The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, December, 2012

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

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 8, issue 12

International Institute of Modern Butlers

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

We wish you a happy holiday season and a very successful year ahead. Here is a wee and early card, taken last season at a gingerbread house competition: If such a creation can be made of gingerbread by some enterprising young person, then all things are possible!

Letters to the Editor

I don’t know what the problem was with the good answer provided by Lisa Krohn [story featured in the last MBJ], but it sounds like she sailed into an impossible situation between the devil and the deep blue sea. The first red flag was the alias and arguably second, it did not occur to me the name might have been mispronounced. It wasn’t. Even if the job had been on the level, how long would it last? If you teach the housekeeper to smile and twinkle her eyes: mission accomplished. If you don’t: you’ve failed, which takes us to the chauffeur. Make him punctual: you’ve done your work. Now: what is to become of you? Were there other tasks Mr. Alias Blowpipe wanted done? It sounds like a good case of trying to obtain free advice or just having fun at someone else’s expense. Honestly, if you had a driver who couldn’t be persuaded over a period of years to be on time, there are many other people out there. The harsh and sad truth is that no one is irreplaceable. It doesn’t mean they’re better, but a punctual chauffeur and cheerful housekeeper are small things to ask and easily obtained. Most people won’t steal the jewelry, either. I am sorry that Ms. Krohn went on that interview for nothing. It sounds as if she dodged a bullet, just the same. What kind of mentality would speak that way to someone who was sincerely trying to help? If you had been offered the job and if it were a sincere offer and not just looking for free advice, you would have my pity having to work for such a pompous windbag. ‘Wrong answer!’, indeed. He didn’t furnish the right answer. Maybe he had it in mind, although it is doubtful it would have been correct. You’re better off working for someone who is not used to throwing his weight against those who did nothing to deserve it. It might also explain why they are not satisfied with the servants they already have working. Maybe no one else will put up with the mind games. I daresay that secretary who laughed could explain at least part of this question were she willing. Robert


I have so enjoyed my association with Modern Butlers—I am an Interior Designer who has tried to utilize the principles in your books and web site in my practice to help people realize how to create environments that make life a pleasure. I have realized through my experience and education that a well-spent life is as much an art as anything else. Sad to say that society has lost much of the art of living, as the sweet experiences available through a cultured life seem to be slipping out of favor. Hopefully  those of us who appreciate living life well can cultivate the resurgence of the blossom. Our professions are near and I thank you for what I have learned from yours. Sincerely, J.A.


I know you have written at length on disrespectful guests—among other properties, I manage a lovely waterfront home (vacation rental). The guests assumed I came with the house and were furious when I couldn’t be reached on a weekend evening. I told them: 1) I was working in a cell blackout-area; 2) I do what I can when I can, but I’m not on call as I just prepare the house. They insisted I had received the calls and that I was ignoring them. From then on, their ‘expectations’ rose. Suddenly the house they loved did not meet any of their expectations. This is sounding much like your examples isn’t it? Anyway, the upshot is I felt I could not adequately defend myself (not wanting to fight with them) when they got personal and I felt, well, inadequate. Nothing I said made any difference and they wanted a deep discount (of course). So my question is, are there ways to protect oneself that foster a professional distance? JPS

Editor: I am sorry you had such an experience, but perhaps the benefit is that it serves to highlight the majority of the guests who do not behave quite so. Yes, there is something you can do to protect yourself while still maintaining a professional distance: know what you know.

And what is that? That guests do exist whose address is Hell and there won’t be anything you can do within your resources to change them. Know that the problem is not yourself, but them. When you decided “I felt, well, inadequate,” you demonstrated your only inadequacy: falling for their venom and thinking you were at fault/inadequate. Knowledge is power, as the adage goes, and if you simply say to yourself, “I wonder what inanity they are going to spring on me today?” and when they do so, admiring what a terrific inanity it is, you will find yourself maintaining your humour, and good humour. You will be secure in the knowledge that your guests live in hell, and they are simply inviting you to join them.

There is no substitute, too, for loving your “enemies,” and in fact, not regarding them as enemies so much as former friends who have lost their way. This sort of compassion will put you in a good position to kill (their evil) with kindness. Your understanding influences your attitude which influences how they perceive you as well as what you say and do, and they all lead to a first-rate managing of whatever issues the guests throw your way—which you will manage with a smile.

