualities of the old style butler, and the fuller range of services that butlers can offer, trained properly; and as long as hotel butlers are given just a few days of training to provide the thinnest possible range of services, just enough to call them «butlers,» then we will not have created a clear niche in the mind of the employer and guest, as to what we are, and our profession will be diluted and redefined ultimately as some hokey gimmick.
We certainly do not want to have that happen on our watch, do we?

Amer1x1inch The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012

Let’s Talk about Mixology, Part 5

by Amer Vargas 

The Red Eye

“Ever worked behind a bar?”

“My uncle is in the business.”

“Do you know how to make a ‘Red Eye,’ mister … what’s your name?”

“Brian Flanagan.”

Red eye, photographer unknown
The Red Eye, photographer unknown

Today, we pay tribute to one of the film characters who lived once, but never died. After leaving the army and moving back to New York City, the young Brian Flanagan, brilliantly played by Tom Cruise in the 1988 movie, Cocktail, began work as a bartender at nights while studying for a business degree. His initial mediocre work as a bartender turned into a passion under the mentorship of his boss, Doug Coughlin.

This film put the spotlight on the fun and charm of bartending and, more than that, the drinks that are produced when one works with devotion, passion, and a vision.

So, the Red Eye is one of Coughlin’s favorite drinks and which, as he states in the film and many can corroborate in real life, helps to dispel hangovers.

The Red Eye earned its name from the predominant color of the concoction, and the fact that a raw egg is added, looking like a floating eyeball.

The preparation of the cocktail is really simple: frost a highball glass and pour in 1 oz/2.5 cl of Vodka; 12 oz/35 cl of beer; 4 oz/12 cl of tomato juice; and a raw egg. Do not stir, or the egg may break, and it needs to be in one piece so the imbiber can down it in one go. Not recommended for the squeamish, just for the hung-over!

Enjoy your drink…and your movie!

Mr. Vargas is the Institute’s Vice President for Europe and can be contacted via AmerVargas @

Recent Training and Graduates

Graduation for some of the trainees from Veli, Dhigu and Naladhu, three resorts under one leadership—each resort is on its own island and caters to families, honeymooners, and the very wealthy preferring their privacy

Graduation for some of the trainees from Anantara Veli, Dhigu, and Naladhu, in the Maldives. Each resort being on its own island but under one leadership (Minor Hotel Group), and catering respectively to families, honeymooners, and the very wealthy who prefer their privacy. The trainees did very well on their refresher course, as did some trainees fresh out of college and engaging in a corporate-sponsored program to introduce them to the hospitality industry. 50% of the program participants from the prior year stayed on at the resorts, having chosen to pursue their careers in hospitality.

Of Butlers and Roses, Part 18 of 25

by GJ dePillis

Medicinal Roses as Described in Ancient Texts

Roses used to be a staple in apothecaries (Chemists/Drug Stores). Red roses were mentioned in various medicinal texts because it was thought the stronger the fragrance, the more potent the rose oil, and thus healing properties of the roses.

What rose-related medicinal treatments were common?

  • Drinking rose water would stave off a queasy stomach or even prevent vomiting;
  • Rose hip tea, or rose honey, would ease coughing;
  • Topical applications would alleviate joint pains and rheumatism;
  • Rose-scented oils would revive swooning or fainting individuals (I do suspect most of these patients were corseted ladies struggling for oxygen);
  • Fevered patients would find relief;
  • Drinking rose tea, rose water, or rose wine would ease constipation or other digestive problems;
  • When mixed with mint leaves, heated and applied to the chest and stomach, it was thought restful sleep would be encouraged; an ease of breathing would ensue for those who were congested; and an easing of muscle aches and the soothing of an agitated patient would result;
  • Sore throats would be soothed when taking a spoonful of rose honey;
  • Rose oils mixed with lotions would treat skin sores;
  • Mixing rose oil with apple cider vinegar and spearmint leaves would reduce dandruff;
  • Spraying chilled rose-water would refresh a person on hot summer days;
  • Rose petals soaked in white wine for at least two days, then strained, and one goblet-full imbibed would a) diminish a headache, and b) ease the aches associated with wounded gums;
  • Taking the hairy seeds out of the rose hip, mixing them with sugar and hot water, and straining the liquid, would treat diarrhea when the concoction was drunk;
  •  Drying rose-hip pulp and using the powder in the mouth of a colicky infant (experiencing pain from intestinal gas) would calm them.The White Windermere Aushomer rose photo by David Austin Roses

So, next time you are planning to use the roses from the garden, don’t just think of them as decorative elements around the house!

