Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, March 2018, Message from the Chairman

Steven Ferry

Message from the Chairman

by Steven Ferry

Another substantial newsletter, so I’ll keep this message short again. As the humor offered in the last message proved popular, here is another to offset all the serious stuff in this month’s MBJ:

Looking for the collective noun for various professions, finds:

  • A Brace of Orthopedists
  • A Joint of Osteopaths
  • A Rash of Dermatologists
  • A Flutter of Cardiologists
  • A Guess of Diagnosticians
  • A Cell of Biologists
  • A Slug of Gardeners
  • A Groan of Punsters
  • An Order of Waiters
  • A Litter of Trashmen… er… Sanitary Engineers
  • A Stack of Librarians
  • A Pen of Writers
  • A Pride of Egotists
  • A Lot of Realtors
  • A Dose of Pharmacists
  • A Fib of Fishermen
  • A Flush of Plumbers
  • A Snap of Photographers

and unhappily,

  • A Sneer of Butlers

If you have any others to offer, we’d love to share them.


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

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The Modern Butlers’ Journal, February 2018, Message from the Chairman

Message from the Chairman

by Steven Ferry

IIMB Chairman Steven Ferry

A long newsletter this month, as usual. I hope you enjoy it, find one or more departments to be of use and/or interest, and like the new format. If you are in the mood for some levity/humour, then you might enjoy the fruits of the modern education system, as evidenced in these signs, perhaps posted by someone in a rush:


In a London department store: BARGAIN BASEMENT UPSTAIRS.




Notice in health food shop window: CLOSED DUE TO ILLNESS.

Spotted in a safari park: ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR.




Spotted in a toilet of a London office: TOILET OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW


Best wishes for the month ahead.

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.”

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Passion and Excellent Service in the Mayan Riviera

When you dream about beautiful suites, Mexican flora, a navigable lagoon next to the clear sand and quiet beaches of the Mayan Riviera, together with a passion to truly impress the guests, you are probably dreaming about Rosewood Mayakoba.

Over the month of September we experienced in this property the four seasons, from sunny and hot days on the beach, to warm and cloudy days for sweating in the gym and relaxING in the spa, to rainy days for enjoying a drink and a book at the bar, to chilly nights under the blanket of the stars decorated with a total lunar eclipse of a supermoon. Altogether, a place to  remember always.

And we haven’t yet talked about the superb service every single staff member provides to his or her guests. Upon arrival, a little boat tour to introduce the outdoor facilities is followed by the welcoming butler who is ready to unpack your luggage. You are on holidays. No rush. Your butler encourages you to forget about everything and to start to relish every second whilst he or she takes care of everything. Fancy some action? These are the water activities I suggest you join. Looking for some tranquility and peace of mind? We have these great therapies in the spa or even in your suite. Want to visit an archaeological site nearby? My suggestion is that you fly there and have lunch at a local hacienda.

Rosewood Mayakoba Butlers

The butler is just pampering you, but wait until he provides the unexpected surprise… Once you are wowed, you will never forget.

Congratulations to all the Butler team at Rosewood Mayakoba!

The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, June 2014

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

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 10, issue 6

International Institute of Modern Butlers

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

One of the traditional duties of the butler, which has fallen by the wayside for the simple reason that it is no longer required in our age of digital communications and improved technology, is the ironing of newspapers. Two reasons are typically given for why this was done in the first place, neither of them correct. If you send in the real reason, we’ll pick out of a bowler hat one name from all correct responses received and send the winner a free copy of his or her choice of either Butlers and Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals (in English, Spanish, Italian, or Russian) or Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators (in either Spanish or English).

But I digress: the reason I am discussing newspapers is to suggest that we all have enough challenges in our lives running households in today’s society, or seeing to guest/passenger needs for butlers operating in hotels, resorts, airplanes, yachts etc., without taking on the burdens of the world as forced upon us by, and reported in, newspapers, TV and online news channels, etc.

In the old days, newspapers were the only way in which news was reported, and you might be pleasantly surprised to know that mayhem and murders were reported simply as brief facts in a couple of short lines on the back page. Until Mr. Hearst introduced the dubious practice of “yellow journalism” to America and the world about 120 years ago, news was focused on a measured relay of the facts. I don’t have to paint the picture of the various news media today, but suffice to say, if you invited a person to your home who behaved like the ravingly bombastic and agenda-ridden news media does today, we would ask them to leave rather promptly! Yet in this day and age, we do invite them in, often many times a day, day after day.

So my suggestion is: try cutting out all bad news bearers, using whatever medium, from your life for a week, and write down how doing so impacted your life and outlook. Then watch and read the news again for a week and note down how that impacted your life. Compare the two sets of notes, and go with what you feel most benefitted you personally and your performance on the job and in life.

What brought this on? Simply a list that someone compiled of newspaper headlines that, while being recognizably ridiculous, nevertheless betray the same regard that almost almost all media outlets and their owners demonstrably hold for the intelligence of their readership/viewers. Plus the fact that most discussed a negative take on life events. Bear in mind, the average size of font used for the actual headlines was 244, not the 12 point of this Journal.

















“MAN WITH 8 DUIs (Driving under the influence [of Alcohol]) BLAMES DRINKING PROBLEM”





“RANGERS GET WHIFF OF COLON” (A baseball player)


I’d be interested in the result of your little experiment, if you’d care to share.

Butlers in the Media

Finally, commercial airlines are bringing the expected level of luxury to the skies with the launch of three-cabin suites offering butler service. Thank you Etihad! The Institute has been beating the drum about this for over five years.

A very interesting article on how Starwood has approached serving those we typically service.

Paul Burrell continues to make himself right via the media for breaking the unwritten (and written) code of the butler. Sad business: he was wrongly accused initially, but instead of taking the high road and restoring his situation financially by all the opportunities that providence throws our way by doing so, he decided to break the golden rule as the best solution for himself and his family: Ethics is those decisions and actions one takes that most benefit the majority of the individuals impacted by the situation and one’s planned actions to be taken. The situation Mr. Burrell found himself in involved many more players than just himself and his family, no matter how important they indeed are. One other point: Mr. Burrell claims that those objecting to his book have not even read it and so are not qualified to judge (a point that normally is valid), for they are missing the fact that he writes about them with “love.” In this, he is missing the point: to state the obvious, nobody should be reading about their private affairs in the media when that information has been collected by somebody who had been brought into the sanctity of the home to serve those being reported on; for the understanding upon which they were invited in includes a trust that their confidences would not be betrayed. Private Service 101/Basics, Mr. Burrell.

Hazards of the profession, it seems—a fellow employee going postal.

A Reuters article on butlers in Italy quotes a gentleman who looks down his nose at other butlers because they did not, as he did, learn the trade by working his way up. He has a point, in that some aspiring butlers may be a few bricks shy of a load when it comes to making the grade; they may lack the necessary apprenticeship to make it via a butler school; and certainly, the butler profession is a lifelong learning experience, as there is so much to discover and improve upon in all the different areas of expertise upon which our profession touches, that rare indeed is the man or woman who can say, “I have now arrived as a fully fledged and competent butler.” But to out-of-hand dismiss anyone wanting to join the profession by attending a school and jumping in the deep end, is to dismiss the practical way that anyone learns any profession today; and also, to dismiss hundreds of potentially intelligent and effective butlers who are quite capable of serving others well. Maybe they would fall on their faces when trying to service those who are well used to experienced butlers, but why assign them such positions straight out of the gate? Let them work up to it after years of experience—a concept the gentleman in question no doubt can agree with. I understand the desire to maintain standards, but this old “pecking order” game of self-importance based on some imagined edge (such as one’s employer’s high title meaning one sits above those serving those of lower rank at the servant’s table at meals) is just a little bit old.

Yet again the butler is drawn upon as the quintessential role when it comes to superb service; and once again, it is in reference to the up and coming skillsets of robots serving hominids.

Baron Shortt

Executive Protection & Security

by Baron James Shortt

“Sorry About That, Boss”

This is the last thing you say before you are out of work.  This is also about the only thing that could be said by those at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas and Prince Harry’ s personal security teams (after Prince Harry was photographed in his suite in a compromising situation)–”Sorry.”

Most of our clients have more money and more power than they know what to do with—and that is fine by me.  It is our job not only to protect their lives and skin, but also their reputations and wallets, so they can keep their money and their power and continue to employ us.

