Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, June 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


Of those surveyed, 60% had never been asked to organize an estate move. As one said, “I have yet to experience the pleasure of an estate move—I can only imagine!”
As for those who have had the pleasure, here is their take:

“Unfortunately, I have been involved with estate moves more times than I care to remember—I always seem to land a job where we are either about to move in or move out. Over the past three years, for instance, I have moved from one estate to another: from New Jersey to Florida, moving into a condominium while my employers’ home was designed and then built. That entailed moving ‘some things’ with us— fine art, china, linens, cars, clothing—to make it a home-away-from-home, and 250 boxes later, it kind of was. Then we moved from the condo to the new home, which meant more packing from our New Jersey home and all the items from the condominium—not so much fun, hard work, long hours….”

Another estate manager has also experienced several moves, including two to a different state and one relating to “the property manager who was let go. The staff had three days to pack his personal belongings and we all felt awkward knowing that we could be ousted without warning. I purchased moving supplies and rented a U-Haul truck; the housekeeping staff wrapped and packed everything—marking the boxes by room; and then the outdoor staff carried the boxes and furniture outside and loaded the truck.”
Most moves concern the principals, and planning such moves “includes a lot of clearing out,” according to one estate manager. “Donating unwanted items and deciding where they go—museums, goodwill, or consignment. We hired a private packing and moving company, so it really is like working with any vendor service: Acquiring bids from three reliable companies (in our case in the United States, Mayflower, North American Van Lines, and United Van Lines). Once I used Two Men and a Truck for a short move (to settle a spouse into an apartment quickly until the formal divorce arrangements were finalized, which took a year—and after which we moved the spouse again).”

Some challenges do present themselves during such moves: “The worst thing about moving is the builder giving a move-in date and changing it multiple times so we have to tell the staff to unpack what they packed because we are not ready for yet another month. It is very frustrating for the staff as well as the principal—who eventually told the builder we are moving, come hell or high water. At which point, we had over 100 workmen on the site while we were unloading at the curb because the van could access neither the front nor back doors of the building.”

Not all moves involve challenges, just the “stress of co-ordinating all the logistics and scheduling. On one move, the house was sold before the new house was ready, so we had the movers loading and unloading hundreds of boxes and furniture into storage, then reloading and moving to the new house when it was ready. A master list of each box number and its contents becomes vital in such situations, especially in the event the principal asks for something when it is in storage.”

Estate managers all agreed on the absolute necessity for this list of numbered boxes and their contents, as well as the need to use “good packing supplies: Boxes, tape, moving blankets, tons of bubble wrap and about a forest of trees in wrapping paper.” And then demonstrate how fragile items like china and crystal need to be packed, whether by the internal staff or the movers, to avoid breakage—because moving everything “from A to B, safe and sound, is all we need and want!”

“On moving day, make sure you have waters, sodas, and food in ample supply, even giving the movers lunch, because sending them out to lunch can and will cost you precious time. Petty cash is a must, as nothing speaks louder than cold hard cash to thank someone for a job well done—as the saying goes, ‘You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.'”

One estate manager pointed out, “Keep good records, follow up with e-mails and phone calls, and maintain very good communication with everyone. Stay on track, have a plan, exchange vital information with your team. There are so many great Apps today to keep your staff informed. Usually, the fine art is moved separately, since moving and storage of such valuable items are usually the responsibility of the Designer or Art Curator.”

Final words of advice: “I guess a part of me must enjoy adrenaline rushes and practicing stress management. You cannot complain, you must compliment and encourage team work. Be the “Fall Guy” and do not pass the blame on to anyone else. Practice Yoga, run or work out to alleviate tension, pray or even receive professional counseling if you feel you need someone to talk to—since we know we cannot talk about our jobs to anyone, including other staff members. At least for me, I am confined to talking to the property manager and principal. I play online Solitaire to relax and take classes when I can fit them in my schedule. I just took a ‘Map and Compass’ course with the State Wildlife Organization.”

Whatever works, do it to keep that blood pressure low and a smile on your face during even the most pressing and demanding of times.

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, May 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

PA Functions

Thanks to those who responded to this month’ survey: As always, your answers are “slap on the button and leading by a furlong,” to quote Bernie Wooster…and appreciated!

This month’s exploration was into the world of the Personal Assistant—a position in its own right but which is sometimes assigned to the Butler or Household/Estates Manager to cover. How often is the butler/HM tasked with PA functions was the key question, and per the answers received, it would appear to be 40% yes, 40% never, and 20% supporting the PA with some PA functions.

One person’s “current job title is House Manager/Personal Assistant.” Another reported that “Most of my positions have involved some PA work— it’s the nature of the beast.”

“I have never been a social secretary or PA, although when I worked for my Alzheimer’s clients I had to make all of their phone calls and do their appointment setting.”

“Although my duties overlap those of our social secretary/PA sometimes and we work together closely, I wouldn’t put myself in the seat of the SS/PA—that wouldn’t do justice to this important and very difficult role. In our household, there is one person responsible for the planning/agenda, but an entire team of secretaries and advisors are on hand to help on different matters— social, political, formal, or religious events.

“In my role as a Valet, I sometimes advise, during the preparation of a program, on logistics and personal preferences of my employer, for example concerning hotel bookings or diner events. I otherwise try to guide my employer through the program, making adjustments where necessary and concentrating mostly on the timing and logistics.”