Ms. dePillis is a freelance contributor to the Journal who is based on the West Coast of the United States. She can be reached via depillis at

The White Windermere Aushomer rose
photo by David Austin Roses


Jeff Herman Consulting the Silver Expert

 by Jeffrey Herman

Q: When was stainless first used in table knives?

A: Although American Elwood Haynes discovered stainless steel and patented it in 1919, it wasn’t until 1924 that a stainless steel table-knife blade was invented by an Englishman, Dr. William Herbert Hatfield. It was called 18/8 stainless steel (18% chromium, 8% nickel), an alloy which is still used today. Prior to this development, carbon steel was used, which was then replaced with plated-carbon steel.

Mr. Herman continues to offer his services to our readers for any questions you may have about the care of silver. Either call him at (800) 339-0417 (USA) or email jeff at

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and skills of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resort,  spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts, & cruise ships around the world.


The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, November, 2012

BlueLogo2011web The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 8, issue 11

International Institute of Modern Butlers

IIMB Chairman Steven Ferry The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012 Message from the Chairman 

In our profession, discretion is an admired quality that is also a trademark. Quite rightly so, if we are to ever be allowed into another’s estate to serve them. The downside, which has yet to be identified as such, is that one can fall into smiling at another while thinking daggers—an emotion that is easy to see and unpleasant to be confronted with—and following a hidden agenda. When it becomes a habit, a person will be all smiles and handshakes while being busy undermining the person they pretend to befriend. It is my hope that this element of our profession can be reduced, as it serves neither perpetrator nor victim well. It results in broken promises to communicate or otherwise to do something, and a general culture of distrust and faux relationships. It is possible to maintain one’s integrity, to keep one’s own counsel, and to help others, without falling into pretense. I am sure you will agree with me, if you have ever felt a twinge of betrayal as a result of another’s actions.

On a different and sad note, Ms. Letitia Baldrige just passed away. The NYT provides a suitable eulogy for this bulwark of manners—her view being that manners are not a set of restrictive rules to be followed, but genuine consideration for others.

Letters to the Editor

«This sounds a bit left field, but to explain: Airlines are charging so much for a second bag nowadays, it works out cheaper to take a second passenger and carry one bag each. We thought it would be quite fun to do a story saying ‘If you want to cut the cost of air travel, have a butler travel with you.’ Any thoughts?» DM, National Newspaper Editor, London

Ed: It would be a clever vehicle for having a dig at the airline excesses, which I am sure will continue until passengers say «No more!» If you are wondering what the baggage-fee equivalent may be for renting a butler for the day, however, you are looking at $500 US minimum, so I don’t think it will work in the mathematics department when added to the butler’s fare, even if he is booked in steerage. But please, do what you can to make it fly in the world of emotions—you have our support.

Butlers in the Media

The Economist  and Bloomberg cover the increasing demand for butlers, particularly in emerging markets.

An interesting article on the more lavish hotel suites available for one’s employer when traveling.

A curious article, also about hotel suites and amenities, and claiming to cover the Top Ten Things Luxury Guests Want, talks of Fragrance Butlers, Surf Butlers, Tanning Butlers, and Tartan Butlers, but makes no mention of actual butlers.