Who took the photos? Why was a cell phone camera anywhere near this man?  All guests could easily have been searched as they entered—it is not like they were wearing much, and their bags could have been searched, too—not just by hand but also with a simple wand. Didn’t bring a metal detection wand? Borrow one from a local agency or buy one at WAL-MART—they only cost $90-$250!

What else is the same size as a cell phone camera? A .22 Derringer, up to 3 shots; a .45 Liberator, 1 shot; a .45 Intimidator from puzzle pieces; knives of all sorts, including titanium ones that most metal detectors miss; a grenade disguised as a cell phone; street drugs and poisons; a pack of genuine Marlboro’s and other deadly things.

This was a red-cheeked moment for a young man, but two big black eyes for the his personal security team and the Wynn security team.

What to do in similar situations?

1. Assemble some gear

• A Faraday Bag, safety pins and tags: Bag all of the cell phones and cameras in a Faraday Bag and give guests a safety pin with a number corresponding to their items.  Cost for Faraday Bags between $50 and $200; safety pins and numbers, deminimus.

• Hand wand, top of the line, $250.00

• Spy camera finder, which also finds sniper scopes, $80.00

2. Set up the safety zone and perimeter and search those entering and exiting.  Also set up a mobile perimeter: grey men and women in appropriate attire mixing with the crowd.  Yep, in swimsuits and having fun all while still watching those around your charge.

3. Pack up lots of good manners and rehearse how to intervene to stop all of the situations that can occur and how to stop offenders—even if they mean no malice.

4. Clear cameras and goodies as people leave.

I am sure the person who had a picture of Harry in the pink made a small fortune by selling the rights to the picture.  Even those who had no malice aforethought can be tempted to sell pictures or information when the price is high enough. We are all human and subject to the pressures of economics. 

Mr. Baron Shortt is the Executive Director of the IBA

Amer1x1inch The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012 Let’s Talk about Spirits, Part 4 

by Amer Vargas 


Today we are in Greece enjoying one of its characteristic spirits, Ouzo.

Plomariou Ouzo, photo by Jack Newton
Plomariou Ouzo, photo by Jack Newton

Ouzo is a clear-as-water transparent drink with more than two centuries of history, thought to have its origins in the tsipouro drink first made by monks in a monastery on Mount Athos, located about one hundred kilometers from Thessaliniki, during the 14th century. These monks wanted to make use of pomace (the residue left after grapes are pressed) instead of discarding it. Thus, they left the mass of pomace to ferment for a few days and then proceeded to distill it several times. The resulting drink had a 40 to 45% average alcohol content.

Following in this tradition, Nikolaos Katsaros opened a distillery in the 19th Century that still produces the famous Tyrnavou Ouzo.

The word “Ouzo” has a peculiar possible origin, coming from the Italian Uso Massalia” (“for use in Marseille”), which was stamped on the best silkworm cocoons that were being exported from Thessaly to the French city during the 19th century. One day, the Ottoman Greek consulate physician Anastas Bey, impressed by the wonderful taste of local tsipouro, exclaimed: “This is uso Massalia, my Friends”—meaning it was of superior quality. Over time, this anecdote spread until that sort of tsipouro gradually became referred to as “iso” or “ouzo”. Another possible origin of the word hails from neighbouring Turkey, where grapes were called uzum in medieval times.

Nowadays, ouzo is produced out of 96% alcohol rectified spirit either from pomace or from wine. Flavorings (which include anethole, anise, cinnamon, coriander, cloves and star anise) are added to the copper still before distillation and help to produce ouzo of 96% alcohol by volume that receives the name of Ouzo Yeast. This brew is then distilled one more time before finally being diluted with either distilled or spring water (for the finest quality Ouzo), or with rectified spirit to finish the production of the drink, leaving it at the typical 40% alcohol content.

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

 Of Butlers and Roses, Part 2 of 20

First Plantings – Preparing to Welcome your New Plant

by GJ dePillis

Wollerton Old Hall, photo by David Austin Roses
Wollerton Old Hall, photo by David Austin Roses


Choose The Spot

Decide on where to plant the rose bush. If replacing a bush that is to be retired because of disease, either replace the soil or plant the new one elsewhere.




Bear Root Roses, photo by David Austin Roses
Bear Root Roses, photo by David Austin Roses

Ordering the Plant

Support local nurseries where they offer high-quality stock and the required variety. If ordering a bare-root rose, ask the breeder when the best time would be to plant for your area. If ordering container roses, of course, planting at any time of the year should be possible.

Preparing the Soil

Prepare the soil before the arrival of the roses by digging a hole about 1 ft (30 cm) deep. Break up the sub-soil to ensure good drainage. Add well-decomposed compost (or rose planting soil from your local nursery) and mix with the top soil.

Planting Day

I like to fill the hole with water before placing the rose into it. If planting container roses, roll the pot on the ground to loosen the sides. With gloved hands, carefully shake the plant out of the pot. Shake off excess dirt from the pot and place into the water-filled hole, then add the soil.

Diagram by David Austin Roses
Diagram by David Austin Roses


Plant bare root roses by spreading out the roots and covering up the main stem in soil.

Establish the Roots

Deep watering the roses may be necessary once a week for a couple months until  fresh leaves can be seen to grow. Once this occurs, the plant can be placed on a regular watering regime.

Refrain from pruning freshly planted roses for about a year, instead allowing the roots to establish themselves.

In our next section, we will cover the different types of roses. Until next time, happy planting!

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


Jeff Herman Consulting the Silver Expert

 by Jeffrey Herman

Q: How should I go about insuring my employer’s silver when I need to ship it for repair?

A: Your employer’s homeowner’s insurance may state the value of the piece and whether it is covered off premises.  If the policy is not that specific, try the following:

  1. Identify the object: Coffee pot, sardine server, caviar server, etc.
  2. Identify the country in which it was created;
  3. Identify the maker: Gorham, Tiffany, Georg Jensen, Arthur J. Stone, Paul Storr, etc.;
  4. If you cannot identify the maker, go here;
  5. Identify the metal standard: Sterling, .925, coin, standard, 800, 840, EPNS (Electro Plated Nickel Silver), etc.
  6. Type the above information into your browser’s search window and see if your piece is found.

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.
Published Articles

Mr. Bicycle and Other Challenges

“What do you suggest?” asked the GM of a luxury resort over lunch, recently. “A guest is insisting we track down the guest who ‘stole’ his bicycle and have him apologize in person.” The resort gives bicycles without charge to all guests and one had perhaps inadvertently, in the dark, taken the wrong one back to their villa. The butler had found the bicycle almost immediately and returned it to the indignant guest while the GM arranged for a visiting friend to impersonate the “thieving” guest and offer an apology. Unfortunately, the irate guest’s bicycle went missing again soon thereafter, and the guest went ballistic, this time insisting the police be called. In the end, several comps later (but not the anticipated comp for the whole stay), the guest left, the situation finessed by a GM who was no stranger to handling the occasional “guest from hell”—for it was not entirely clear that the guest had not himself simply re-routed the bicycle.

Thereafter, during the training of the butlers, “Mr. Bicycle” was held up as an example of an irate guest and the subject of role-playing on how to handle them through communication alone, without comping.

After a decade crisscrossing the globe in luxury resorts and hotels, plenty of perplexed and even frustrated GMs, DORs, FOMs and butlers have shared such examples.

As reportedly 5-7% of hospitality profits (2006 figures) disappear down the black hole of comping, instead of being used for the benefit of operations, owners, and shareholders, a solution would be a welcome idea, perhaps. Not that all comping is inappropriate, as sometimes the hospitality provider is at fault and needs to make restitution; but the majority of comping, by anecdotal accounts, seems to be for opportunistic and even criminally inclined guests in a world beset by declining moral standards.

It helps to define a problem accurately if a workable solution is sought, and in this case, there appear to be two issues, not one:
The first and easiest to resolve is the propensity to comp at the first sign of trouble in order to avoid further public displays. For instance, the Front Desk Clerk at one hotel in Manhattan offered to reduce a guest’s bill from $1,500 to $1,200 the instant he quietly answered her question about the suite (to protect the next guest, not to obtain a discount) including a faulty light that had come on at three in the morning. When he retorted that any deduction was really not necessary, she replied, “Well, how about $900?” The guest quit while he was still ahead, in case any further discussion of the subject might result in further reductions. Even if the guest were angry, and even if the hotel were at fault, this lady could have handled the situation without comping, because there is nothing easier than handling an angry guest, unless it is handling one, with communication skills alone, who is not angry.