For those who do have PA duties, these include:

  1. Making appointments;
  2. Keeping the principals’ calendars up to date;
  3. Answering all incoming calls to the residence (taking messages, screening and/or resolving the call);
  4. When visitors arrive, meeting and greeting them as well as chatting with them until the principal is available for their meeting, lunch, etc.
  5. The principals have multiple companies, so for every one of those companies
    1. Opening and sorting the mail every day;
    2. Paying all bills—checking and verifying accuracy and questioning vendors when necessary.
  6. The principals have a rental property, so
    1. I work directly with the renters— collecting and depositing monthly rent checks, assisting with leases such as questions/interpretations by the renters, working with attorney on changes, etc.
    2. Working with vendors on any work/general maintenance on the building and grounds.
    3. Reconciling and balancing all checking accounts and credit-card accounts.
  7. Keeping detailed instructions of policies and procedures in the household such as cleaning schedules for housekeepers, running job lists for handyman and other vendors, inventories of china, silverware, glassware, tablecloths, etc.
  8. Liaising with clients, suppliers, vendors and staff;
  9. Assisting principals with social events at the residence;
    1. Help with the planning, which includes designing invitations and mailing out in a timely fashion;
    2. Meeting with caterer or chef on choosing the menu;
    3. Determining the staff needed for the event—either from the caterer or our own trusted employees;
    4. Rental of plates, silverware, tablecloths and napkins, if necessary;
    5. Purchasing items needed on hand such as alcohol and mixers for the bar, flowers for tables;
    6. Setting up the house for each event—such as bringing in extra tables and chairs for inside as well as setting up outside;
    7. Working with the caterer to determine the time frame for the evening – such as how long cocktail “hour” will be, dinner start time, etc.;
    8. During the event, I monitor everything to make sure it’s all flowing seamlessly for the principals as well as the guests;
    9. Ensuring at the end of the event that the kitchen and house have been cleaned and put back together, ready for the next day.

It is of note that many of these above functions were and are actually those of a butler, too.

One butler reported that “The duties run the gamut—from booking hotels, planes, limos and restaurant reservations to tracking down that pair of shoes the boss saw in a magazine over the weekend, to booking all sorts of children’s activities and doctor’s appointments. The list can be and is endless!”

When it comes to what works best for keeping the employer happy with these duties, the following were offerred:

  1. Understanding the employer’s expectations for the job;
  2. Good communication is key: That means keeping the principals in the loop—if they want to be. That can take the form of sending a quick summary or making a list of assignments and returning it with the outcomes, whether fully complete or still in progress. “They don’t want a big song and dance about if, what and why—all they want to hear is “Has it been done?” and “How fast can I expect an answer? As a good friend of mine once said, “Give me the bottom line, I don’t need to read the whole novel.”
  3. Check and double check the financials.

When it comes to major challenges that could be shared, one butler/PA put on “a big event for 250 guests in the middle of a cold winter! Trying to figure out logistics for that one was quite a challenge, but we did it and my principal still talks about it and how well everything worked out.”

“Recently, our security monitoring software was replaced. There was a certain item the security company wanted us to change. I had serious doubts about it and strongly resisted, citing the reasons and pointing out that not all residences are run the same. My principals agreed with my reasoning.  Other family members went along with the security company’s recommendations and are now unhappy with and replacing their system—again. I am very fortunate to have supportive principals who value my opinions. Needless to say, they are very glad we don’t have to make any more changes to the security system!”

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.

Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, April 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Farm and Ranch 

When the survey was sent to participating butlers, it was with the expectation that only one would respond, as few butlers and estate managers have the opportunity to work on a property that includes a farm or ranch that also requires their attention.

Our thanks to Ms. Diane Shaheen for answering the call to share her hard-won knowledge on how to succeed in such an environment, which she provides a wonderful taste of in her responses. In her words, “It is hard to believe this has been my career of 30+ years. If anyone is lucky enough to choose this field, there is never a dull moment.”

What were your duties on the farm or ranch? 

There are three managers on our farm: The equestrian manager and his assistant oversee the thoroughbred horses (6 months up north, 6 months down south).

To better understand horses, I took The Horse Course: Intro to Basic Care and Management taught online through the University of Florida via Coursera. I have not done [these actions myself] but I am familiar with the criteria. Our equestrian manager is on the judging circuit, so he is frequently away and the [day-to-day] chores are picked up by his assistant. They are in charge of the breeding, training routines, showing, judging and routine and emergency healthcare. They also line up vet appointments, farriers, manage the records, order supplies, and pay the [horse-related] bills. They also hire extra staff for the summer to help with basic care of the horses. We usually have a dozen horses, though we can accommodate as many as 15.

There needs to be efficient problem solving and daily discussions of the routines [for the] horses. [Also], low-stress handling of feeding, watering, exercising, grooming, and bathing; observation of the overall health of the horses; haying, saddle and un-saddle/adjusting the equipment of horses; barn upkeep (neat, clean and in order, same with all equipment, cleaned before it is put away); assisting the trainer in maintaining the indoor and outdoor riding rinks, barns; and over-site of the equestrian facilities; [managing] grain and hay operations; [having] knowledge of some farm equipment; and reporting all maintenance needs to appropriate managers.

We train horses for Eventing, dressage, show jumping and cross-country endurance riding. Our top priority is the care and knowledge of thoroughbreds. All employees must work in all weather conditions. They put on and take off the winter coats or insect coat netting for the horses, follow instructions, have knowledge of wound care, meds and recognition of colic or other illness and report it to their manager. [Other duties include] turning the horses in and out (pasture rotation), stall cleaning, keeping all facilities to a high standard and reporting to the property manager any broken fences or farm equipment.

The outdoor facilities fall under the care of the Property Manager and are looked after by farm hands, because in our case, they include miles of dirt roads, four obstacle-courses and six pastures. They operate and maintain farm equipment and ensure all buildings, roads, fences, pastures and landscaping are kept at the highest level [of operation].

The property manager also oversees the overall maintenance, budgets and financial reports. He has two full-time farm hands, a seasonal summer employee and I just contacted the Agricultural Extension agency to seek another summer employee. (They sent me to the local university to run an advertisement).

