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Butler training

The Barefoot Butler

 The Barefoot Butler

Far removed from the swirling turmoil of the world, its political upheavals, financial scandals, and social unrest, Soneva Gili stands as a very small island sanctuary—no bigger than a football field or two, it secrets away 250 staff amongst its shady trees and about 120 guests in less than 50 water villas satelliting around the island. Three gourmet restaurants on the beaches or over the water, including a below-ground wine cellar where eight people can enjoy fine cuisine and vintage wines and savor the chocolates made on the spot; and a spa where glass-covered holes in the floor below the massage tables reveal fish swimming below.

The Private Reserve is the top villa, standing apart from the rest

But this discreet elegance and luxury is not what attracts so much as the serenity of the space that pervades from the moment one lands. Shoes are not part of the dress code. Unsustainable living is not part of the agenda either, with organic gardens and greenhouses, water all made on site, and no throw-away plastic or other fast-paced, throw-away culture, please. The Founders of Six Senses have a vision they call SLOW LIFE, which stands for Sustainable, Local, Organic, and Wellness, Learning, Inspiring, and Fun Experiences.

It’s a great way to experience what life and society would be like if there didn’t happen to be a few dedicated to raping whatever they can lay their hands on in life. The number of people who return time and again to this little speck in the Indian Ocean testifies to what a hidden treasure it is. The owners do not advertize, relying mostly on word of mouth and the kind of writing that I am doing right now!

And to top it all off, they have butler service, called “Man (and Lady) Fridays” after Robinson Crusoe’s Man Friday, copies of which are available in each water villa. The Fridays, who are almost all Maldivian, were eager students and fired up to offer the best possible service—with some innovative treats conceived to wow their guests.

So when your boss is wondering where to go for the next getaway, I suggest you suggest  this far away place: a twenty-minute private boat trip from the airport.

One of the three jettys. There are stand-alone water villas, too
Housekeeping on the way to a villa just before a storm…the rainy season has arrived and is not that rainy
Cruising under my villa in two feet of water
A young shark swims by my villa in one foot of water. There are no records of shark or ray attacks in the lagoon
One of the trainees—not a butler, but the Training Director—coming up to speed on how to butle
Two of the butlers: no plastic smiles here, just fun-loving people.

These hotel and resort butlers are the butler-away-from-home, filling in for the butlers at home for those lucky enough to employ butlers, and giving a taste to those who do not yet have butlers, of what life is like when butlers take care of the minutiae that go into living.  As 90% of the uber-wealthy are new money, this seems like a good way to test the waters. These butlers may not have the sophistication of experienced private-service butlers, but they make up for it with their open-heartedness—and the difference is just a matter of degree, really, for in the final analysis, private and hospitality butlers pursue the same goals for the same people.

A variation of the bath drill. There is something special about lying in a bath and listening to the waves lapping below.
A private sunset cruise in a One-Butler-Powered traditional Dhoni
The tsunami a few years back washed up many dead trees on the island. One handsome specimen is used as the table in the wine cellar, and two have been given a second lease on life as hammock supports
The private “swimming pool” accessed from the bathroom
A typical sunset view from my villa

 

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Newsletter

The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, November, 2011

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

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 7, issue 10

 International Institute of Modern Butlers

 

Message from the Chairman

The struggle to stay on top of technology that constantly shifts the goal posts is not something our predecessors had to contend with too much. Not to say that change is wrong, or that having lots to do is wrong, but in the darker moments where the technology seems sufficiently confusing to be gaining the upper hand, it might help to remember that technology is not necessarily the superior beast one might conceive it. Take the email I received from Facebook, stating that an email Facebook had sent me, “was determined by the Spam Blocker to be spam based on a score of 7.4 where anything above 3.5 is spam.” Facebook included the full text of this shameless piece of spam for my viewing pleasure.

These emails between Facebook departments concerning myself as a perplexed bystander reminded me of a cartoon I found in an archive of Punch (a now-defunct English weekly focusing on humor and satire that became an institution in England between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries) and laughed over as a child way too many years ago, in a school library where the only sound usually heard was the ticking of the grandfather clock.

Please welcome Gretchen dePillis as a new contributor, and enjoy the strange mix of news and articles relating to our profession directly or indirectly.

I, personally, am coming to the end of a long training stint at the multiple-award-winning resort Soneva Gili in the Maldives, where the crush of the modern day world and its relentless problems has fallen away, to be replaced by azure waters, spotted eagle rays and juvenile sharks swimming through the private swimming pool under my water villa; and where technology has its place in the sidelines (guests are provided with their own wireless iPADs).

Housekeeping on the way to a villa just before a storm

 Steven Ferry

Letters to the Editor

“I miss the training we had in Singapore last year: I am still using the method that you taught me and because of the certification, I obtained a position as an assistant manager in the  company. Thank you so much for the guidance.” Regards, Aein Harryzan

 

“I watched your YOUTUBE presentation on shoe shining today and found it interesting and well presented. Even after twenty years of military service, it seems one can learn a trick or two on shining a shoe! Thank you for the video and the service you are still providing.” Brett Jarboe

“With all due respect to the writer and with admiration for his knowledge, in my opinion this platform is not the right venue for his article [on Fukushima Daiichi]. There are uncountable sources where this could have been published and I think that Modern Butlers is not one of them. Further articles of this range will force me to reconsider my subscription, and I urge you to stay on the course of informing professionals in our field about subjects related to the profession. Kind regards, EBS.”