However, when a guest is a professional “comp scavenger,” their hidden agenda makes it hard to handle with communication alone.
Take the example of the hotel opening in Georgia a few years back. Everyone from the owner’s family and even the outside trainers had been up all night before the opening to prepare. The high hopes and morale took a beating when the guest who booked the presidential suite and two adjoining ones, created a scene on checkout and was comp’d the entire weekend. They had set up the hotel to fail, taking meticulous notes of problems, more imagined and in some cases orchestrated by him than real. A cross check afterwards found he had been blacklisted by at least two other chains.
A False Start
Incensed, the author wrote an article in 2007 (on what he termed the guest from hell) that was widely published in the industry and received so much feedback (such as “Thank you for telling the truth—such a rare thing now—and addressing a topic near and dear to many service people’s heart”) that two more equally well-received articles followed in relatively quick succession (“Your articles have given us strength to carry on”). The gist of this trio was the need for an industry wide database of such guests, so they could not wreak havoc in one chain before being found out and blacklisted, and then simply hopping over to another chain, like a flea in pursuit of fresh blood.
Fortunately, the editor of the (initially publishing) magazine agreed and assigned one of his managers to establish such an organization. After providing much legal, ethical, and marketing input pro bono, the author was non-pulsed to receive a rather vicious letter threatening overwhelming legal action if he entertained any notion of moving forward with the project, as he obviously had nothing to do with it, according to the project manager’s overly assertive and twisted logical threads. Oh dear, the editor responded to the author’s perplexed email with the news that the erstwhile manager had left the magazine’s employ contentiously and was running with the guest-from-hell database idea as his very own business opportunity—the organization that was designed to neutralize guests from hell was itself in the grip of the corporate equivalent…and predictably would create chaos before imploding.

One of the reasons trouble was in the offing was this individual had expanded the definition of guests from hell from those who are criminally inclined—trying to obtain something for nothing (one particularly useful definition of criminality, whether bopping one on the head and running off with one’s wallet; “making” vast fortunes through manipulations of virtual money at the expense of the actual, physical economy; or hopping from one hotel to another without exchanging the valuables required to pay the wages and bills)—to include those who merely misbehaved. In so doing, he was perhaps following the lead of the NSA, turning the vast majority of well-behaved and considerate, law-abiding guests into valid targets for police state/thought police surveillance and control.
So when the story of Mr. Bicycle came up, offering the GM the above, caveat included, raised his hopes and piqued the author’s interest about the current state of affairs, over six years on. The database organization had something like 14,000 hotels signing up on launch, but the author had neither heard of (nor checked into) it since.

Internet research found no evidence of the original company beyond 2008, it now being defunct. There is one in the UK for small hotels and B&Bs, etc. Unfortunately, they have gone down the same road of policing and reporting misbehaving guests, as well as destructive or criminal ones, and so, while filling a demand, are also running afoul of such as the human rights watchdog, Privacy International.
Maybe the focus on clamping down on misbehaving is simply a reflection of the laws appearing on the books in the UK of late that are designed to monitor and criminalize misbehavior—a sad trend no doubt in misguided response to hooliganism: suppressing the symptom rather than eradicating the cause(s) and so inevitably generating further problems. But it is interesting that both initiatives widened the scope from fighting back against fraud (a valid target) to monitoring guest behavior, which focus conflicts with the ethos embodied in being a host and hospitality.

Turning Challenge to Opportunity

So as it stands, there is still no resource or association offering an industry wide database for luxury hotels and resorts and other higher-end service providers, in which those “guests” who engage in fraudulent and destructive actions (as opposed to unacceptable behavior) are listed. The idea being not to prevent such guests from coming to a hotel again, thereby potentially laying the hotel open to a charge of discriminating against them, but to refuse any attempts at engineering free service/products after they arrive, and also to have information on hand in the case of any subsequent attempt at Black PR on the Internet (by those who might have attempted to be comped and been rebuffed) after they have left.

How would it work? When a comp-merchant displayed his/her true colors, the database would be accessed to see if this were a pattern, and if so, the guest quietly confronted with the pattern and any notes made by employees during the current stay, and encouraged to pay unless they wanted to escalate the matter with the authorities. In this way, one also avoids inspection before the fact: assuming all are potential violators and so creating a climate of suspicion that tends to provoke what it purports to prevent, instead of simply dealing with those who need to be dealt with by their clearly demonstrated actions.

The above would be the administrative set-up and easy to institute, given software programs, Internet, and PayPal.

As one reader offered by way of possible organizations to spearhead such a database and its management: “Hospitality and sensibility only go so far when someone has ransacked the relationship. Typically, the guests from hell you are referencing receive free meals, rooms, cocktails, etc, and sometimes they even bring suit—all a nuisance and expense. Perhaps [we should] consider working with and being sponsored by insurance companies that cover hotels for such suits (presented on the expense side, it would fall under their umbrella, and insurance companies probably already have this info somewhere, as all businesses are subject to ruse), as well as the larger hotel chains and hotel associations. Good lord, credit card companies have protection built in, too, for any charge, which may be the seamless protector needed and offered as a service or specialty to their market.”

Whatever form it takes, in the end, well-earned profits and service given in good faith would be protected and reinforced, rather than being degraded by the few guests who act in bad faith. Such is a worthy goal, and hopefully some other enterprising individual or organization will pick up the gauntlet on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of earnest individuals who are working hard to create the wonderful experience that is luxury service.

Putting the Employee in the Driver’s Seat

It is only when one cannot fight back against something evil that morale and motivation suffer. The inescapable truth is that such guests are completely incapable of telling the truth. The angry, noisy type will at best twist the truth to make their point more egregious, or at worst, blatantly lie in a manner that is most destructive to the target of their ire. Those guests who feel the same way but are too timid to be angry, sometimes known as “passive aggressive” or “covertly hostile,” will be most ingenious in their complete perversions of the truth, covering their tracks with great finesse. Both types put hospitality professionals at a disadvantage.

Who hasn’t had a run-in with a guest from hell and, following the dictum, “The Guest is Always Right (even when they are acting criminally),” have taken it on the chin, turned the other cheek, and dare I say it, bent over—and in so doing, also exposed their sense of what is right and just to a good drubbing. After which, invariably, there is the giving away of the farm to appease the guest; angst about possible repercussions from head office, the media, and whatever other sources of retribution the guest promised to inform of one’s misguided efforts at service; and a lessening of one’s liking for the job, eventually and potentially to the point of quitting the profession. It is essential that the hospitality industry preserve the “hospitality” in its approach to guests; guests from hell undermine the openness and good humor upon which such hospitality depends.

Dynamic Knowledge is Power

Part of the solution, therefore, has to be educating employees on this kind of personality and then letting them have fun spotting them and predicting what they will do or say next. By empowering employees, one dis-empowers the criminally inclined guests, for the only power these actually have is that generated by the employee in responding to the unjust and unkind remarks or actions.

An individual in a lunatic asylum thinking he is god has no followers outside the asylum. He has no power. But if people outside the asylum give weight to his words and form a cult, then he would have power. It’s the same with the guest from hell: Recognize his or her ravings as those of a lunatic who has yet to be labeled as one (and may never be, because in real life such people can sound very convincing and may even have numerous letters after their name, titles in front of it, and great wealth), and he will have no power. React or give credence to his claims, and one empowers him.

Empowered employees will no longer think “mea culpa” and “mea lose my job” when assailed by such guests. A short, illustrated book has been published to help understand such troubling and troubled guests; the link provides more information. If interested, you can email this author for a complimentary electronic copy—there are no strings attached to this offer and email addresses will neither be harvested nor shared.

Published initially by Luxury Hoteliers and then by Hotel Online4Hotelier, Hospitality Net,  and Hotel News Resource 


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, October, 2012

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

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 8, issue 10

International Institute of Modern Butlers

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

Some articles in the media about butlers prompt a few comments below; rather a busy month of training around the world; an excellent Domestic Estate Managers Association conference in Los Angeles; and the continuing series on cigars, wines, and the world of the PA. Enjoy!

Butlers in the Media

Interesting article from the BBC,  Servants: A Life below Stairswhich is fascinating, no doubt, to Europeans and Americans, and anywhere else where Downton Abbey is proving popular; but as I discovered when in Thailand just now, the article resonates as a world apart, a piece of arcane history, really, for most others elsewhere. What led to this epiphany? The fact that a teacher at a respectable university was busy teaching hospitality students that butlers were a creation of the hotel industry, with no idea of the existence of butlers in private service for a thousand years before their recent appearance in hotels.