Everyone must pass an extensive background check and drug screening, be hard working, self-motivated, drama free (hopefully) and organized.

Because the workload is so intense, we prefer to have individuals who are studying equine management/animal husbandry, pasture management, arboriculture, landscape contracting, plant and soil sciences, or sustainable horticulture, food & farming. Two of our long time employees were found this way.

The property manager is in constant contact with the homeowner regarding planning, scheduling, and executing construction and capital improvements on infrastructure. He must be sure that the proper permits have been pulled (local, state, and federal agencies) before work begins. Any special project development and the execution of goals and objectives are part of his job. He ensures all the farm equipment is inspected, registered, and insured and supervises employees doing painting, carpentry, and provides planning, direction and coordination of the entire operation, reporting to the owner. The horse trailer is an 18 wheeler, that is maintained by the equestrian manager.

[Outside of the farm/ranch operations], we hire out all plumbing, electrical, welding, fertilizing and herbicides of landscaping and pastures. Our crew fertilizes our herb, flower, vegetable and berry gardens.

{Among the property manager duties are], general upkeep, lawn care, vendor management, security, irrigation, fencing observation and replacement; pasture management, monitoring of land, trees, trails, and gardens; snow removal, pool care, light construction, painting, small indoor maintenance jobs, like caulking, fixing wallpaper, well and water systems management— and loving animals, as we also have 5 dogs on the farm, only one of which is welcome in the main and guest houses.

I oversee the five houses six months of the year, and three houses the other 6 months. That includes one which I can live in when my schedule becomes complicated. I, too, just hired someone to help me during the summer, to work mainly outside the homes to keep pristine the porches, outdoor sitting areas, and the visual aesthetic near the entrance. What does it take? Being well organized, working weekends, evenings, and holidays if needed; loving what you do; being pleasant; listening; taking direction; and not taking things personally.

Did you ever run into any major difficulties, and if so, how were they best resolved?

Yes, right now I am making sure we have enough farm hands this year. Last year, we hired a new property manager, who, instead of hiring the [needed] extra people, just piled more onto everyone that was already there. Luckily, my homeowner is an astute observer and she asked me why one of our farm hands was so thin, was he sick? As usual, I spoke up when asked a direct question, saying that the manager was waiting for his cousin to come and help and the man never showed up—not one day of the six month summer season. Plus, two other people were not replaced, so all the work was picked up by the remaining staff. So that is why I am having to search for workers myself this season. With the approval of the principle, I might add: she said I would not be stepping on anyone’s toes if I were to start the initial search for employees.

What caveats and advice do you have for running a farm or ranch?

Be thick skinned: Where I work, I hear lots of swearing, though I do not swear myself. Since I am inside the home, I must maintain a decorum that is rigid and also have proper etiquette, dealing with family, friends and famous entertainers.

Any amusing anecdotes to share?

I learned this when I was taking culinary classes, when everyone is in a hot kitchen, with high-stress deadlines and shouting over a loud environment. People can find themselves in heated conversations. Once dinner service is over, everyone is joking and laughing again. If you have to bring something to someone’s attention, say what is bothering you and get over it; move on past the situation that is creating the friction. Don’t hold on to hard feelings or gossip behind someone’s back. Better to not let it simmer and reach a boiling point.


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.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, March 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Landscaping Duties 

This month’s topic examines the duties butlers and household/estate managers have regarding landscaping.

In all cases, the duties were to oversee the work of the landscapers on behalf of the employer, relaying his or her wishes and seeing that they were complied with—not just regarding vegetation, but also the maintenance of construction such as rock walls, pavers, and fences.

One household manager provided a detailed account of their duties: “My position is responsible for meeting with the landscape architect throughout the year to discuss any issues the principals may have and to plan preventative maintenance, such as routine tree trimming, aeration/overseeding of lawns as well as a fertilization program, deep-root feeding of major trees and shrubs, and spraying of bushes and evergreens with environmentally friendly products.

“I also work directly with the landscaping company.

“I have a dedicated grounds manager that checks in with me each week when on property.  We often walk the property together and discuss areas of concern or just enjoy the beautiful lawn, flowers and landscaping!

“I review proposals from the landscaping company for upcoming services, such as lawn cutting, cleaning up, leaf removal, any new installations, snow plowing, etc.

“I schedule maintenance for a large, paver parking-court, which includes removing broken/chipped pavers, adding sand each year between pavers, and fixing low spots.

“I schedule the irrigation company each Spring to open up the system, fix any sprinkler heads that have been broken, and test the system. Throughout the summer, if areas need more/less irrigation, I work with the company on adjustments. I schedule them to to close the system and make any repairs in the Fall.

“Natural stone patios, walkways, and large stone steps and retaining walls all require preventative maintenance, such as replacing missing joints, replacing disintegrating stones and water proofing. We have an engineer inspect a very large retaining wall on the property each year.”

Most of those responding had not encountered any major difficulties as a result of their proactive approach, and because they ask questions of horticulture experts and keep in mind that trees and shrubs do grow wide and tall, and that can be taken into account when designing a garden for the best fit.

One recurring problem for one house manager is the decapitation of sprinkler heads by those mowing, which requires seeing the sprinkler contractor once a week for about 5 or 6 months out of the year (in the Northeast US).

A point of maintenance is the necessity to keep the valve box clear of debris that tends to build up. Doing so allows one to see if there is water leaking from the pipes. One estate manager had to have the sprinkler system dug up and new couplings and cracked pipes replaced, and the lawn re-sodded.

Another issue in areas with snow is the damage caused to grass by snow ploughs. One estate had a 1.8-mile driveway that was plowed, necessitating grass seeding, netting, and straw be put down after the snow melt to encourage new growth.