Editor responds: Thank you for taking the time to write of your concern about the subject matter of the latest article. I understand your desire for articles and items relating solely to matters of immediate interest to butlers.
You may be familiar with The Remains of the Day, the movie of the butler who works for a Nazi sympathizer. This brilliant (novel and) film examines the isolation of the butler totally focused on service versus his social responsibilities and how they impact his employer (and himself). In the case of Fukushima Daiichi, we have a situation that has caused alarm and concern around the world, impacting employers, their families, and butlers and employees alike to one degree or another. As such, it is of concern to butlers.
This article was written principally, however, for the hospitality industry (in several of which organs the article was published/republished), and thus of interest to the many hospitality butlers who are members of the Institute.
While most of our articles, blogs, and newsletter items relate to matters of immediate interest to butlers, such as the series of articles on cars, wines, tea, etc., I don’t believe any organ is required or expected to stay narrowly focused on the technology of a profession, and not look at the bigger picture and how it may impact the profession. For instance, an article will be forthcoming at some point on the world economy. This does not relate directly to how to be a butler, the history of the profession, etc., but I think you may agree, it directly impacts butlers and their employers, employability, etc. I hope this makes sense for you. If not, and you decide to cancel your subscription, then we’ll be sorry to lose you, but will respect your decision.”

 

“Congratulations on publishing this article [on Fukushima Daiichi], which is far more out-reaching that we can imagine….” Francois Martin, GSM, Sunset Marquis Hotel.

Editor responds: “Glad you like the article, and yes, hopefully it will bring encouragement to those outside the Fukushima area who might have had their spirits dampened by the event.”

 

“I have an unusual question. I was just notified by the Christian Dior boutique in an outlet mall here in Southern California that the corporate office will close all outlet malls in the United States except for one in New York. As a result, there is an entire store of solicitous, knowledgeable staff looking for work starting in December. They confided in me that they would investigate being a personal assistant or any type of job in the luxury industry. Would you happen to know of something in Southern California so they wouldn’t have to relocate?” GP

Editor responds: “Good on you for wanting to help these individuals—what an unfortunate situation. Regrettably, the skill-sets of a retail professional do not match closely enough those required of a PA. They are definitely cousin to, but the likelihood of finding employ in a market where PAs are looking for work is not great. Not to say that good fits cannot be found, but we are not the right organization to assist as we are more focused on the butler side than PA, and do not have any PA requests on the books currently. Maybe the readership will have suggestions?”

Butlers in the News

Little graced the media pages and pixels this last month about butlers, but one charming articlein the Royal Scotsman introduced The Final Curtsey—a book by Margaret Rhodes, a cousin of the Queen of England—which details her life in stately staffed homes during the 20th Century.

Butlers in the Movies

Gretchen dePillis attended the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival in Canada to sample some of the films being produced this year (9,995 titles and counting so far) and shared her thoughts with us. As it is often hard to know what a film is really like from the reviews in newspapers and online, we offer her comments on one film, Albert Nobbs, revolving around a butler figure. “This 2011 Irish release stars and was co-written by Glenn Close, who is  disguised as a male butler in 19th century Ireland. She encounters problems when faced with a handsome painter, who  arrives on the scene and captures the heart of ‘Albert.’  The film is based on a short story The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs by George Moore.  Other viewers seemed to like it, however, as the subject matter didn’t appeal to me, I didn’t watch it. I felt that a true butler or personal assistant should be honest and trustworthy: disguising oneself for twenty years contradicts that. If, however, you are interested in seeing the butling profession depicted on screen, then you may enjoy this 114 minute film.”

The Butler’s Guide to Tea

The last in the Tea Series will be presented in December: a piece on the elegant clippers, the most famous of which today is the Cutty Sark, even if others, such as the Thermopylae, were faster. Frank Mitchell was a wee bit too busy on assignment in Fregate Island Private to complete the writing in time for the deadline.

 Travel between continents in the 19th Century was best undertaken, for speed, by these Clipper ships, and at a price. Today, private jets cover in less than an hour what the Clippers, at their fastest clip, could manage in a whole day. Boeing has delivered 170 such jets and has 200 more on order, the top of the range being a 747-800 for $550 million, almost half of which would cover the design and construction of a state-of-the-art interior. The mechanics change, but the truths do not: those who can afford to, travel in style.

Notes from the Field

 By G.J. dePillis

I had the delightful opportunity to spend a day recently with Mr. James Tobin, a  Canadian butler residing in Toronto. Mr. Tobin is member of the International  Institute of Modern Butlers and graciously agreed to be interviewed for the Journal.