Just as man has long considered himself the center of the universe, anthropocentric, so Europeans have become overly fond of, or perhaps complacent in, the rectitude of our cause, forgetting that there are other players on the stage. Take, for instance, a Western colleague sending a letter to the editor as follows (in response to the use of “The Queen of England” in the last MBJ): “Interesting newsletter as always. One article refers to ‘the Queen of England’ and while we all know to whom you are referring, that is not her correct title. It is ‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,’ which would be verbose in the context of your article. But if you simply said ‘the Queen,’ everyone would know who you were talking about!”

The response sent back, which the reader conceded was correct in principle, was: “I was of the same opinion until, sitting in Thailand, I deliberately added ‘of England’ because, in our Anglo-centric way, we forget that many other countries have queens, including Thailand!” He did, quite rightly, however, point out “When you say ‘Queen of England,’ it upsets the rest of Great Britain, as though they were second class citizens. I doubt the Irish care.”

The point? We can say that the English butler stands as the standard for all things butlerish, but the idea that anything anyone else offers on the subject of superior service, by definition, must not be quite up to standard is just to promote a stereotype that my be quaint in its ineluctable (unable to be resisted) certainty, but which actually falls short of the ideals of any butler for whom the profession is a lifelong learning experience. I say this having experienced a level of open-hearted, solicitous, and caring service in Taiwan and Thailand which, married with the many admirable traits of a butler, would have no doubt found much support from employers of butlers in centuries passed. In other words, the essential trait of dignity can be manifested quite adequately with humility—it does not require that haughty attitude, whether spoken or unspoken, that has so embedded itself in the butler psyche, and the English in general, over the centuries. There are certainly many ways in which the butler provides superior service that are well conceived, but are employers really well served by an attitude or mindset that is fixed in its innate superiority, as opposed to enjoying the flexibility that comes from sharp observation, intelligent evaluation, and skilled implementation of new ideas?


Another interesting article with the requisite salacious title to attract readers—“What the butler saw naked in the bath”—provides another look at butlers a century ago. The butler saw his boss in the bath who expected him to brush his hair. “As far as he was concerned, [the butler] didn’t really exist. He was just an automaton, someone whose only purpose in life was to serve.” When the butler began his lifelong career in 1914, he “worked 16-hour days emptying chamber pots, shining shoes, and doing anything he was told to do. He and his fellow hall-boys had half a day off a year at Christmas, slept in either cupboards or cellars and changed their clothes—on average—once a month.” The job was grueling and demeaning resulting in resentment towards employers. Butlers and household staff are not treated that way in most countries today, but there are still some countries where they are. No system of servitude will ever work, because the resentment it generates results in the worst level of slavery and the degradation of the perpetrators as much as the victims. Thank goodness most service is based largely on mutual support and benefit.


USA Today’s article 10 amazing free hotel amenities lists the infamous Tanning Butler at Ritz Carlton Miami Beach and the Book Butler at a hotel in Minneapolis in the top ten… really?


Congratulations to Larry Mogelonsky for his recent article. It is not often one hears someone outside the butler profession stating what is obvious to us, but still new news to hospitality in general: that the butler is such a simple solution to differentiating a luxury hotel, or at least greatly increasing the avenues open to pampering and wow’ing guests. And a logical extension of butler service in a private estates to the hotels the same employers may well frequent when traveling.

And Mr. Mogelonsky was spot-on in stating that guests need to be educated in how to utilize their butlers, and the scope of their offerings. Mr. Mogelonsky provided some examples of services he had received from butlers, but there are far more ways that butlers can be utilized. The variance in perception is caused by the training they receive failing to pass on the full range of services that butlers can provide, resulting in butler service in too many hotels being too narrow in scope. The Institute’s hotel butler  rating service lists some of the services available, and the extent of the butler service that can be experienced in different hotels.

A couple of points that are not totally accurate in Mr. Mogelonsky’s otherwise excellent article, is that “the decision to initiate a butler program should be tempered by the availability of appropriate staff as properly trained butlers are both expensive and rare,” and the suggestion that the concierge staff could be made into butlers. Staff from whatever department, preferably with F&B background, who have a service orientation and a modicum of intelligence, simply need to be trained as butlers by a trainer knowledgeable in the services that can be offered, as well as the proper mindset and communication skills. This does not cost much at all when measured against the higher ADRs that Mr. Mogelonsky accurately states to result in butler service suites/villas. Anyway, kudos to Mr. Mogelonsky for his support of this rather recent arrival on the hospitality scene: the butler.

***Another article from England’s Telegraph about hotel butlers, as well as private service butlers, in England/Scotland, which is quite accurate and contains some interesting information.

The Hollywood Reporter reports the price tag to maintain (and fly) the most expensive private jets, such as the  Bombardier Global Express, is $3 million a year, with fuel costs alone in the $3,000-US-an-hour range. Sales of the largest business jets have increased 23% over the last five years with Bombardier, Gulfstream, and converted Boeing commercial jets leading the way. One broker in Los Angeles correctly asserts that owners of such planes would need to have a net worth of at least $100 million.

The Art of Being a Personal Assistant

 by Lisa Krohn

Organizing a Principal’s Life

In a first conversation with the principal, a prudent gesture on your part, if possible, would be to ask them to speak openly and freely about the negatives in their life. Encourage them tell you everything that is wrong, that they don’t like or are angry about. Doing so will create an invaluable directive for you on how to proceed and frees them up, giving them a feeling you can take everything that is wrong, bad, or simply not a preference, and turn it around to an efficient and effective system. It suggests you are a proactive problem solver. They might just say to you “That’s your job, figure it out,” in which case,  be aggressive in dissecting everything as much as possible. If something is working well and you objectively think it is for the best, then keep it the way it is, rather than making changes just so you can show change. Be subtle, don’t report or discuss the changes openly with the principal unless they asked to be informed. Keep a daily journal and write everything you do as you go along.

Listen, listen, and listen, not only with your ears and eyes, but with every part of your emotional and social intelligence. Very often what is not said by the principal, intentionally or not, is what you need to be attentive to, just as much as you attend to what they are saying.

Be flexible, spontaneous, and adaptable. Be vigilantly critical of your own work and behavior at all times. Your physical presence, regardless of height and weight, is very important. Being silent and not talking is easy. Making your body still is one thing, but to make your entire presence silent when they are talking to you, or when sitting with them while they are reading something, is a fundamental part of being a Personal Assistant.

Create a manual for your job that includes philosophy, not just practical points. It is your responsibility to the principal, as well as for your successors, to be transparent, creating systems and procedures that will allow another person to step into your shoes and know how to proceed.


Ms. Teresa Leigh and others at the DEMA conference in Los Angeles spoke about the derailing of private service staff by Single Family Offices and Multiple Family Offices: basically corporate and finance offices being tasked with the placement of the household staff while having no background or real understanding, on the whole, of household management—and how this has been leading to unrealistic expectations of duties and downward pressure on salaries of private service staff, in the mistaken idea that household salaries and culture should mirror corporate salaries and culture. In addition, the market is being diluted and pressured by employers conceiving that household staff should be willing to accept steep cuts in remuneration on the basis that many are out of work and candidates should be happy they have a job offer; and employers looking to non-professional household staff for their staffing needs.

This is more than a pendulum swing away from the high flying days of the 1990s and early 2000s when salaries were quite exuberant and the household industry flying high. A corporate culture is inserting itself into the household culture, whereas what works in an office is not what works in the home. It is up to the profession as a whole to redefine and reassert the domestic culture and how it is best run by itself, not by a corporation, if we are to provide a home for our principals.

Recent Graduates

Some of the recent butler graduates at Six Senses Kiri, Thailand

Graduates at Regent Phuket Panway Bay, Thailand (pre-opening)
Some of the recent butler graduates at Karisma Hotels in Mexico

Cigars, Part VIII

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

Handling Cigars 

A few tips about handling cigars before we talk storage. Cigars are a natural product and it is necessary to take care when transporting and handling them. Take even greater care when the cigars belong to your employer or, should you be working in a hotel, be offered for sale to your customers. Cigars are damaged relatively easily and should be handled as little as possible. Oils from our fingertips can be absorbed into the tobacco leaf. Wash your hands before handling cigars and avoid strongly scented soaps or hand lotions. Try to handle cigars by their bands if they have them or use cotton gloves. Avoid washing your gloves with strongly scented detergents or rinse aids which may also taint the tobacco.