Yet another hotel-related article, this time from CNN while it implies for some reason that there is something wrong with «on-call butlers,» draws attention to what it calls faux butlers—the emergence of «e-butlers who help the hapless get online; BBQ butlers who grill your dinner; boot butlers to refresh your ski boots after a day on the slopes; and a sunglasses butler to clean and repair your eye wear. What’s next? Our guess is an SPF butler to apply sunscreen to your nose.» We couldn’t agree more, and that is why we created the Hotel Butler Rating System in 2007, so as to differentiate between hotels working hard to provide real butler service, and those that just use the word «butler» as a marketing gimmick to identify in the guest’s mind the idea of «superior service» with whatever non-butler service they happen to want to market and sell.

Along the same line, here is another worldly item that has been graced with the moniker «butler» for instant positioning with superior service.

The Art of Being a Personal Assistant

 by Lisa Krohn

An Interview Gone Wrong

I am sharing this story about an interview I had for a domestic position because the cultural complexities and the intellectual and protocol dynamics might be of interest to others, as I assess what went wrong and why, and offer ways to resolve these issues in the short and long term.

I was invited to a major hedge fund to interview for a residential, domestic project. That was all I knew. The contact was a man who presented himself as the principal, and his family name suggested to me that he came from a developing country. When I arrived at the office, the receptionist laughed when I told her whom I was meeting. I apologized for the mispronunciation and she clarified that she was laughing because the name was an alias. The man I eventually met was from a different developing nation than the one I had guessed, but despite the alias, was nonetheless a partner and major player in the firm.  He told me that he wanted to hire me for two reasons:

1. To teach his chauffeur how to be punctual when meeting him and, equally as important, to bring him to his destination on time or even a bit early—he confided that he had been yelling at the chauffeur daily for years, but he just would not change.

2. To teach his housekeeper how to be more efficient and have a better disposition.

I asked him why he had kept her and the gentleman said that his wife liked her and she did not steal the jewelry.

He then asked me to tell him how I was going to accomplish these requests.

Here is what I said and how it unfolded. I began with the idea that he obviously wanted to invest in them by hiring me, so that said a great deal about what he thought of them already. I asked how long the housekeeper and chauffer had been with him and whether they were related.

«Two-to-three years, not related,» was the reply.

I asked what nationalities they were and the gentleman became incensed, saying that was none of my business and had nothing to do with the problems.

I said «Sir, with all due respect, I recently studied a contemporary culture that lives on boats and which has no concept of what day or time it is.  Perhaps your chauffeur does not understand the integrity that is evoked by being on time in our Western culture. In that case, I could teach him pragmatically why it is crucial for you to be on time and why it builds self esteem for him.»

The gentleman replied, «Wrong answer!»

I was utterly shocked. Not embarrassed so much as intellectually at a loss as to what the answer should be.  I asked if he wanted to have a discussion about the question, but he indicated he was ready for me to leave. I then said I was confident that I could empower the housekeeper to be more efficient and have more joy in her work. I explained my lifetime of esoteric knowledge and how it was directly applicable to her in a pragmatic and tangible way. But he merely repeated that the meeting was over and walked me to the door.

Needless to say, I was not offered the project. This is the one and only time I have ever had this type of conversation and experience. I welcome your insights into what the answer to his question should have been, and what went wrong in our rapport. Do you think it was personal and he did not like me, the messenger? Perhaps I was right and he wanted my advice for free? Maybe he was so accustomed to yelling, being angry, and belittling others that this was the only way he knew to interact? Please advise if you feel so inclined. I welcome your thoughts.


The location used for the shooting of the popular TV Series DOWNTON ABBEY is Highclere Castle in England, and the real-world occupants (Earl and Countess Carnarvorn) are advertizing for an underbutler. What is of interest is the  preferred prior experience: «Experience in the hotel or fine dining industry is important, as is an outgoing personality keen to engage and provide a top-class service to a wide range of people. A knowledge of wine and fine food is useful.»

Cigars, Part IX

frankmitchell The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012 by Frank Mitchell 

Part 1 of 3: Setting up the Humidor

Now that you have selected the right humidor, you will have to set it up. A humidor is not just a pretty box; it essentially tries to mimic the tropical environment in which the cigars originated. A dry cigar is harsh to smoke and has lost aromatic oils. A damp cigar will become mouldy quickly in warm weather and will be hard to light in cold weather. Make sure to position your humidor away from direct sunlight, drafts, fireplaces, and central heating or air-conditioning outlets.