What works best for staying on top of landscaping issues includes:

  1. Communication with all involved: “I feel that a large part of my job,” said one estate manager, speaking for the others, “is to develop good working relationships with all vendors who step on the property. This personal approach is a key element in achieving my goal—finding vendors who are committed to doing a good job for their customer and are accountable if the results are not met.  I like to lay out the principals’ expectations for the project or job in the very beginning.”
  2. Daily and weekly walk-arounds of the property;
  3. Having full-time staff supplemented in the summer with extra seasonal employees;
  4. One estate manager does not use many chemicals on the lawn, so it may brown when there is a lack of rain, and this is resolved by patching with sod.

When asked for any particularly satisfying landscaping environment or project, the following were of note:

“In Connecticut, we had over 3 million daffodils in more than 20 colors on the property, which were spectacular when they bloomed!”

“We are creating a new, larger organic garden this year. We have an English Garden, an herb garden, and flower-cutting garden close to the main house. At the bottom of the property, we have a greenhouse and two different areas for berries. Our largest garden has about everything you can grow in the region. I usually stop there in the morning and pick what I am serving for lunch and dinner. If it is too busy with lots of company, I ask one of the farm hands to bring up what I need. I provide a list of what is ready to pick.”

“There was a metal fountain on the property that was disintegrating and constantly needing attention every year.  It was decided to replace it with a new concrete fountain.  The new fountain is beautiful and the high annual maintenance expenses have been eliminated—always very satisfying.”

To round out the survey, here’s the kind of thing that pre-occupies the minds of our intrepid butlers and estate managers as they go about their employer’s gardens:

“When trudging through the grass to inspect the landscaping work or talk to a vendor, I watch were I step. Why? Snakes! Usually, they have slithered away before you see them, but still I have seen plenty. I am not sure what to suggest for South Florida’s python population [an invasion of a non-native species]. I poke the shrubs with a stick or handle from a rake, before I put my hands down past my knees.”

“One year, we had a vegetable garden contest: the cook at the Main residence with her kitchen garden vs the Carriage House family members’ garden. Both parties worked hard on planting, weeding, watering and nurturing their gardens. Our judge for the contest was the Landscape Architect. On a designated day, each garden was toured and each presented the fruits of their labors—the fresh fruits and vegetables harvested. After careful consideration, the kitchen garden was the winner! To celebrate the win and to thank everyone for their efforts, the principal treated all of us to lunch at an area restaurant.”


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.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, February 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Construction Crews

Judging by the number of responses, construction projects—renovations or new-builds—are not a large part of the modern butler’s/HMs/EMs brief.

When such projects are engaged upon, the butler generally monitors the identity and numbers of workers and ensures they remain in their designated areas—the challenge being when there are many such workers in the house—and ensures they do not use the facilities as if they were guests. As one respondent said, “My Principle does not want to look out of the window and see six construction works sitting on the outside furniture meant for their family, friends, and business associates, enjoying their lunch. Some decide to sit wherever they want until caught—their foreman’s duties are to keep their workers on task; my job is to make sure the workers do their job and that they do not create more work for the staff.”

Useful hints:

  1. Sign-in-and-out sheets are helpful
  2. An initial rundown on rules and regulations when in the home is vital, which includes:
    1. Do not wander around looking in areas that you are not allowed to be or ask questions about what they see, as this is a private home, not a public space;
    2. No food or drinks inside, only eat in designated areas;
    3. Use the designated toilet;
    4. Shoe covers on (and providing extra-large ones to cover the boots inevitably worn by the workers is a smart idea);
    5. When the employers or staff are in residence, no loud music or loud talking;
    6. Anticipating that the workers do not speak English, type up a list of rules in their language;
  3. Have a copy of the work order and schedule, so you can monitor progress and know what areas the workers are meant to be in;
  4. For renovations, placing furniture in a POD is a good idea, making sure to take photographs of all the rooms, interior closets, and marking each individual drawer content, too.
  5. For properties with valuable paintings and artwork, best to hire an art curator and crew to box frame the art work, unbox and rehang when the work is done.
  6. As with all renovations, “you do not really know the extent of let’s say wood rot, until work begins. This type of issue throws a wrench in the timing of a project. I have seen small projects turn into a nightmare when black mold was discovered.”
  7. There is no substitute for keeping an eye on what the crews are doing and being willing to stick your nose in and not assume they know what they are doing. Case in point: The contractors installing a window with 8 panes in a room and right next to it, installing a window from another building on the property that only had 6 panes—extra expense, extra time based on the lack of observation.
  8. What works best for staying on top of construction projects is communication, and a prodigious amount of knowledge, too. One HM grew up with father and brothers owning construction companies, so knows to ask for a brief overview with the project manager covering the planning and permits; financials with the lawyers, depending on the scope of the project; what questions to ask the foreman (time frames, targets for the day), and to keep worksheets with projected dates of completion.

Whatever may go wrong, and something often does, the homeowner seems to think the butler/HM can resolve it with the wave of a wand, when in actuality, it requires many phone calls and remaining calm in the eye of the storm. One example of such a situation that a HM is experiencing right now is the weight of accumulating snow and ice pushing in newly installed windows on three porches that are ten stories up, and causing water to come into the condominium. Obviously, shoveling snow onto a busy pedestrian walkway 100 feet below is not an option, so what to do?

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.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, January 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Responsibility for estate maintenance

The two responses received on this topic are probably more down to everyone being busy over the holiday season, than their not having anything to do with the maintaining of the estates they manage or work in. So the following is a snapshot, albeit a valuable and thorough one, rather than a survey of the industry, and our thanks go to the two butlers/HMs/EMs who answered the survey questions while still managing to see to the needs of their current estate over the holiday season.

