Newsletter Richard Ratliff

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

Professional Standards of Performance: Application #16

By Richard L. Ratliff 

Today’s Issue: Controlling the Dominos

Scenario: The lady of the house is planning a formal dinner at the family’s small mountain estate, with a grand view of the valley below and the bloom of spring on the surrounding meadows. With just days to go, she directs myriad details in a perfectly timed sequence to be completed the day guests arrive. The butler is given some of the more critical tasks and is available for reassurance and special help.

Suddenly, “Clyde” (a treasured old pickup truck) breaks down, making the day’s collection of supplies impossible for several hours. Everything stops, as each step in the carefully planned sequence depends upon the step before. Clyde is the critical link to a successful conclusion and no alternative transportation is available (another story for another day). The dominos begin to fall, threatening the entire operation. Worse, the few hours delay look more like a couple of days. Madam begins to panic.

Now is time for reassurance and special help.

The Standards: The Professional Performance Standards state, “The butler…should employ suitable principles of management and leadership.”  While specific principles are unstated, the standard suggests those needed for the work at hand, e.g. time management, operations management, and ways to cope with bad surprises.

Recommendations: Volume I of Serving the Wealthy offers basic, helpful guidelines.  The work can go on with little more inconvenience or stress than that associated with a modest hiccup.

Guideline 1: Stay calm. Revise tasks into several simple semi-independent operations that can be done, even with a delay in the day’s deliveries;

Guideline 2: Be flexible and adjust as necessary. Letitia Baldrige once successfully negotiated a monstrous kitchen mishap, after all the guests had arrived, by converting a formal embassy dinner into a pizza party!

Guideline 3: Arrange help if needed. Hire a mechanic to fix Clyde; rent a van;

Guideline 4: Stay the course…. Make steady progress. Guests will know only what they experience. Problems? What problems?

Guideline 5: Don’t make the problem bigger than it really is. Dividing the work around the problem contains the fall-out.

Guideline 6: Reassure everyone and keep them informed. Explain the problem and the new arrangements to the staff, demonstrating and assisting as necessary.

And yes, the party went splendidly!

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.