Before you can stock cigars in your humidor, you will need to season it. This takes time and patience. If you are tempted to rush the process you may end up with a situation that takes even longer to remedy. If there is one thing I have learned about regulating humidors, it is that gradual, gentle changes are easier to control than wild swings resulting from rash attempts to change conditions quickly inside a humidor.

Calibrating your Hygrometer

One may assume that the cedar lining of a new humidor will be dry. If you stock a new humidor as is, the dry wood will draw all the moisture from the cigars. In order to know whether you are hitting the target or not, you will need an accurate hygrometer. Most digital hygrometers come already calibrated. Analogue ones must be calibrated before use. Here are some links that show a number of different ways to do this. The most well-know is probably the famous salt test.

While this method is quite accurate, do not use it to test a digital hygrometer as the corrosive atmosphere is not good for electronics (despite the text of one article saying that it is suitable for both types). I don’t imagine a corrosive environment is good for either type. However, if one only does it once, it would probably be alright for an analogue hygrometer.

An alternative is to wrap the hygrometer in a damp cloth for several hours, unwrap it and quickly take a reading. It should read around 95%. Take a note of how far off it is and then allow it to return to an ambient reading before adjusting it.

A better choice (and a very inexpensive one) is the Bóveda One Step Calibration pack. Said to be used by many museums, including the National Gallery, it seems to be well worth the $5 asking price and it is available online.

Follow the instructions in the owner’s manual for making the adjustments to your hygrometer. This can be a rather delicate operation. Should you be wary of tackling this, remember that some people just make a note of the variance and take it into account, never actually adjusting their hygrometers.

Let’s Talk about Wine, Part XI

Amer1x1inch The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012 by Amer Vargas 

There are different types of Port made from different grapes and grapes from different vintages (harvesting years). There is also a difference in  the amount of time the brew is stored , either in bottles or barrels—where the Port acquire hints of wood and/or benefits from the changes that only time can provide. According to the Instituto do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Institute), there are the nine official Port classifications:

-White: dry and sweet versions  generally taken as an aperitif, with the dry versions aged up to ten years.

-Ruby: basic Port that acquires its name from the color of the brew. It’s aged for up to three years in a barrel, then bottled ready for consumption, and has a characteristic sweet and slightly spicy taste. The superior quality Rubies are called Premium Ruby.

-Tawny: also derives its name from the color of the drink. Real Tawny Port is made from grapes of different harvests and then aged from three to forty years (generally, just a percentage of the drink, not necessarily all of it). During that period, it acquires its brown-red color. Some “sharp” Port-makers make Tawnies by adding White Port to Red Port, but the results are a far cry from the dry and nutty flavours with raisin overtones that are found in the original.

-Crusted: of very limited production, this type of Port is named after the “crust” of sediment that forms in the bottle. It involves a blend of several harvests, bottled without being filtered and then allowed to mature, producing a rich and full-bodied Port wine.

-Vintage Character: (do not confuse with Vintage Port, see below) is a mix of Ruby ports that have undergone a total of four or five years of aging to create a better-than-Ruby Port.

-LBV or Late Bottled Vintage Port: wine from a single harvest, the year stated on the label, which has been aged in a barrel from four to six years. If it’s filtered, it doesn’t need decanting. The unfiltered counterpart is richer, rounder, and offers more complex flavors.

-Single Quinta: The same as an LBV, but coming from one specific vineyard or Quinta.

-Colheita’s: The same as a Tawny, but made out of a single harvest, the year of which is stated on the label, along with the year of bottling and a statement that the drink has aged several years in wooden barrels.

-Vintage: The highest quality Port is made out of a single harvest and aged two-to-three years in a wooden barrel, then bottled unfiltered to age for a considerable number of years. This process develops into the best of the Ports, exhibiting a wide range of flavors like plums, liquorice, pepper, blackcurrants, spices…depending on the maker and the harvest. Vintage Port is made only when the harvest is exceptional, which happens roughly three times each decade.