“When it comes to maintenance duties, there is Operational Maintenance: Pool, electronics, electrical, window washers, pest control, snow removal and tree services. Fire extinguishers are checked once a year, and if replacement is in order, that is done. Oil is delivered on a monthly basis. Herbicide treatments applied to the groomed lawn. Sprinkler operations are checked as needed in the summer because of potential tractor damage. Also an independent security firm conducts a drive-through once a day at a variety of times.

“Schedules include daily electronic check-ups so the principle does not have an interruption of the home office. Same for the camera/security system. We have heat/cold/water monitors in the barn and all electrical rooms and two different outside security companies monitor the facility.

“There is a five-year cycle for solid waste removal: The property is only occupied six months a year. And then there is emergency troubleshooting on fixed equipment.

“Then there is Facilities Maintenance: Preventative, recurring, corrective, and preventative and emergency replacement. Farm equipment maintenance and component renewal (Equipment service needs are evaluated for deferred maintenance or replacement)—we are in the process of replacing the two furnaces in one of the six homes on the estate.

“Painting outside in the Spring. Painting inside in the winter when the property is quiet. Since we have many horses and wooden fences, the five paddocks need to be observed and maintained, especially since we have a horse that has a “Cribbing” problem—a form of anxiety— so replacement and painting of the fencing.

“Our farm has an in-ground pool which needs to be emptied in the fall and refilled in the late spring. A work order for water delivery is scheduled according to the weather. We have 17 buildings under roof and all of our water supply is from a variety of wells on the property. Water is delivered so we do not deplete our wells. The pool has to have the tile replaced and pump components, too. We have the same engineering company coming in to oversee these project renovations.

“An art curator comes in twice a year to clean our museum-quality artwork, both inside and out. There are three miles of pebble road, which also is on the maintenance list. The multiple cabinets that house the generators need proper maintenance and the service person comes out in the spring to service these units.

“One estate I worked on earlier had two gas pumps, one at the pool house and one at the six-bay garage. It was a constant source of maintenance and issues. Upkeep of the boat, pier, the boat ramp, boat house and pool house. There was a tennis court that needed maintenance and ski equipment too.”

The other respondent said that “No matter how old or new these homes are, there is always something that needs attention, whether A/C, paint touch-ups, cars, window cleaning, floor polishing, counter-top cleaning, pool set-up or closing, clay tennis-courts or hard top. A beach house can be a pain in the neck, door hardware maintained, outside painting, pool equipment serviced, pool furniture sealed, upholstery checked and washed before storing for the winter if you’re on the east coast (of the US). The more maintenance you do before closing down for the winter, the more it will save you in the setup in the late spring.”

Asked about any major difficulties that might have been encountered, and how best resolved, the answer was: “Almost daily on a 400 acre estate! I might be the facility manager’s best friend or worst nightmare. But my position is to resolve and reinforce what needs troubleshooting. What is in immediate need of maintenance and what is preventative. Right now, we are engaged in demolishing two separate outdoor dwellings. So, oversight of service people is important and making sure all work has the proper permits and safety factors are in place.”

The other respondent had this to say: “The difficulty I found is putting off ‘To do’ projects. Leaving it to spring, when everyone else was doing the same thing, was a nightmare. Take custom fabric and upholstery, for instance. Turn-around time for shipping some fabrics can be 8-12 weeks. Then making them up takes another 6-10 weeks. So plan ahead as best you can. I have my windows cleaned every month. I learned early on that if I gave my vendor a 12-month schedule in January, he knew he could count on work from me throughout the year. Having a good rapport with your vendors is essential, they have saved my biscuit many a time!”

Both agreed on what works best for staying on top of maintenance issues, as one stated: “Keeping excellent records is vital and being professional toward the vendors and outside service-personnel: They may not be thrilled to receive a midnight or Sunday service call, so giving clear and concise information is important. On record keeping, it is so much easier today with electronic schedules and reminders.” As the other pointed out, “Waiting for stuff to die, as opposed to being proactive, never works…because when it does, it’s invariably either a holiday or a weekend!”

When it comes to any last words of advice, “My father was in construction, he ran his own company for decades, my brothers also had construction companies. Advice: Hire an electrician or plumber, as projects in these fields should always be done by a professional. I have acquired some basic skills over the years, but I only practice them in my own home!”

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.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, December 2018, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Responsibility for the more Exotic Modes of Transport

We take one last look at any responsibilities our profession is being given currently for the more exotic forms of transport, from yachts, jets, and helicopters to horses, balloons, or even space craft. 80% of those asked had been involved with such modes of transport, although often the duties were limited.

“Over the years I have had the honor and privilege of working for principals who have owned yachts, a high-end tournament fishing boat, a helicopter and a G5 (Gulfstream V). For the most part, my involvement was purely support in any way possible, mostly in the area of serving my bosses and their guests. When flying with them, I would steward the food and beverages. For the boats, if food and beverages were needed, I would coordinate with the captain, chef, and stewardess, as well as the house chef to arrange all that was needed and make sure it was onboard in time for departure.

“For overnight trips, I made sure any and all needed clothing was on board. I also made sure the captains knew how many guests were expected, and provided this and departure and arrival times to all the ground-support staff as needed—from drivers, to staff at homes, hotels, or yachts/boats. Any special requests or food allergies were given to the appropriate people. For long-haul flights, I coordinated the food requests from the family, made sure wine was pulled, drivers booked to and from the airport, that favorite snacks and reading material (were) on board. Making sure all guests knew what airport they were departing from and arriving at on their return was also important, as well as collecting passport information for the captains. For our luxury yacht, coordinating with the chief stewardess on any information regarding family and guests and any wants, needs or dislikes that would help her and her team care for them while onboard.”

