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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.

Por Amer A. Vargas

Amer A. Vargas graduated with a Tourism Degree specializing in hotel management from CETT (Center for Tourism Studies) in Barcelona and spent the following decade in the service industry. Beginning as a waiter and then supervisor in high-end restaurants, he was next made responsible for raising service standards through staff training programs. After receiving further training as a butler, he worked as a butler and valet in private service as well as hotels in England and Europe.

During this time period, he translated the best-selling industry texts Butlers & Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals and Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators into Spanish and is currently creating butler training materials in the Spanish language.

As the Director of Spanish-speaking Markets, Amer is responsible for making the technology of butling available in private residences and hotels in the Spanish-speaking countries of the world. He provides consultation, placement, and training services in these countries.