Newsletter Richard Ratliff

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, December 2018, Professional Standards of Performance

Professional Standards of Performance: Application #11

By Richard L. Ratliff 


Scenario: It is Christmas time in the Eliason household, and the family is planning a party for one hundred close friends and community associates. Mr. Eliason has asked his butler, George Nettles, to act as Master of Ceremonies and Toastmaster for the event. George is trained in the English tradition, which emphasizes remaining in the background, orchestrating the unfolding of events efficiently and effectively so as to maintain the comfort and pleasure of the members of the household, all without attracting personal attention or public recognition. George, however, possesses a dry Irish wit that he says he inherited from his grandfather, and is known for making people feel comfortable in busy and often awkward circumstances. He enjoys a dignified and commanding presence, handsome in features with a resonant baritone voice. Mr. Eliason insists that George, despite his requests to the contrary, don a crimson tailcoat and take the forefront in orchestrating the Christmas party.

Questions: Is it appropriate for George to step from the shadows into such a spotlight? And if so, how does George reconcile the long tradition of remaining in the background with the very prominent requirements of a Master of Ceremonies and Toastmaster?

The Standards: Firstly, the Professional Performance Standards state clearly that the butler acts at the request and pleasure of the employer; so indeed, short of violating law or morals, the butler may well be expected to perform such a duty. Secondly, the Standards indicate that while some ceremonial duties, such as those for a toastmaster or master of ceremonies, may attract attention to the butler, the butler should direct the focus “to the program rather than to himself.”

Recommendations: Indeed, the crimson coat will attract attention. It is supposed to attract attention, so that an audience in an otherwise confusing and distracting environment may know where to look for direction; still, a well-schooled butler must know how to turn that attention to the more substantive parts of the program, and must not pretend to upstage the real luminaries. Although some circumstances may require a clever cover for an otherwise embarrassing moment for a featured performer or someone proposing an awkward toast, the blend of gracious understatement and dignity with the splendid vestiture actually enhances the butler’s performance as facilitator, as well as the entertainment value of the program.

George seems perfectly suited in skill and attitude to orchestrate the dinner party.

A complimentary booklet on the standards of service, upon which this column is based, and also written by Professor Ratliff, is available for download in electronic format.

Professor Ratliff is a retired butler who co-authored Volume 1 of Serving the Wealthy and has published three other books and over thirty articles. He can be reached via the Institute.

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