Selecting a Humidor

All cigars need to be kept in a humidor. Even bulk boxes should be transported and stored in this manner. I once knew a GM who ruined several unopened boxes of Cuban cigars by insisting that they were safer locked away in his air-conditioned office. An unopened cigar box is not airtight – it is not a humidor. If your humidor cannot accommodate large boxes, you will have to buy cigars in smaller quantities or even individually. Keep this in mind when deciding what size humidor to buy. Buying an overly large humidor is also not recommended as it becomes difficult to regulate humidors that are less than half full.

One alternative is to line a camping cooler with untreated Spanish cedar and convert it into a bulk storage or transport humidor. By all accounts they work very well, but should preferably remain out of sight.

Humidors come in many sizes, ranging from the small, single-layer desktop humidor, to the large free-standing chest of drawers type. The most expensive humidor is not necessarily the best humidor. Cigar publications often run comparative reviews and these can make interesting reading. A good humidor is practically airtight. Open and close the humidor lid gently. There should be resistance due to the change in air pressure. The humidor should protect the cigars from light and should be lined with untreated Spanish cedar wood. For this reason, attractive acrylic-display humidors seldom work as advertised.

Humidors are described in terms of the number of cigars they can hold. Your humidor should be stocked somewhere between 50% and 100% of its capacity. A safe bet is to take the number of cigars you plan to keep in your humidor and add ⅓ of this number. This will tell you what size humidor you should purchase. A good humidor will offer a number of arrangements for stocking cigars of various shapes and sizes. If you are planning to stock unusually large or small sizes, make sure that the humidor can be configured to store them sensibly and safely.

For very busy hotels, where the humidor is continually being opened and stands in an air-conditioned environment, an electronically controlled active humidor is the best option. This type of humidor draws mains power and actively humidifies its interior, quickly raising the humidity level if the door has been open too long or if it has been restocked with bulk stock.

In quieter environments and in private homes, an unpowered passive humidor is not only quite adequate, but is both the more attractive and the more traditional option. Should you go this route, the next item on your shopping list is a good humidifying element. This is a small container with a grille opening containing a wicking material designed to hold moisture and slowly release it as needed. There are high tech alternatives available these days, but the traditional versions will do the trick, unless the humidor is opened and closed too often or is kept in a challenging climate. Humidifying elements are also rated in terms of the number of cigars they can humidify. Do not be tempted into saving money by buying too few elements. People believe that they will simply dry out faster and need topping up more often. This is not true. They can release a limited amount of moisture each day and won’t cope if the moisture level outside is to dry. A number of smaller elements distributed throughout the humidor will always be better than one very large element.

Analogue Hygrometer, photo by nathansnostalgia

Lastly, do not overlook the need for a good hygrometer. Many people opt for the lovely brass analogue hygrometers and then struggle to bring their humidors on target, not realising that these hygrometers need to be calibrated first. We will look at some of the ways you can do this next month.

A less attractive, but far more accurate, version is the digital hygrometer which comes to you already calibrated. For large stocks or valuable cigars, I recommend forgoing the attractive appearance of the analogue hygrometer in favour of the reliability and accuracy of the digital one. Whatever you decide, remember that saving money on this vital piece of equipment can cause you costly headaches – purchase the best one you can afford. If you are on a budget, remember that an inexpensive digital hygrometer will always deliver superior accuracy when compared to an analogue one in the same price bracket.

Next month we will discuss the various ways one can set up a humidor and consider the relative merits of each method.

DEMA Convention

The convention in Los Angeles just now was a triumph for DEMA: professionally run for professionals who finally have a vehicle for the butler and household manager industry to come together and work together with those who work with it. There were many good speakers, many excellent vendors presenting their wares and services, much good conversation, and many links made. Next year, the convention will be in Orlando. Although DEMA is mainly servicing North America, they are working on developing internationally, as well as launching a continuing-education program for butlers and household managers.

Let’s Talk about Wine, Part X

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

 Welcome to Oporto, homeland to world famous Port wine. This beautiful city is the second biggest city in Portugal, and is located in the north bank of the Douro river, where its waters flow into the Atlantic.

Port is not just another kind of wine, but a fortified wine, meaning that a distilled spirit, commonly known as brandy (although it has nothing to do with the cognac-like beverage that one can purchase in wine stores), is added to the fermenting wine. Once the brandy comes into contact with the wine, fermentation stops, thus leaving significant amounts of natural sugars unfermented, and so giving the characteristic sweet taste of Port.

Croft Port Cellar, photo by R. Martins

Less fermentation does not mean the final drink has less alcohol than regular wines. In fact, the added brandy has a very high alcoholic content, giving Port wine 19 – 22 degrees of alcohol.

Only five grape varieties are used generally in making Port: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional; for white Port (not so well known) wine makers use white grapes exclusively: Donzelinho Branco, Esgana-Cao, Folgasao, Malvasia Fina, and Viosinho.

The area where Port is made and vines grown has a microclimate that presents the ideal weather –mild temperatures all year round—and ideal soil conditions. The land is full of slopes that have been into terraces that make mechanization very difficult, which means most of the work has to be done by hand, increasing the cost of producing and price for buying port.

The vineyards can be found on both sides of the Douro, and although traditionally Port had to be made in Vila Nova de Gaia (on the south bank of the Douro), nowadays it is allowed to age in barrels in other villages of the province.

Colheita & Vintage Ports, photo by Mirari Erdoiza




The creation of wine in Portugal goes back as far as the eleventh century and has improved over the centuries.

It was not until the English fought a war with the French in the Eighteenth Century that Portuguese wines (and so Port) increased in prominence and trade. The English, eager for good wine but not being able to obtain it from France, purchased it from its Portuguese allies. Later on, the English acquired some wineries near Oporto to make wines according to their own particular tastes. This fact explains why most of language relating to Port is in English and why Englishmen still consider Port to be a British tradition.

Editor note: One could say the same for tea, coming from China yet being considered a British tradition.

Tawny Port, photo by Jlastras












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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

Butler Service Today Five Leading Hotels Share their Secret

Why have butler service in a hotel? In the cases canvassed, there were two basic reasons: either because the hotel owners conceived they had the best property in the world/on the PGA tour/etc. and they believed the corollary on the service side could only be supplied by the addition of butlers. Or because they wanted to give their most important guests such a level of service.  The five hotels participating in this article have provided guests with this butler service for the last 6-16 years, building the desired reputation and reaping the rewards. Contrasting this with hotels that have signed onto the butler concept and then disbanded the service, it is obvious that butler departments are not always guaranteed success.

How did they do it, those who succeeded?

First of all, by overcoming the obstacles they met on the way, starting with launching the service. In the case of the iconic Burj al Arab in Dubai, the problem was finding qualified staff in a country that did not have many locals to draw upon. When you have to man a department of something like 160 butlers, it is easy to see why this would be a challenge. In the end they sourced their staff from about 100 countries. Falling Rock in Pennsylvania, a privately held resort designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright and boasting a challenging Pete Dye-designed golf course, also provides 24-hour butler service to its 42 rooms and suites. Their main challenge, being on a huge estate in the countryside far from any cities, was likewise recruiting butlers, which they resolved by targeting regional colleges and universities.

Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe did not have such issues, but struggled with the more prosaic problem of making their pantries flow sufficiently to keep up with the demand for butler services. In the ideally situated Seven Stars Galleria in Milan, their challenge was being able to deliver the same level of service required in a private estate, while being in a hotel environment. This resolved with a perception shift that each room or suite was a single house with the most important guest in it. One of these hotels also mentioned justifying a large payroll as a challenge, which they overcame by providing the expected level of service with concomitant guest satisfaction. They all also hired experts to train their staff, rather than trying to fudge the training by in-house solutions not based on the butler model.

Ongoing challenges have related, for Burj al Arab, to their butlers leaving after two years—not because of dissatisfaction, but because, having worked at the hotel, they became valued commodities in the West, as well as their home countries. The solution was hiring mature butlers, providing better pay and living conditions, allowing the butlers to multi-task, and of course, promoting internally so there was a career path worth pursuing.

At Harrah’s, lack of consistency was resolved by having pictures of each set-up, from morning breakfast to elaborate dinner tables and everything in between.