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The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and skills of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resort,  spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts, & cruise ships around the world.


The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, January, 2012

BlueLogo2011web The Modern Butlers Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, October, 2011

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 8, issue 1

 International Institute of Modern Butlers

Message from the Chairman

Welcome to 2012, a year that promises to be anything but boring with high economic, social, and political stakes. It is the year in which quite a few people are convinced none of us will see it through to the end, as they expect the world to end on 21 December. If you find this kind of talk disconcerting, then please rest assured that this prediction is one of  eleven different versions of how it will all end at various anticipated times over the next 30 years, and that it joins a long list of 465 predictions for the end of the world of which there is a written record over the last 4,800 years ago. What seems to escape each person making and buying into such predictions, is that not a single one has come true. Our view is that 2012 will go to those who keep their eye on the ball, remaining in the moment and creating and having fun along the way.

See you in 2013, flourishing and prospering in your line of work!

Butlers in the Media

Two interesting articles on butlers last month:

1)  Digital butlers  

2) English Butlers Wanted For Emerging Super-Rich

and one rather hopeless article from Huffington Post, which really needs to sharpen its reportage. Finally, a list of the world’s most expensive hotels for consideration by your employer for when he or she needs to travel. It is far from comprehensive, as three hotels I have trained at this year alone have suites that would rank them as #2, #3, and #4, yet they do not make the list at all. I would recommend Fischer Travel as the best source for the top suites around the world. (Note: this article is written in German).

Minimizing Use of Silver Polish  

by Jeffrey Herman of Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation

Wash silver objects periodically (in order to avoid arduous polishing sessions to remove accumulated tarnish) with warm water and a phosphate-free detergent such as Dawn (not lemon-scented), and dry immediately. Do not immerse any object that has hollow sections or wooden parts  such as handles. If tarnish does build up, remove it as soon as possible for two reasons: (1) it is much easier to remove tarnish in its early stages of formation; and (2) your silver will show less wear, as it will be exposed to less abrasion. Most of us are familiar with that light brown – and eventually black – color that forms on silver as it tarnishes. To catch tarnish in its very early stages, hold the silver object against a piece of white paper (glossy paper preferred). If tarnish has started to form, you will see a very light yellowish tint in the silver. Try removing this light tarnish with either Windex Multi-Surface Vinegar or Purell Original Formula hand sanitizer. Use a cotton towel or cotton ball and rotate the material regularly to expose unused surfaces – elements in the tarnish itself can be very abrasive. If tarnish remains after using the above products, a silver polish will be required (see my Silver Care Guide for pointers). As always, feel free to email me should you have any questions (


As part of a multi-month roll-out of improved butlerservice aboard the Norwegian Cruise lines thatis designed to set a new standard for butler service in the cruise line industry, enthusiastic butler trainers from several vessels completed their Train the Trainerscourse in December and will be heading back to their vessels to institute the next phase of the program.


Let’s talk about wine

by Amer Vargas

In our last article, we covered the  nature of wine, where it comes from, and the basic steps of wine production. In this article, we will focus on white wines.

First steps Harvesting for white wines is commonly accomplished at night to take advantage of low temperatures and to preserve all the properties of the grapes. The first step thereafter is de-stemming, separating the fruit from the tannin-rich stalks and then cooling the grapes to 52 oF/11 oC; after which the fruit is transferred to a press where the juice is separated from the tannic and color-giving skin and bitter-oiled pips, thereby producing grape juice or must.

From must to wine This freshly pressed must looks like peach juice, a thick and murky drink with no alcohol content that is a far cry from the delicious, transparent libation aimed for. It is transferred to large tanks where it is kept at a steady temperature of 59-61oF/15-16oC and allowed to rest so any solids can sink to the bottom of the tank. After one or two days, the clean must, now as clear as wine and sweet, is transferred to another tank made of oak or stainless steel (or other inert material that will not add tastes to the wine).

It is at this stage that fermentation takes place as the sugars in the must are converted into alcohol. Vintners are obliged to add a yeast culture to augment the fermentation process, as little yeast is present in clean must when it is separated rapidly from the skins and pips.