Another butler/HM had similar experience: “I have had clients who had jets: One had two, another had one, but I did not work in this area: Each employer had a separate crew for air travel. The most I did was pack for traveling; plus made sure food and beverages were available for the family. I traveled on the plane to another home and it’s destination, but I would sit quietly and the crew would do their work, providing food and beverages.

“I also worked with a family that had two yachts: I never slept aboard either of them—there was a separate crew for each. Usually, I didn’t even do any food service, as the galley was run by a chef and he did all the provisioning of food. If anything, I would be contacted for last minute specialty food/beverage items that were difficult for him to find. I would arrange to have them delivered, especially when perishable, to the stewardess/steward at a specific place and time.

“Currently, I work on a thoroughbred horse farm. The equestrians transport the horses in our 18-wheeler, but I do not participate in the traveling.”

“Other than cars,” adds another butler, “my transportation responsibilities have included jet skis, row boats, canoes, ski boats, motorcycles and ATVs. Although I’ve ridden Harley Electraglide motorcycles almost all my life, when I began caring for ones owned by my employer, I found myself having to set-aside what I believe is appropriate for a more cavalier approach favored by my employer.

“First of all, some of the motorcycles I’ve cared-for were rarely ridden. This required me to ‘exercise’ each of them regularly, keep fluids fresh, and observe scheduled maintenance. Dust was the main concern, as the bikes were on display in the garage.

“With one of my employers, I was often asked to accompany the gentleman and several of his friends on tours, driving a support van. This included planning the tour, making reservations, and observing signs of distress in a rider or bike.  There was also quite a bit of post-tour service for those on the tour that requested it, including the return of bikes to their respective owner’s estates. Occasionally, this responsibility would take me away from my normal duties at the estate for 1-2 weeks. If I did not have a long-term, largely self-directed staff, I would not have been able to do this.

“Perhaps the greatest challenge in this particular set of duties was undergoing professional rider training: I had long considered myself to be a safe and sane rider, feeling that I could handle just about any maneuver on a touring bike, but to meet the challenges I could see coming, I enrolled in a rider-training course.

“I found some tour plans exceeded the rider skills of those accompanying us. This became clear from the support van view, watching a rider finding it difficult to maneuver a tight u-turn or repeated switchback curves. Depending upon who was going, the tour sometimes had to be modified to meet the skill level of the weakest rider. The overall measure of a tour’s success is planning it so that everyone has a great time and no one feels overly challenged.

“As my training progressed, I began giving tips to those on the tour based upon what I was observing from behind.  On one occasion, I was able to lead one rider through slow-speed figure-8 maneuvers in a parking lot after checking into a hotel; others saw us and wanted to participate, and so it became fun for all.”

Another butler offers, “As a personal flight attendant trained at Flight Safety located at the Gulf Stream Headquarters in Savannah, GA, I have had many wonderful experiences during my travels; but I never had to manage the jets (or yachts) that I travelled in.” 

As for advice, one butler says, “Early on, I recognized the importance of drawing up a manifest [a list of passengers or cargo in an aircraft], especially when I was not traveling with the family, and making sure that all involved knew about the luggage. The luxury of having ones own plane also means one can travel with everything including the kitchen sink, which my principals often do—for surely there is no ‘Two bags, 50 lb/20 kilo weight restriction.’ It is unfair to the captains and crew to expect them to know who owns what luggage, and if there is more than one stop, what luggage needs to be offloaded or not. I bought used and clear Lucite luggage tags to provide any pertinent information at a quick glance.

“Another issue with employers who have their own form of transportation is that departure and arrival times can and do change on a dime. Text and email are a must in this day and age: When they depart the house, I send the captain a heads-up. On arrival, the captain texts me and I text the driver to confirm the ETA, creating a shared timeline. I live in Palm Beach at the moment, so departing or arriving at PBI can be a challenge if President Trump is in town. The only way all this works is by being a team and communicating, giving each person as much respect and information as possible to make the whole team look well—game playing and holding back information only makes a huge mess of things and cuts across the mutual goal of keeping the boss happy. It’s worth remembering that they usually know more about what’s going on than we may think—they just do not want to take sides or become too involved with the everyday ‘stuff.’ Sure I do not appreciate it when the boat sends the cabin laundry back with the boss after a fishing trip, even though they have a washer and dryer onboard, or the captain on the plane calls for a list of galley items that they need, but at the end of the day, it only matters that it is all done on time and properly. One of my favorite sayings is ‘You catch more bees with honey than with vinegar’—it’s all about give and take. So tip where and when you feel it is necessary, as nothing says ‘Thank You’ like a $50 bill, as well as small gestures like helping them load or unload ‘their stuff.’

“Lastly, there are little pointers like allowing enough time to do things or reach destinations; the old ‘check and double check’ discipline (including making sure your phone is fully charged and you also have a charging cord and/or battery backup—because who knows how long you may actually be out, bearing in mind the mantra of the US Marines, and which applies also to us butlers: ‘Hurry up and wait!’”

More advice from another butler: “I suggest that anyone who might be interested in expanding their skill sets search online for ‘Flight Attendant training programs.’ The cost of a one-week on-location course in a certified Flight Safety facility starts at about $4,000 and should include classroom, water-landing, and in-flight fire safety training. The certification papers received upon graduation will meet any employment one might find. Ask about the percentage of graduates who are actually placed for employment, and be aware that jobs are tough to find unless one is currently employed by an aircraft-owning family or organization.”

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.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, November 2018, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Many Horses in these Horseless Carriages, Part II of II — Chauffeuring

It seems chauffeuring is a common task these days for butlers, one that is not too fraught with difficulties. In one household where there was no dedicated driver, the challenge was scheduling and organizing the various staff to come off their normal duties in order to meet the occasionally high demand for chauffeuring services to schools, airports, shopping, restaurants, etc. at all times of the day and night, making sure they had petty cash to eat and drink.