Similarly, the other hotels found they needed to continue the focus on training in order to maintain standards. In the case of Falling Rock, the initial training was sufficiently strong and effective that they were able to continue annual training in-house. Their ongoing challenges have been “the stress of striving for our 5th star so we can be one of the top 25 resort hotels in the world [they achieved 5 Diamond from AAA soon after opening and have maintained it since, and have been awarded 4 Star the last two years by Forbes/Mobil], and keeping the team motivated during incredible busy times.” Team-building and venting sessions have apparently helped keep the team motivated.

In Seven Stars Galleria, the most challenging aspect of the head butler’s work is making sure the guests are satisfied from the moment they arrive at the hotel, as many stay for just one night. This is resolved by empowering the butlers to deal with whatever comes up so that the guest is always given superb service and treated as the most important person.

What’s So Special About Butler Service?

Given that butler service is superior, and that part of it can be attributed to the attitude/mindset and communication skills of the butler, what do butlers actually do en suite to service guests. The key is actually in the phrase “en suite,” because that is the niche that hotel butlers open up for hotels as lines of service to guests. Until butlers arrived on the scene in hotels three decades ago, there was very little hotels could do for guests in their suite, other than clean them, provide amenities occasionally, and room service. Those hotels who have successful butler service list the following actions they can perform to wow their guests or merely make their stay more fun/convenient/pleasurable/tailor made to their needs, etc.

Preparing the suite for arrivals, welcoming with a beverage and hot/chilled towelette; touring the guest; unpacking (and later packing) their suitcases so they can go about their business or vacation straight away; concierge service and being a continue source of information during the stay; helping with IT and business/personal secretary requests; running a bath, usually with all sorts of trimmings from caviar and champagne to less exotic fare; checking-in and –out; promoting hotel facilities (and upselling); wardrobe management, laundry, pressing and shoe shine (Falling Rock provides golf spike detailing!); providing room amenities; replenishing the private bar; providing F&B functions from simple food delivery to serving and clearing multi-course meals (in larger suites) and organizing and managing a wide range of parties; escorting to any and all appointments on-and off-property; personal shopping and personal assistance; wake-up service; and most importantly, anticipating guest needs or dealing with their requests if not anticipated. There are other services that can be delivered, but none of the five hotels questioned offer them.

Compare this to hotels without butler service, where one checks into an empty room and talks through the phone to front desk, and occasionally has food delivered: traveling is a lonely business, so butlers putting the mansion-away-from-the-mansion back into the equation certainly adds value to a hotel’s offering. Think orchestrating wedding proposals; floating-gazebo dinners; tracking down long-lost relatives and arranging the reunion; training a guest on sabering a champagne bottle so he could impress his fiancee; replicating elements of a guest’s home in their suite; the more mundane five-hour drives to deliver lost items and smoothly handling medical emergencies—these are the above-and-beyond the normal hotel stay that butlers make possible.

Which is probably why guests tend to rave about their experience at these hotels, with “nearly 100% exceptional feedback from our guests,” as one GM raved in turn, and comments like “the best service they have received in all their travels,” as one head butler reports.

The media have similarly trumpeted the wonders of these hotels and their butler service: Butlers, like Rolls Royces and Bentleys, super-yachts and private jets, symbolize the ultimate in the striving for and enjoyment of superior service, possessions, and lifestyles. They contain several of the ingredients that the press typically salivates over.

The one fly in the ointment for butlers is that mystery-guest-certifying organizations like Forbes/Mobil, AA, AAA, RAC, Leading Hotels of the World have yet to catch up with the phenomenon of butlers, even though they exist with a wide range of service offerings in something like 400 hotels around the world. As one representative explained to the author in Spring of 2010, they do not want to penalize hotels without butler service by having butler criteria. There is an easy way to resolve this, using the criteria established by the International Institute of Modern Butlers and offered freely to these organizations to incorporate into their own where butler service is offered.

Butler service is the way of the future in a world where even the wealthy (and why not) are demanding maximum bang for their buck—service levels to justify the high rack rates demanded in luxury hotels. And by the way, with various hotels straining beyond the five-star rating in an effort to reflect the service they actually do deliver, it might be time to come up with 6-star and maybe even 7-star ratings to reflect hotels and resorts with butler services, private infinity pools, and so forth.

Which brings up another point, while on the subject of these organizations: the ratings have become sufficiently confusing between competing systems in a global environment—and with knock-offs and self-assignments occurring—that the ratings have lost meaning or usefulness to the consumer in some part. One whole country (which shall remain anonymous) adds two stars to their actual level as a marketing gimmick. At the International Hotel Conference held in Venice during October, 2010, panelists referred to hotels by such terms as luxury, upscale, mid-upscale etc., in their attempts to define hotels. It’s off-subject for this article, but worth exploring and resolving, perhaps, as we move increasingly into a global marketplace.

Other benefits of butlers in these hotels are the ability to personalize service based on an ever-accumulating database of guest preferences (a long-standing butler tool), provide a single point of contact for guests who takes ownership of any problems and removes worry and chores from the guest experience; and the development of a relationship that encourages repeat visits, with guests requesting the same butler.

Butler service has justified high or higher rack rates in these hotels (at a time when occupancy is up and profits and rev par down in the rest of the country, Falling Rock has enjoyed increased rack rates 5 out of the 6 years since they opened). The number one reason guests at Burj al Arab return is because of their butler service. Burj al Arab enjoys 35% repeat guests, Seven Stars Galleria and Falling Rock experience 40%.

Internal Perceptions

Not to paint butlers as super heroes, they are generally simply dedicated and service-oriented individuals, but is that how other employees view them?

Not in all hotels, for sure, where the butlers didn’t get what a butler really is and so earned the opprobrium (harsh criticism or censure) of their colleagues. Possible conflicts and areas of jealousy were avoided in these hotels, however, by understanding that this new beast, the butler, was an unknown quantity in hospitality, a recent entrant. So efforts were made to increase the understanding of the other departments of what a butler is, why they are of value to the hotel and thus to all its employees, and, also how they enhance, not cut across, staff income streams. In additino to meetings and briefings, two hotels employed cross-exposure/training to increase understanding and so acceptance. The result has been respect, mutual respect and the building of long-term relationships that add up to real teamwork and thus excellent service.

One hotel among these five, however, is fighting an uphill battle probably because they did not start off on the right foot—finding it difficult to make other departments accept their role in servicing guests. Their current effort to salvage the situation is to be as helpful as possibile to other departments in their servicing of guests.

How about the perception of the butler department by the butlers in these hotels? With an industry churn of about 31% per annum, Harrah’s has experienced zero churn over the last three years; Falling Rock 20%; Burj al Arab 14-18% until the Front Office merged with them, at which time the numbers increased to 25%, the same rate as the hotel where there is friction between the butlers and other departments. Whichever way you cut it, butler departments, when well run, have lower churn than the industry as a whole. Maybe this comes about because “there is no greater feeling when, as a butler, you can provide a service to a guest who has it all and still impress them.” and “Exceeding the guests’ expectations is the biggest reward we could hope and strive for” and “I am convinced the hotel butler role is the best guest-experience- maker a hotel can have.” In summary, “Our guests come to our hotel for our rating and our reviews, but they come back because of our service and our staff.”

From the management side, a GM who recognizes the value of butlers says: “the butler profession will continue to grow in the coming years. However, a butler staff is definitely a huge investment: wage scales increase, training is a huge investment, and amenities normally increase in cost when a butler program is implemented.”

Then there is the hotel where the butlers are struggling, even while earning a reputation for the service they provide: the friction between butler and other departments traces back to the manager’s perception of butler service, “not seeing or understanding the link between the butler and guest satisfaction and loyalty, and the butler’s role in differentiating the property in the local marketplace”—a bit like a farmer using a Rolls Royce to haul hay”.

Where do Butlers Belong?

The hotels participating all agreed that all five star/diamond hotels needed to offer butler service if they expect to provide top-level service; one even suggested that some four-star hotels should also offer butler service. Why? The wow factor and what it does for word of mouth, repeat visits, occupancy, rev par, and the bottom line.

For those wanting to establish butler service, all hotels agree that experienced butlers should be hired if possibile, certainly managers, and those with a passion to serve; train them repeatedly; and focus on attention to detail, especially in compiling and following guest preference databases (which makes anticipation possibile).

Butlers are still relatively new to the hospitality industry, which is behaving a bit like it is reaching puberty on the subject: all angst and knobbly knees about how to proceed…which makes these five hotels early developers and good role models for those following close behind. If service is the name of the game, then added service opportunities seem to be a no-brainer. Certainly, more and more guests will feel this way, the more they experience the ideal.