Of course, you always have the option to terminate any contract after documenting all the egregious behaviour, and returning monies as needed: you don’t have to play the game if you don’t want to—the days of slavery and servitude are long gone. Does this help?

Thank you for your well considered response. I have meditated on knowing and compassion—you have offered a very useful and interesting approach to this problem. Knowing has also given me some thoughts on rewriting some of the household policies so that there is less room to take advantage—a way of giving guidelines to people who lack boundaries. Thank you, you are very generous. JPS

Butlers in the Media

An interesting tongue-in-cheek idea recently put forward in the UK Telegraph was that airline baggage prices have climbed so high, it would be cheaper to have the butler fly as a second passenger with one’s second bag. Of course, anyone employing a butler would either be flying in their own private jet, or first class, but the writer does have a point.

More uses of the word butler to convey superior service or products: the fireplace butler; the handbag butler (which allows a lady to hang her handbag from a restaurant table, rather than place it on the floor); and the (Internet) search butler.

Some positive reviews and write-ups of butler service in a Vietnamese hotel and in private service in the UK and estate management in the US.

This last piece of news is worrisome: the “bullying” and subsequent court action for recompense by one of Prince Charles’ butlers. The individual in question refused duty (to work in a London residence) because he had “phobic anxiety depersonalisation syndrome,” meaning he would have panic attacks if based in a large city. This refusal led to frustration on the part of his seniors (not the Prince), who then harassed the butler verbally, and thereafter his position was scrapped and he was offered a compensation package. Instead, he took his employer to court, who settled out of court rather than be involved with a court case and the inevitable negative press.

Why is this worrisome? Because the butler involved seemed to be doing well, hit a mental block, experienced some negative comments from his seniors, lost his position, and then went against the ethos of the profession by suing his employer, causing anguish in turn, and then setting himself up as a trainer in the profession despite such a blot on his record and violation of his own integrity. It is worrisome because his seniors did not know how to resolve this mental block, and resorted to force that, as it always does, backfired. It is worrisome because it is one more instance of our profession being dysfunctional, when we really are meant to live as, and portray, the most accomplished of service providers—and most of us do—but are tarred with the same brush every time a member of the profession messes up.

How could this lose-lose have been avoided in the first place? By knowing and understanding the mind, and being able to fix it when it acts up. Labeling something (i.e. phobic anxiety depersonalisation syndrome) is not fixing it, and obviously, his mental block was not fixed, and so here we are. A number of simple actions could have been taken by anyone who understands how the human mind works; that would have resolved this young man’s dilemma and he would be continuing to build his career, serving his appreciative employers and backing up his seniors.

So next time you or an employee run into such a mental block and want to do something positive about it, feel free to email us for some pointers.

The PA’s Corner

By Bonnie Low-Kramen

We would like to welcome Ms. Bonnie Low-Kramen as a new contributor to the MBJ. She was the Personal Assistant to actress Olympia Dukakis for 25 years and today is a speaker who also teaches workshops for Personal and Executive Assistants around the country, while being the author of the book Be the Ultimate Assistant, A celebrity assistant’s secrets to working with any high-powered employer.

Take a Breath! – 10 Common Sense Success Strategies for 2013 & Beyond

Can it really be December already? I’m serious. If you share this view that time is flying, I hope that you will use some of the following ideas to make 2013 move a tad slower!  I believe they not only apply to Personal Assistants, but to everyone in private service and in the workplace at large.