The yeast culture A yeast culture is a mix of water and dried yeasts. In order for yeasts to hydrate and ferment the wine-to-be, they need to be mixed with right amount of water at 100-104oF/38-40oC. Within a few minutes of the mix being created and stirred, bubbles start to appear on the surface, indicating the yeasts are active. Clean must is then added little by little to the culture to lower its temperature to that of the clean must in the tank. When this temperature is achieved, the yeast culture is added to the tank; the fermentation starts in about three days and lasts 7-10 days, sometimes even longer, the wine having the appearance of water coming to a boil. During this period, density and temperature are measured at least twice a day to ensure the yeasts are performing properly, with adjustments being made in nutrients or oxygenization if they aren’t. After the fermentation is complete, a secondary one, malolactic fermentation, may be carried out to reduce the acidity of a wine (by transforming the tart-tasting malic acid that is present in the must into C02and a softer lactic acid). This secondary fermentation is common in red wines more than whites: while Chardonnays, Pinot Blancs, and Pinot Gris that are to be laid aside for aging are taken through the malolactic fermentation, wines with a greater acidity, such as Rieslings or Gewürztraminers, are not put through a secondary fermentation so as to maintain their freshness.

Next in the sequence is the clarification of the drink to remove byproducts of the fermentations, such as yeasts, bacteria, or proteins that could continue to change the wine. Young whites can be taken to these final filtering steps straight away, but vintners will age others a few months or years to add texture, aromas, and complexity to the wine in oak or stainless steel tanks, always under cold and steady conditions. The wine is filtered through such as diatomaceous earth to remove any remaining solid particles before storing the wine in a cold tank at 25oF/-4oC.

Cold stabilization is designed to remove the elevated levels of potassium bitartrate crystals created during the fermentation process.

After this, the wine undergoes polish filtering, a second filtration with thinner soils that leave a bright and clean wine ready to be bottled.


In the next journal, red wine production! Enjoy!

The Household Manager – Who am I?

 I must be a diplomat, a democrat, an autocrat, an acrobat, and doormat. I must have the ability to entertain Prime Ministers, Princes of Industries, Pickpockets, Gamblers, Bookmakers, Pirates, Philanthropists, and Prudes. I must be on both sides of the political fence, and be able to jump that fence.

 I must be or have been, a footballer, golfer, bowler, tennis player, cricketer, dart player, sailor, pigeon fancier, motor racer, or linguist, and have a good knowledge of any other sports involving dice, cards, horses, and pool cues. As I sometimes have to settle arguments and squabbles, I must be a qualified boxer, wrestler, weight lifter, sprinter, and peacemaker.

 I must always look immaculate when drinking with ladies and gentlemen–as well as with bankers, swankers, theatricals, commercial travelers, and company representatives, even though I may have just made peace between any two, six or more of the aforementioned patrons.

To be successful I must keep the bar full, the house full, the storeroom full, the wine cellar full, the employer full, and not become full myself; I must have staff who are clean, honest, quick workers, quick thinkers, non drinkers, mathematicians, technicians, and at all times on the boss’s side and the guest’s side, but always outside the bar.

 To sum up: I must be outside, inside, offside, sanctified, crucified, cross eyed: and if I am not the strong and silent type, there is always suicide.

 I am The Butler and Household Manager and Proud to Be So.

 By Olivier De Boynes, as submitted by Wayne Fitzharris

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The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and skills of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resort,  spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts, & cruise ships around the world.

Published Articles

Not All Butlers Are Created Equal

In an industry that is completely premised on the idea of service and in which service is a key differentiator, increasing numbers of high-end hoteliers have decided to institute butler service. So far so good for a number of reasons, such as raised rack rates, customer loyalty, enhanced word of mouth and, on the employee side, greater retention and raised standards facility wide.