For several others, driving employers or their guests who suffered from some form of dementia was the main challenge: One butler had one man trying to exit the Jaguar at a stop sign; another “used to drive the Mrs., who used to think she was driving and so was given to making various hand gestures. When in Miami, I had to ask her to refrain from doing so, explaining that some people in the area were not only uninsured motorists but could also be armed.”

Looking for advice concerning chauffeuring, one butler shared, “Invest in training! Every driver should do a skid course and even an advanced tactical driving course—not only useful, but also fun to do—as would be special training for armored vehicles, in the event the employer has one.”

Other butlers tackle the issue of what to take when driving and how to behave: Charger cable if you have a Tesla, drinks in a cooler and any snack that the passengers may enjoy over the anticipated length of the journey. Start with a full charge and or tank of gas/petrol. A working GPS in one form or another; phone/pad charger cables; the correct address and phone number for the destination. Being a good representative of the employer in appearance and refraining from having any smells, good or bad. Conversing if the passengers desire it, otherwise, eyes forward and drive. Pre-planning the route and allowing enough time to reach the destination, so no speeding or weaving; and leaving enough distance from the car in front, so no swerving or hard braking is needed. Turning off one’s telephone, not texting while driving. Holding open the door, always using a hand to protect their head when they are entering or leaving the car, watching their clothing to ensure nothing is touching or dragging. Placing garments and packages gingerly in the car.”

Another offers: “Know the house rules, your employer’s likes and dislikes: 75% of the time, my employer does not talk much in the car. I do not take it personally. The car is not the place to air any concerns, either, just because the employer is a captive audience. If another is driving, it is really helpful receiving an ETA from a chauffeur to be able to greet an employer returning home or a guest—a previously written text saying ‘10 minutes out is all it takes.”

To wrap up the survey, the butlers were asked if they could share any anecdotes concerning their employer’s vehicles or driving them. Here are a handful of the responses that came in.

Ms. Mary Pickford standing on the running board of an automobile, as her chauffeur holds the door open.

“One of my former employers had a lovely car collection, including limited edition sports cars; unfortunately, when I first arrived, I found that nobody had been caring for them, so I was shocked to see them under a thick layer of dust, standing on flat tires, and with flat batteries. What a shame! My current employer has a lovely collection that is cared for well—most of the time…. One day, a young driver had to take one sports car somewhere, and decided to test the horses under the hood. Not thirty seconds out of the gate, he lost control and launched the vehicle into the wall surrounding the estate. A total loss—luckily, nobody was injured, but it was a good lesson for all the other drivers: Do not play around with the boss’ toys.”

“One employer was backing his old VW Beatle out of the garage with the door ajar and damaged it. All I remember saying to myself was, ‘Thank goodness he did it and not myself.”

Another butler tells of an employer who was in a foul mood and insisted on driving the Rolls Royce even though he was on his mobile. With the alarmed butler now in the back, constantly looking to see if they were about to be rear-ended by a truck, the employer punctuated his screaming invective with furious jabs on the brake and accelerator that had the vehicle randomly switching lanes while proceeding at speeds ranging from 20 mph to 120 mph, and the butler’s lunch following a similarly erratic course, instead of its normal route through the digestive system.

An household manager shares this: “My fourteen page non-disclosure agreement limits how much I can share, but there is one experience that some mutual friends were privy to concerning a gentleman who bought a beautiful brownstone property in one of London’s wonderful squares, roughly twenty minutes walk from Buckingham Palace, from a former employer of mine. Roughly six months after the conclusion of the sale, the household manager (who was retained by the new owner, a Russian “oligarch”) called to say that he had arrived at work to find the Bentley and the Range Rover, roughly $450,000 worth of vehicles, in the swimming pool, which was located in the basement directly below the garage. During the evening, the floor had given way under the weight of the vehicles. Those same vehicles had been parked in the same spot for years without any indication that the floor was under stress.”

One has to wonder at the efforts required to remove those vehicles from the pool. And maybe also at the prospect that MI-6 and the media of one stripe or another would find some tie-in between a putative act of sabotage and President Putin.

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.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, October 2018, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Many Horses in these Horseless Carriages, Part I of II

This month, we examine the duties of butlers regarding horseless carriages—which have been in the landscape  ever since their introduction close to 125 years ago—a brief blip in the history of the butler, really, and yet an important element of the job now, it seems, according to those butlers and estate managers kind enough to respond to the call for information.

All those interviewed have had care of vehicles within most of their job descriptions, usually directly or sometimes through a team of chauffeurs and private mechanics, especially when the employers included car enthusiasts who owned up to thirty luxury, vintage, or specialty vehicles.

The butlers/estate manager’s duties include(d) everything from the purchasing of vehicles, to cleaning, maintenance, servicing, managing tax and insurance, and obviously, having the desired car ready at the desired place.

When it comes to managing challenges, certain vehicles, such as vintage cars and armoured vehicles, need specialized care that is not always easy to find. Run-of-the-mill vehicles for employers, on the other hand—Aston Martins, Range Rovers, Mercedes Benz, BMW’s, Cadillacs, Humvees, Maseratis, Jaguars, Porsches, Rolls Royces, Lamborghini’s, Ferraris—have dealerships available, making it important, as one butler pointed out, “To maintain a good relationship with the dealership and your point person. A local dealer of a brand is the easy solution, but for issues more complex than changing a tire or liquids, it might be better to utilize a national centre with more capabilities—such as Porsche and Audi in France.”

The same cultivation of relationships applies to valeting companies: ‘Be up front with them and brief them on any hot spots the employer has about his or her car.’ 