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Don’t Just Sit There—Addressing the Economy

Just from my recent experience with batteries, I have to say, “Thank goodness life is not made in China.” The cell phones my carrier mandates are made in China. After two months, the first battery could hold no charge. The earlier phones were made elsewhere and lasted seven years. Similarly, the 17-inch Apple laptop made in Taiwan and purchased eight years ago is still going strong with its original battery operating at 70% capacity. The Chinese-made 17-inch Apple laptop bought two years ago is already on its third battery.

Some of us prefer to pay for well-made products that operate effectively, yet when we try to buy a cell phone, landline phone (or almost anything else you care to name) that has not been made in China (usually with as many short cuts as possible to maximize profits) it proves practically impossible. The ubiquity of it all makes for a grim shopping experience.

Extrapolating into the hospitality world, imagine if hotel ratings were adjusted so that two-stars were reported as five-stars because occupancy rates were insufficient in “higher-end” hotels to justify the service levels of “old-style” five-stars.


China is not the target of this little question, by the way—it takes two to tango: if the West did not demand cheap, then manufacturers would not close down their US and European operations (and economies) and move to the Far East. One could say the same about street drugs: No demand, no traffic from Columbia, Afghanistan, etc. We have brought these conditions upon ourselves.

Take the current economic collapse. China didn’t create that, although the new US Treasury Secretary, Mr. Geithner, implied as much recently regarding their alleged currency manipulation and factual underwriting of the US housing boom with their subsequent excesses of cash. No, it was people like Mr. Geithner who did, simply by being ignorant of the fundamentals of economics, espousing instead theories so arcane and abstruse as to turn a simple subject into a cult with membership only for the cognoscenti (knowledgeable). Again, my intent is not to target or finger point individuals when it has been a group effort that has led us down this path. Instead, my gnarly (knobbly) fingers are pointing at the lack of a manual for life that highlights fundamentals; in this particular case, regarding economics.

What a mish mash of half-baked ideas, what a sea of information that does nothing but confuse by its contradictions and impracticalities! No wonder we seem to muddle our way from one crisis to another. Mankind is not pre-ordained to succeed, but intelligent action goes a long way toward improving our chances. So, what is intelligent, what is fundamental, about managing economies?

I don’t normally write about economics: as a trainer of butlers around the world, I usually sit down to write on subjects relating to quality of service and subjects that impact butlers. I have not written an article for the last five months, because the subject that seems be front-and-center for hotels focusing on quality of service has been this financial vortex we are sitting in front of, mesmerized, wondering how much longer, and how deep, it will spin. In a way, butler trainers could be regarded among the canaries in the mine of hospitality. For when funds become tight and hotels hunker down, training, together with marketing and PR, are the first things to find themselves on the backburner.

Reviewing conversations over the last three months with GMs, HMs, HR Directors, and butlers, the trend conceivably points to butlers in hospitality as an endangered species. Maybe high-end hotels able to afford the perks and luxuries of old are an endangered species, too. One article written recently showed that affluent travelers are still traveling. There will always be enough wealth to allow some to travel, but how many large, high-end hotels will be able to survive on the basis of the numbers who will still be able to travel, and be willing and able to pay extra for the perks? By reducing rates by 70% and putting on hold everything but bare essentials, many luxury hotels are being forced to do the equivalent of not supplying soap and shampoo that some low-end hotels are now resorting to.

When the financial markets, with their derivatives and packaging of junk assets into “valuable assets” by a process of necromancy (black magic), created US $1.4 quadrillion in wealth that is suddenly without value, one can see that trying to create a soft landing by making the real world economy (you know, people doing an honest day’s work) absorb such a sum, is not a possible feat and not a bright direction to be moving in. That’s why this article is about the economy, rather than the quality of service. Because the latter cannot exist in the absence of the former, and I’d hate to see the ground gained over the last three decades lost for want of an understanding of basics by our betters.

Kindergarten Economics

Money is a symbol that allows us to move away from the restrictions of bartering. To have value, we have to consider that currency has value: we have to believe that the money is exchangeable, and not just Monopoly® paper, and that it’s value will not erode.

The supply of money has to balance the amount of product in the market place, otherwise inflation (too much money) or deflation (too little money) result. When the Federal Reserve stopped reporting M2 (the money-supply statistic) in the U.S. about three years ago, they effectively hid just how much new money they were creating.

An economy relies on real products and services being produced, which are then exchanged for money. When a large portion of the economy is froth (money made by creating extra “value” out of paper money), then a) production is not encouraged or rewarded, b) the country produces less and less, and c) the economy bankrupts. The reverse is true, too: valuable products and services produced result in a truly booming economy.

If the creation of money is in the hands of the government (per the US Constitution), then it will be managed for the common good by administrators appointed as public servants to execute the will of the democratically elected government. If, however, it is in the hands of private groups, such as the Federal Reserve in the U.S., then money creation will be used for the benefit of that private group, just as any company will look after its interests, and that group will control the government. This has been true for the last 800 years, ever since the Venetian bankers took control of European countries by bankrupting them over the Crusades—that they initiated covertly through Church officials (who spoke to the Kings who then began the wars against Muslims that they had, up to that time, lived with peaceably in the main).

Don’t spend money you do not have, or have backed by real assets. A debt is not an asset, it is a debt. The apparent genius of modern banking and corporate accounting is that it can claim a debt is really an asset.

There are other fundamentals, but if the above had been in place, we would not now be in a pickle. We have all benefited from this half-baked state of affairs, in that those made wealthy through economic fudging have spread that wealth into our hotels and pockets. But, like the person who buys Chinese products because that is all that is available, and so helps collapse his own economy, we should not beat ourselves up for other people’s transgressions and excesses. Recognizing the root of the problem and taking effective action would be more productive.


Well, let’s start by demanding that elected officials work with other governments to cancel the US$1.4 quadrillion in financial-froth-debts by those who gamble with and manipulate money instead of earning it; and demand they revamp the world’s financial system. Support any actions designed to bring back real productivity to the economy. Maybe demand that the high-flying business colleges, universities, and think tanks, start teaching and thinking with fundamentals.

And perhaps more than anything, let’s support any activities that nurture morals and ethics, because, if we look for the fundamental fundamental (in life, not just economics), which is behind this financial maelstrom we find ourselves in, it is that we would all be better off if we looked out for the other guy as well, not just for ourselves. The people reading this article do not have this problem, but I’ll wager those who try to enrich themselves by taking much and giving back nothing of value to society, are laboring under the misapprehension that happiness results.

This article moves beyond the “mere” managing of a hotel, but at this stage, we need to do something (as it is our economy, too, and does impact our microcosm), instead of waiting or expecting others with perhaps a too-complicated grasp of their subject, to bring more of the same solutions to bear.

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Ethics? That’s HR – I’m busy with Guests

It was somewhat disappointing to return for another round of training at a particular five-star hotel a year after training the butlers, only to find that, in this case, little had been implemented from the year before and morale was in the basement, with staff at each others’ throats and quite a few leaving or planning to leave. Hotel executives were similarly non-plussed: the guest feedback had taken a dive after soaring following the initial training; and against this backdrop, a new head butler, and those butlers who were working hard to provide good service, were soldiering on, heads down against the wind of fortune that found them somehow, yet again, in a group that had started in high spirits and ended up in service taking a back seat to politics and backstabbing.

Sound vaguely familiar? Seen shades of this before?

It is something we teach in butler classes, and how to avoid it. But the lesson had not sunk in, obviously, the year before. We also know that one cannot teach the paperwork side of a business if the technology of the business is not known and applied, because then nobody has time for the paperwork when there are so many flaps to handle because of poor service. And more fundamentally, one cannot teach the techniques and procedures of a business if ethics is unknown and unapplied.

All very well, but what is ethics?

It was something I applied to reach bottom on the low morale and (relatively) poor service among the butlers at this hotel…of which more later.

If one look up ethics in a dictionary, one discovers it is defined as morals. When one looks up morals, one is told it is ethics. Obviously, if the difference were understood, the writers of dictionaries would point them out. However, one person does seem to have separated out this time-honored philosophical conundrum: the controversial 20th Century American philosopher, L. Ron Hubbard. According to his writings, morals are the accumulated knowledge of a group (whether a civilization, culture, or smaller group) concerning dangers it has observed when certain actions are taken (e.g. taking a shine to your neighbor’s wife). These, and their positives, are then written into a moral code that is enforced by peer pressure and even written into laws.