But the reality is somewhat different, as anyone who has experienced butler service in a number of hotels and resorts, can attest. Not all butler departments have been created equal. Sometimes the butlers are invisible; sometimes they are simply pool attendants with a new name badge: «Pool Butler.» Or any of the myriad of other inventive ways marketing departments and managers have devised to siphon some of the prestige of the profession. While real butlers appreciate the recognition afforded their profession when offerings of superior service are personified by a butler figure, they are not themselves served well in the long run by this cheapening of their profession. More importantly, guests can recognize a gimmick when they see one and are left in a poor frame of mind at being handed a Mickey Mouse version of the service they had expected and paid for when booking into a facility.

Where butler departments are established, they enjoy varying degrees of success based on their adherence to the basic purpose of butling: the providing of a superb and seamless service that knows and anticipates guest needs. The sources of failure, then, include anything that cuts across this goal. Such as: not selecting proven service professionals for these positions; not training them on the persona, mindset, communication skills, and service skills of the butler in a hospitality setting; not launching the butler program to the rest of the employees in such a way that they support it, rather than viewing it as a threat to their income stream; trying to cut costs by cutting service, resulting in harried butlers providing an irreducible minimum of service to too many guests; not organizing the butler department in such a way that it can run itself, with butler coordinators, runners if needed, head butler, a deputy and supervisors.

As the standard setter for the profession, the International Institute of Modern Butlers, based in Florida, has therefore formulated a rating system that parallels AAA and Mobil ratings but which is focused on butler service in hospitality venues. The purpose of the rating is to help guests make informed decisions about the nature of the butler service being offered by a venue they may be considering; and to assist management and butler employees of those venues in improving their butler offering.

The ratings range from «No Butler» to «Five Butlers» and while assessments are being made initially on a self-assessment basis mixed with assessments by butler trainers around the world, the intention is for the assessments to be made ultimately by the traditional organizations that travelers turn to for information on venues they are planning to visit.

A brief overview of each level (the specifics of these levels run to thirteen pages, so are not the subject of this article) are as follows:

No Butler
The butlers are called such, but have no training or understanding of the nature or skill-sets of a butler, often having a modifier in front of their title, such as «fireplace butler» or «technology butler» or «baby butler.»

One Butler
There is literally one butler on the floor, rushing to service guests who are kept waiting or improperly serviced. There may be more than one butler, but training on the skills of the butler or the grace of a butler are lacking, even though some of the service is being provided.

Two Butlers
The butler-to-guest ratio is still too strained, so guests are kept waiting or not fully serviced, but basic elements of butler service are performed and the butlers have been trained in their profession either in schools or on site. No night butler on duty and no butler coordinators to connect guests with butlers.

Three Butlers
There are enough butlers in shifts to manage guests, including night butlers, butler coordinators, and a head butler. The Butler department exists as its own department, not under Housekeeping, Concierge, Room Service, F&B, or any other department. Guests are offered a good range of butler services and these are satisfactorily executed. Butler service has been established and fine-tuned with the assistance of trained professionals.

Four Butlers
Butlers provide excellent, often invisible service to guests who are wowed by the attention to detail. Includes a full complement of butlers who have sufficient presence with the rest of the employees that they have raised their level of service and can obtain instant service for guests. Butler Department personnel receive ongoing training and quality control to keep them sharp and there is a Deputy for the Head Butler who facilitates this training and other organizational steps to keep the Butler Department running smoothly.

Five Butlers
Guests have their own private butler to attend to their every (legal and ethical) needs and desires, including accompanying them on excursions as chauffeur and guide. In the case of guests lacking companions, this level of service may extend to the butler being a companion for a guest, even being skilled enough to play such as golf or tennis (but sufficiently diplomatic always to let the guest win by a narrow margin‹and never crossing the line). Where spa service is offered, the butler may also be the spa therapist or so knowledgeable in spa methodology that he or she presents a seamless experience for the spa-going guest.

Expect to see these ratings in use increasingly as the better hotels and resorts recognize the value of making their level of butler service known. If those facilities seeking to ride on the coattails of the butler profession then become earnest about their levels of butler service, then both they and their guests will benefit.

The above article was published on September 18, 2005 in 4Hoteliers on-line magazine.