Another butler had similar words: “A car of great worth needs special love and attention, so finding the best people in your area is key. Keeping good records is important; again a good relationship with your dealership and or mechanic, as employers are not big on waiting too long for things to be done: Find some you can call at the eleventh hour and their response is “I’ll be right there!’”

As for advice where the rubber meets the road, one butler suggests alerts on the calendar for each vehicle registration and regular oil changes/services; contacting the manufacturer for a recommended cleaning-product list for the different surfaces and using those products; hand washing and blow drying, touching up with a soft, high quality chamois (or microfiber) for drips and door wells/trunks. She uses a permanent marker to identify each cloth’s use—windows, tires, interior, leather, and carpet—and then has a washer and dryer available to wash the cleaning cloths, washing chamois and microfiber cloths separately, as well as each cloth separately because of residue from each surface on which it is used. Check cloths for any debris to avoid scratching surfaces; replace cloths often. Last piece of advice: Apply any spray or liquid to a cloth, not directly onto a surface.

Part II will look at chauffeuring, and will include some amusing anecdotes of times with employer’s cars or chauffeuring in 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.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, September 2018, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Looking after the elderly

For this month’s topic, we found something interesting: 70% of those surveyed have not had to care for/supervise the care of, elderly principals. 10% declined to comment for fear of breaking confidentiality, which left 20% who had something to share on the subject. We provide their feedback in full.

“During my fifteen years in private service, I have had the distinct pleasure of spending nine of those years in the service of three different patriarchs as their personal aide. Interestingly enough, my service began while these men were entering their late seventies and with my service ending roughly one year before their passing, which occurred during their early eighties.  Two of my principals slowly lost their physical abilities, while the other lost control of his mental faculties. Shortly before their demise, I was replaced by a professional nursing staff.

“In each of these cases, my role was to assist the individual with normal daily activities, such as dressing, driving, and running errands. I was asked to remain in very close personal proximity at all times, to assist with walking and to prevent falls.

“All of them enjoyed my companionship in the beginning and appreciated my service, but over time, a slow degradation of attitude towards me as well as life in general became apparent.  Eventually, in each case, I became a target of their frustration as a result of their life circumstances and my immediate proximity to their person. I was demeaned and cursed; I had household items thrown at me and even was accused of wife stealing (!) Knowing these people when they enjoyed good health and then attending to them in poor health, was a challenge that the weak of heart probably would not survive. I eventually did learn how to survive this circle of life.

“Before accepting a position as an aide to an elderly principal, you must be knowledgeable concerning the expectations for that individual’s health—do your homework and know what you are walking into. To succeed, be of good spirit and maintain a positive attitude. You need to be tough-skinned: If your feelings and emotions are easily bruised, you had better pursue different employment or opportunities. Having started in such a position, my advice is that you a) obtain a letter of recommendation while the opportunity still exists, and b) be prepared to lose your job!” LW

The other professional offered the following:

“In 2004, I held a position as a live-in caregiver for a family I had worked with previously for ten years. The principal was 84-years old and had Alzheimer’s. None of us knew what we were doing, so I studied the disease online to learn as much as possible and attended caregiver meetings that were offered locally.

“I treated the principal with dignity and respect; he was not happy that I was in his home, cooking, cleaning, setting up appointments, and doing the laundry. We ran errands together, enjoyed daily walks in the park to feed the turtles; in the evenings, I would drop him off for dinner at his girlfriend’s house. The family had taken his car away from him, so he resented me driving his car everywhere, including to the theater or to events at the University where he was a highly regarded Professor. There can be lots of physical care for the elderly: as a example, their skin is fragile so one must keep one’s fingernails short. Constant vigilance is needed, safety and personal hygiene are important.

“In the beginning, it was a challenge to avoid being hit. So I devised a plan whereby I told him that I was a graduate student at the University and he was renting me a room. The family sent me a check every month so I could pay him rent. He loved that I was so helpful and he offered to sell me his car, so I didn’t need to walk. Again, the ‘power of attorney’ sent me a check to give to the principal to purchase his vehicle. Soon after, the Professor said that I did so much work around the house that he wasn’t going to charge me rent anymore. Obviously, the family was thrilled and stopped sending the rent checks. Kind of a complicated story but, I would say goodbye to him after breakfast, he would wave at me, turn to go back in the house and I would walk around the back yard and come back into the house that way. Acting like I was just getting out of class. We would talk about my pretend courses and all went well. We were ‘roommates’ for 3 years until his family decided he needed a facility for his special needs.

“I had another Alzheimer’s client, which turned out to be a very similar experience—the family had taken away his car. Of course he was mad about that, but I reassured him that my driving his Jaguar around town with him in the passenger seat would look like he had a young female companion. That seemed to work, since he would be waving at people (he was a respected heart surgeon in the area) and teasing me about the fact that he had a beautiful girl driving his car.

“What I found to be successful was not arguing or trying to reason with an Alzheimer’s client; instead, guide the conversation and actions toward the desired results. The stove needed to be unplugged, the microwave and toaster, too. All sharp knives were hidden. I had baby monitors hidden around the house so I could hear what was going on. I also unplugged the phone at night, since he was into calling people after midnight. Plus, I attended conferences regarding the disease and continued to research the needs of my client. I also made sure I had competent help.

“Last year I took a Nursing Assistant course, to help with my current position, since some of the visitors are elderly and need help arising from the dinner table or climbing in and out of their vehicles. One needs to be patient and kind, understanding and able to listen. It is difficult to sit and talk when one has a phenomenal amount of work to complete, but giving someone one’s undivided attention for a short while will make them feel fantastic. Love your job and understand that they may use derogatory statements and verbiage from a different era.” DS

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.