  1. S l o w it down. Don’t permit 24/7 access 100% of the time. (Just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it has to be.) To be your best, you need sleep and you need to take vacations. Despite current rumors to the contrary, the world will not end if you go on vacation. Make and keep doctor’s appointments to stay healthy and sharp. Burn-out is a real risk factor in private service and we need to be smart about it. Create reasonable boundaries with your employer, co-workers, and family to protect your health and your energy.
  2. Keep it personal. Make a personal connection by picking up the phone and actually speaking to another person. Don’t rely too heavily on email and texting.
  3. Back to basics. Remember the immense power of saying “please,” “thank you,” and sending a handwritten thank you note. More than ever, these things will make you stand out from the rest.
  4. Want a raise or promotion? Be generous with help or information, even when no one is watching.  They are. Volunteer to work on a project, even if it is outside your job description. The word gets around. People notice when you go above and beyond with a smile and by rolling up your sleeves, especially you don’t have to.
  5. Positive breeds positive and negativity is infectious like a virus. This applies to your can-do attitude, demeanor, and actions. Vow to ban negativity and toxic people in 2013.
  6. Commit to perfect spelling, grammar, and using upper/lower case in all your writing. This speaks volumes about your professionalism.
  7. Strive to not take offense easily. 9 times out of 10, it’s about them, not you. Don’t waste valuable time stewing. Give it a day and chances are, the issue will have been resolved. If not, speak up and address it yourself. Don’t allow elephants in the room.
  8. Show respect and expect respect – to everyone. No exceptions.
  9. Lifelong learning is the way to go. Commit to learning something new at least once a week. This makes you marketable and open to what’s coming next.
  10. Keep your perspective. Look around.  Would you really trade places with anyone?

This week I went to hear a presentation by the author Marianne Williamson.  I shall conclude with this quote from her new book, The Divine Law of Compensation: “Nothing binds you except your thoughts, nothing limits you except your fear, and nothing controls you except your beliefs.

Whatever your role is in Private Service, I have the deepest respect and regard for what you do. I wish you all a smooth-as-silk holiday season and a fantastic 2013!


A quick note note about placement opportunities, but especially the job of retaining those one places—something of interest to applicants, butlers and household managers, placement agencies, and employers. A recent article relayed the top four reasons people leave their positions. When 19,000 people were asked why they were leaving their position, they said, reportedly: Limited career/promotion opportunities; Supervisor (or employer) lacked/respect support;  Compensation (lack of); and Job duties boring/no challenge.

The article covers good solutions that will be of use to butlers and household managers. But what is missed in the article and the survey it is based upon is the most obvious reason one runs into more often than one would like when staff leave, even though their usual reasons may well sound plausible: that they are finding outside reasons to justify their own job performance or lack thereof. When someone leaves a position with a bad taste in their (and everyone else’s mouth), it is often because they have failed in that position and have done things of which they are not proud. And so, while wrongly ascribing their failures to everyone else, they have become disaffected with the position and now want to leave as the “solution”.

One key solution to this issue is to ensure that each person being brought on board is shown carefully what to do, how to do it, and then allowed to do their job without micromanagement, but with correction when in error and validation when done well. Most people do not willfully mess up, but when they don’t know what to do, or are under stress from other areas in their life—so making their attention span short on the job—and these are not resolved, they slip down a slope that always results in recriminations and otherwise unexplained turnover.

Cigars, Part X

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

Seasoning the Humidor, Part 2 

There are many different schools of thought when it comes to seasoning a humidor and some people are really critical of those who follow a method other than their own. Instead, I will offer some options and let you make up your own mind. If there is a large, valuable stock of cigars involved, please do some more reading or consult an expert.

First Method: Wipe down the cedar lining with a lint-free cloth or sponge lightly dampened with distilled water. This method allows you to season a humidor in 2-3 days. However, if you over-do it, indelible watermarks will form on the interior of the humidor. In warm weather, over-wetting can also cause fungus to grow on the wood. To kill the spores and prevent fungal growth recurring in the cigars later on, you will have to dry out the humidor and wipe it down with isopropyl alcohol before starting over. This will definitely mark the cedar wood lining, but the only other option is to throw away the humidor.

One school of thought holds that it is alright to use tap water for the wipe-down. Apparently the chlorine in the tap water will prevent fungal growth and then escape through off-gassing before it can taint the cigars (remember, we have not stocked the humidor yet.) I have not tried this, but whatever you decide, never spill water into the humidor. After the wipe-down, we proceed as for method 2.

Second Method: My preferred method is to skip the wipe-down and place a damp sponge on a saucer in the humidor. If you are certain no one will bump it, you can simply place a shallow container of distilled water in the humidor—the larger the water’s surface area, the better. Charge the humidifying element as per the manufacturer’s instructions so that it can help the process. Close the humidor for 24 hours and then note the hygrometer reading. Add water to the sponge or dish and recharge the humidifying element daily. This process should take about 5—7 days, but precludes the risks of over-wetting and wild swings in the hygrometer reading.