Butler training Published Articles

Ask Not What The Butler Did But What He Could Do For You

The Hotel Butler – Recognizing the Value Butlers Bring to the Bottom Line!

We all know the cliche, but what was it the butler did? Sometimes in movies or board games, he was the one the police wanted to question further. In the hotel environment, the butler can be a failed experiment or a service facility that keeps high-rack occupancy rates at 100%.

Where he fails, it is because he is cast in (frankly) degrading-to-the-profession roles such as «bath butler,» «fireplace butler, «technology butler,» «baby butler» (who provides rocking chairs and watches children), «dog butler,» «ski butler,» and «beach butler.» The idea being that anything that offers superior service in some small area is called «a butler» in an effort to siphon some of the prestige of the profession.

At least when the term valet was extended to «dumb valet,» that furniture item upon which one lays out clothing for the following day, there was no pretence that this was the real item. Fortunately for the profession, the public were not fooled or taken in by these «dumb butlers» and the practice has faded relatively rapidly before it could sour the public mind on the concept of butlers. And fortunately so for the butlers working in top hotels around the world, who do justice to the profession, and the hotel managements who have recognized the value butlers bring to the bottom line and the repute of their establishments.

In an industry that is completely premised on the idea of service, and in which service is a key differentiator, it’s a no-brainer to institute butler service. Butlers have always represented the pinnacle in service quality. After the initial required training, the running of a butler service is not much more expensive to provide than regular service, yet it allows rack rates to be raised and creates a loyal following of repeat visitors, as well as enhancing word of mouth and thus new business that make the investment very sound.

Once management has decided to institute butler service, the next question is: how to bring it about.

The first step is to bring on board the most service-minded of your employees to undergo training. The second: Bring in one of the handful of butler trainers who can train hotel butlers (as distinct from butlers in private residence, as the hotel environment is very different and requires fewer and different skills than the traditional butler).

In putting together a training program, it is important to know the four main elements that hotel butler trainees and hotel butler programs need in order to succeed.

First of all, there are the mechanical actions, the skills that butlers need, such as how to clean shoes, how to greet guests, tour them around their suite, how to arrange events for their stay, etc.

Then there is knowing and adopting the psyche or mindset of the butler. It is a truism that in order to do something effectively and with conviction, one has to be able to be the role that one is playing fully. Unless a butler has this as a starting point, he or she will never be able to carry off the role convincingly or handle guests and even fellow staff with the aplomb that makes butlers such quintessential service professionals.

This is why the training has to include the history, rationale, characteristics and communication skills of the traditional butler, and enough drilling-in of these elements so that when the novice butler is faced with a tricky or embarrassing situation, he or she is not left tongue-tied, upsetting guests, or proving that he is not the smooth, low-key character that guests expect in their butlers.

Thirdly, having covered the theory and done copious drills on applying the skills in a classroom environment, the trainer needs to move out with the butlers and expose them gradiently to guests in the actual areas they will be providing butler service. By gradient is meant the trainees using each other and then senior staff as guest guinea pigs, and then servicing known-to-be-easy guests, and then VIPs and known-to-be-difficult guests. The trainer should correct them on an internship or apprenticeship basis until the trainees can confidently do their duties.

Finally, for training to be practical and workable, it needs to tie the general actions of butling into the specific hotel environment in which they are being instituted. This means the trainer has to work with hotel management and butler trainees to adapt existing SOPs (standard operating procedures) and propose new ones that align with existing SOPs. These SOPs would be developed during the training and then drilled and corrected and used during the apprenticeship period and then fine-tuned. The result would be a butler manual that would be referred to regularly, and used to train new staff to be butlers‹as the program will probably expand and there will always be some attrition.

The end result of the whole program as outlined above is generally employees with high morale who competently carry out their duties, wowing guests and resulting, as stated before, in 100% occupancy, a very high rate of return visits, and the opportunity to increase rack rates while enjoying stellar word of mouth.

Perhaps it would be better to ask then, not what the butler did, but what he (or she) could do for you.

The above article was published in the May/June 2005 of Spa Magazine, as well as in Hotel On Line,, Airline News Resource and in Polish in the publication