Childhood 

Mr. Tobin was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada and raised on a small island, called Oderin Island, off the coast of Newfoundland by his widowed mother and her parents until his mother remarried when he was 5 years of age. His family and the community eventually had to relocate, because the government didn’t provide the necessary assistance for such an isolated community.

Living in a lighthouse as a child helped shape his character, enjoying a simple life without material possessions. He was educated in a 2-room, 2-teacher school without electricity. Grades 1 through 5 sat on one side of the little schoolhouse, while grades 6 through 11 sat on the other side. The community itself only contained a couple of hundred families living off the land.

His childhood and education instilled in Mr. Tobin strong values of resourcefulness and dedication. At a young age, he learned to make the most of the resources that were available to him. He feels this provided him with a solid foundation for his present position as a butler/valet to a gentleman. A jovial man with a warm demeanor, Mr. Tobin told me: “I have learned that any dedicated person can use their natural talents, combined with formal schooling, to succeed.”

In his present position, Mr. Tobin was initially somewhat of a pioneer: his current principal was the first in his exclusive circle to employ a butler. Now that his friends see how happy he is with the services provided by Mr. Tobin, all of them want to employ a butler!

Wardrobe Management 


Our conversation touched upon wardrobe management. Of course, Mr. Tobin cares for the wardrobe of his principal, and he agreed to share some of his own best practices. When he was first engaged, he began by “de-cluttering” his principal’s wardrobe.  His principal placed his trust in him and agreed that for the first 60 days of his employment, he would wear only what Mr. Tobin selected.  This trial period proved successful and many items were pruned and donated to a deserving charity.  Since then, Mr. Tobin has packed for and planned wardrobes for his principal for numerous special occasions, as well as for travel.  He takes into consideration if his principal will be meeting people immediately after a flight, or if will he have time to change in a hotel room before the meeting. He considers such questions as:  will he be seated in the isle or near the window? How long will the flight be? How much tissue paper should be used when packing?  All these elements may seem like common sense, but as any good butler knows, common sense is often not so common — which is why being an expert butler is key to the successful presentation of his employer.

In Toronto, there are several refined men’s wear shops, such as H. Halpen, Esq. which provide men’s clothing with a European flair, including bespoke shirts (customers choosing color, collar type, regular or athletic trim fit, cuff style of button or French, and pockets or not).

The challenge of managing another’s wardrobe can be daunting.  While Mr. Tobin works mainly for his male employer, he also looks after the wardrobes of the females in the household.  He kindly shared a wardrobe tool, which he uses for the ladies in residence (see below).

For those who wish to incorporate some technology into their wardrobe management, Mr. Tobin recommends an application for the iPhone entitled Pocket Closet or TouchCloset and Stylish Girl. For those who have a computer, other wardrobe applications to investigate are Closet bank, Closet Couture, and HomyFads Clothing Organizer. Reviews can be found here.

Last but not least, Wardrobe Manager is a WiMax-enabled (25 times faster than broadband and known also as 802.16) wall-mountable display that uses RFID tags embedded in clothing to maintain a digital inventory and help track usage patterns for a specific wardrobe. Other technical product advancements in Wardrobe Management may appear on the market soon.

Mr. Tobin’s handy wardrobe management chart:

Particulars
Designers
Blouse  Size
Sweater  Size
Skirt  Size
Dress  Size
Coat  Size
Glove  Size
Shoe  Size (R & L)
Hat  Size
Pyjama 
Size
Waist 
Size
Night-
Gown
Bust 
Size
Cup 
Size
Standard
Designer  A
Designer B
Designer C
Designer D
Designer E
Designer F
Designer H

 

Amer1x1inch The Modern Butlers Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, October, 2011

 Hangers & Hangers

  Part 3 of 3, by Amer Vargas

Although butlers generally don’t talk publicly about their preferences, this butler would like to act as a spokesman for his esteemed colleagues in this instance.

Wire and plastic hangers are excellent for drycleaners and for butlers that have to transport their bosses’ or clients’ articles from the dry cleaning establishment to the wardrobe, as they are light and easy to carry. This is especially true when you’re dealing with many items of clothing at the same time time. However, once the butler arrives home and in the area where these clothes are to be stored, such as the wardrobe or dressing room, he should immediately change the wire “transport” hangers to their “permanent” wooden counterparts.

Butlers like to use (as much as they can!) the best available tools. So the best choice, when you’re looking after clothing, is to use wooden suit hangers, always contoured and preferably padded. The reason is that wooden hangers are stiff and can hold a good amount of weight (such as a long, fine wool coat or a motorcyclist’s leather jacket), whilst plastic and wire hangers tend to break or loose their shape because of the weight of the garment. Also, contoured hangers keep “tops” (especially jackets) in better shape than flat hangers.


For “bottoms,” a butler would best choose hangers with clips or a clamp, as they allow a wider range of items to be hung – as opposed to the hanging bar or rod, which may create wrinkles in trousers especially when of a size greater than 34w, as the legs, when folded, generally measure more than the 16-18 inches of the bar of a standard size hanger, thus squashing the edges.

Conclusion Whenever a butler thinks quality hangers, his closets, or his employer’s closets, will be filled with wooden or padded hangers with clips or clamps.

 

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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