Because it is found that when a moral code is violated, a group falls apart, it does not survive. So from a point of survival / continuance, one has to have some rules of the road for mutual interaction.

As groups do not write a law or moral precept for an action that its members do not engage in, it can be seen that the puritans, who enforced quite a few morals on each other and were considered moral people, were factually faced with and fighting rather a lot of immoral activity.

The same was true for butlers in private estates. They upheld very strict codes of conduct to the point of restricting the lives of the staff: any dalliance with a member of the opposite sex would result in dismissal, for instance, so butlers and household staff rarely married and put a tight lid on what is really a natural impulse.


Because centuries of bitter experience had proven that it was too difficult to provide quality service against the inevitably charged atmosphere of relationships being formed and breaking apart tumultuously (not to mention maids taking leave because they were suddenly “in the family way”).

So morals kept the ship afloat, so to speak, but at a cost of repressed family dynamics for the staff—sacrifices that anyone who has seen that classic butler film, Remains of the Day, will understand fully.

In the US, we have seen a strange moral code developed and enforced by the government based on political correctness that teaches the avoidance of certain words and punishes five-year-old boys for kissing little girls and parents for applying light discipline to their children.

So on one side, we have those who insist on morals that suppress natural urges and survival actions. Take Prohibition, for instance— people will drink, and no amount of laws and ransacking of bars with axes will do away with that. Prohibition was repealed eventually, and we have most people drinking socially and only a relative few drinking to excess or while driving (i.e. harmfully). The correct or workable moral precept not being “Nobody shall drink alcohol on pain of imprisonment,” but “enjoy drink in moderation, and don’t drink and drive.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, we have those who say morals are passé and should be abolished. Leading the charge in this camp are psychologists and psychiatrists, who since the passage of the Secondary Education Act in the United States in 1965, have inserted themselves into the US education system to the point where their group (including counselors) now outnumber teachers. They have abolished moral education in schools (what teaching does occur is along the lines of [actual example], “If your mother and father were in a boat with you and only two could survive, who would you throw overboard?”) and encouraged to “do what makes you feel good.” We do not find basic guidelines in text books or classrooms for young minds to consider, such as “do not engage in sex at the age of thirteen because you may become pregnant or catch a disease” or “do not take mind-altering drugs because they will destroy your mind” or “do not murder your fellow students with a Uzi when you are angry with them or the world in general.”

Is it any wonder, then, that we witness school shooters, drugs and sex in middle schools, and something like 20% of the student body on psychiatric drugs and most of them having taken some street drugs? Doesn’t seem like this no morals approach works either. But with two generations now exposed to this lack of “moral compass,” many homes are not providing this education either, so it falls to churches, synagogues, and mosques where people attend them.

Morals are vital to a society, but they have their frailties: principally, that they require ethics to steer them intelligently, or they become a rote and enforced action that does not always lead to the greatest good, happiness, and survival—and so people come to protest morals. Nothing that is enforced wins in the long run. The answer is not to throw out all morals, but to understand and use ethics.

What then is ethics?

It is the real-time, self-determined assessment of what action to take that will result in the greatest good (survival or happiness, short- and long-term) for the greatest number of interests impacted by one’s planned action, and then taking that action.

A self-determined determination to do the right thing and a culture that encourages this drive are the missing ingredients in the work place. And that hotel with the butler department in a state of disarray was a prime example of ethics not being known and applied.

Staring aghast at such noisy and non-productive conflict, where does one begin to isolate the problem?

Simple, really: Just look and listen to what is actually in front of you. The first person who spoke to me on my arrival in the suite told me how he was going to leave the hotel’s employ as soon as he could and use our institute certificate to land a job at a certain palace because this current hotel was too terrible to be borne. This was an oddity that I just noted: we all have bad hair days, and making inappropriate and negative comments does not mean the sky is falling.

The next time he spoke to me, however, he said the very same thing, in case his message had not arrived the first time. Every time he spoke thereafter, usually in the presence of his colleagues and in a loud voice, it was to cast aspersions on and deride his workplace. About the third time this occurred, I pulled him up sharply and he reigned in his exuberant dysphemisms (the opposite of “euphemisms,” and where “dissing” could have come from, if it hadn’t come from a shortening of “disrespect”).

I then noticed that he was chronically off base in his understanding of the materials he was being taught in the classroom, usually loudly voiced before the teacher had finished speaking.

Then, two days after he had been rigorously drilled on a specific butler service (morning wake-up service), he managed to come into my suite quietly, place the newspaper and drink by the bed, and leave without saying a word or doing any of the other tasks normally associated with such a service—an explanation of the key error is not required. Thankfully, I happened to be awake already and called the butler coordinator to find out who had made such an error. I found myself stepping out of the shower ten minutes later to face an expostulating butler in my suite, asserting vociferously his inability to understand “how they (the night butler and butler coordinator) could have done such a thing to me.” I told him very sharply that I was not impressed with his trying to shift the blame so illogically to others for his own error and invited him to leave.

He had shown his true colors, warranting a closer inspection, and that is when the fun started. Because I had finally stumbled upon the tiger who had been busy chewing up the department over the past year.

Interviews with butlers and butler managers revealed a pattern of going to A and saying how bad B is, and then sidling up to B and saying how bad A is, and then standing back while A&B duke it out. It had become so bad that this individual had been expelled from his ethnic group and none of the butlers would talk to him. Yet they still allowed him to bad mouth others and the hotel, creating disaffection among the older and newer staff alike.

But that was only half of it, as is usually the case when there is this much smoke: he was also busy stealing from colleagues, from the hotel, and from guests, as well as borrowing money from many staff and not repaying it. And he took the night shift so he could pimp for guests as it was “good money.”

In investigating the situation, one other rather more “intelligent” (i.e. sneaky) butler was found to be the king of pimp but otherwise not obviously causing upset. I say not obviously, because when he was caught pimping for a royal personage and called on it, he of course denied all charges and persuaded the royal personage to express umbrage and threaten the welfare of the hotel manager and head butler who were closing in on the butler in question.

And so by threats and underhanded means, these two were working their self-centered ways and causing enough upset and confusion so that their own misdeeds were camouflaged.

So the question is, why did the butlers and the butler managers not stand up and protect each other and the department and hotel? The answer is reasonableness, meaning (not the use of reason to improve situations but) that they felt compelled to find reasons that would explain the existence of the non-optimum condition (“Oh, he’s just like that,” “his mother did not breast feed him enough,” etc.) and so allow it to continue instead of recognizing it for what it was and resolving it straight away.

As soon as I understood the situation, I opened their eyes to the subject of ethics (part of which has to include stopping plainly non-survival activity) and then took action to put an end to the rampage of these two individuals that put the hotel and it’s employees at risk (and guests, given these two butlers’ slack habits, such as cleaning fruit plates with their uniforms and filling coffee pots with tap water; and certainly pimping and the dangers such can entail) just so they could gain some advantage for themselves. I canceled their past Institute certificates and did not award them one for the current training, and alerted management to their specific crimes so standard Human Resource policies could be followed (which they were).

Again, had the butlers understood ethics, they would have acted to bring about an environment that supported good service, instead of allowing the perpetrators to continue to sour the environment and the hotel executives to scratch their heads about why the department kept being a sore spot and didn’t seem to respond to their managerial efforts.

Perhaps Thomas Jefferson summed it up best when he wrote in a letter to George Hammond in 1792, “A nation, as a society, forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.”

There is more to ethics that is worth knowing, but of one thing it is plain: without ethics, we are flying blind in trying to run butler departments, hotels, and chains, where unethical individuals are allowed to run amok in the full knowledge of their colleagues; and certainly in nations, where promises made are not kept and where actions are taken that benefit only the few.

This particular story had a happy ending because ethics was known as a subject and applied. The results were best expressed in a letter received today: “I am so thankful for the training from the Institute. I have been able to deal with challenging guests and my colleagues as well. Many guests appreciate my service verbally and some by tips. But the most memorable are the guest feedback forms giving me 98% & 100%.” The Head Butler confirmed the week before that “We had a Gap Audit and the butlers scored 100% on room orientation and wake-up service, and all interactions between the auditor and the butlers were positive, with excellent feed back.”

How many more such stories are there where the bad hats are terrorizing the good citizens with impunity—and where someone could re-write the script so those in the white hats run the bad hats are out of the town so everyone can carry on with the business of simply servicing happy guests?

Copyright © Steven Ferry 2010 All Rights Reserved

This article also appeared in the January 11, 2010 issues of, the January 12, 2010 issue of, and