I only resort to a wipe-down if I cannot otherwise raise the humidity levels sufficiently after a week. It stands to reason that if you need a wipe-down to increase the humidity high enough in the first place, it may make more sense to figure out why the humidor is not holding humidity. I always check for poor placement, a faulty seal, an inaccurate hygrometer, or a humidifying element that is not large enough. On one occasion, I employed a hybrid method in which I wiped down the inside bottom and lower halves of the sides with distilled water, avoiding the risk of marking the cedar lining in highly visible areas of the humidor. A few days later, I was able to stock the humidor, but I always felt that it would have been better to add a second humidifying element.

I apologise to those readers frustrated with me for not saying what the ideal reading is. We do not have the space this month to go into detail, and while there is a simple answer, I am hesitant to state it as it is almost always challenged. So please bear with me until next month, when we will look at ideal humidity levels. I will provide a table showing how humidity levels correspond to temperature, and cover some of the other hazards to look out for when maintaining a humidor.

Recent Graduates

Ritz Carlton will soon open its first Reserve in the Western Hemisphere (the second in the world), in Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico. Here are the graduating butlers (still in pre-opening stage, so no uniforms as yet).

Let’s Talk about Wine, Part X

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

Today we travel to Eastern Europe, to the country of Hungary.

Grapes with Botrytis Cinerea, photo by John Yesberg

Although it is not as famous as other wine countries in the world, Hungary has produced very fine wines since Roman times, cultivating mostly the autochthon white grapes. But history (what with the different invasions, wars, treaties, and phylloxera epidemics the country has experienced over the centuries) led the Hungarians to introduce varietals from abroad that were more to the taste of their contemporary leaders, as well as more resistive to grape diseases. The excellence of Hungarian wines diminished during World War II and the subsequent Communist Era, but modern times have allowed them to regain their past celebrity, and today they again earn prizes and recognition in international competitions.

Tokaj, in Northeast Hungary, holds the honor of being the first vineyard to classify (in 1730), anticipating the trend that would spread thereafter over all wine-producing countries in the world. This original vineyard classification was based on three points: aspect of the plant, soil quality, and the propensity to Noble Rot, a benevolent fungus (known as Botrytis Cinerea in the scientific world) affecting white grapes, which is necessary to produce particularly fine and concentrated sweet wines. This fungus dehydrates the grape berries, thus concentrating the sugars and conveying a particular honeysuckle aroma to the wine.

Today, Hungarian wines are classified by just two categories: regular wines fall under the Protected Geographic Indication; the finest wines are  produced in any of the 22 Quality Wines Produced in a Determined Region (QWPDR), each of them being composed of many sub-regions. Around one fourth of the land in Hungary is devoted to the raising of vineyards and the production of all sorts of wines, the most famous being Tokaj (also known as Tokai and Tokaji) and Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood).

Tokaj Wines, photo by Benny Geypens


Tokaj is a world-famous sweet wine that gets its name from the village where it is produced with Noble Rot grapes. So important is Tokaj to the Hungarians that it is actually cited in the national anthem as the song gives thanks to God (Tokaj szőlővesszein nektárt csepegtettél, which translates as: In the vineyards of Tokaj you dripped sweet nectar). In fact, Eszencia, one of the most famous Tokaj wines, is also known as “Nectar,” as it is the sweetest of the sweet wines worldwide. Served cold, this wine matches very well with very sweet desserts and its contrast with blue cheeses is delightful.

Bull’s Blood wine, photo by JoeFoodie


Bull’s Blood (the name comes from that supposedly secret ingredient in the wine that fortified the Defenders of Eger—who finally beat the Ottoman invaders after many defeats, in the middle of the Sixteenth century) is a red wine made of a blend of grapes, with Kadarka being the main one. Nowadays, the best Bull’s Blood is kept for two or three years in oak barrels and, when served at 16-18oC/61-64oF, complements very well game, beef, spicy food and roast duck.

Hungary also produces a really nice sparkling wine called Pezsgő, developed by French producers since the nineteenth century, with both international and local varietals.

So, as this great year comes to an end and we face an even better one ahead, raise your glass of fizzy and let the bubbles tickle your palate with best wishes… Egészségére! (To your health!).

Please subscribe

at the top right of this page

to continue to receive these newsletters.

Follow us on Facebook & Twitter

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