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

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 7, issue 8

 International Institute of Modern Butlers

Message from the Chairman

 Managed to dodge Hurricane Irene while on a cruise.

 Thanks to those who subscribed to the newsletter and who sent us their appreciation of the new format.

 I attended a conference on social media the other day and my goodness, it is a whole new world to  explore: the new web site and newsletter formats are just the beginning. 

 Apart from inviting you to join in the dialog on the blog  (contact the editor to be given “author” status),  I want to point out the brand new forum (that can be reached usually via the red button top right of the  home page). We used to have a mish-mash of a forum that grew over the years without any form and was impossible to navigate. The new one has five different categories and 28 subcategories, so you can more easily find the discussion you want to be part of.

We transferred all the old posts, retaining who said what and when, so you will find a mine of information already there. But more importantly, you can start the dialogue or find answers to questions, answer them, or just plain sound off. Talking of which, we have several moderators, including Werner Leutert for all things relating to hiring, John Robertson for all things etiquette; Frank Mitchell for a variety of subjects, and Amer Vargas for valet and chef issues.
Join in, it’s there for you!


 Living Life on the Avenue, the first upscale retirement community in the world to  incorporate butler-style service opened a couple of days ago in Toronto, Canada to great  fanfare and a single word from the General Manager (texted on the fly during the Grand Opening): “Awesome!” Congratulations and much success.



Interesting Links & Media Coverage

UN Seeking to Fix Slavery Conditions for Domestic Workers There are an estimated 100 million domestic workers in the world, and their lot is not much to write home about, generally, with the paychecks they send to support their families. To begin to address the problem, delegates at the United Nation’s International Labor Organization (representing unions, employers and governments), voted 396 to 16 for a non-binding Convention on Domestic Workers to lay out how domestics should be treated in UN member countries.

While we are spoiled in the West, and certainly in the butler field (we do not encounter outright sexual or other battery, false imprisonment, and slavery; half the domestic workers in the world do not even have one day off),  there are issues even in the US most of which boil down to a lack of consideration for fellow human beings. The UN can’t address that, but at least creating a framework for employers to follow and greater redress for employees, will go some way towards a better operating climate for domestic employees around the world.

Another Effort at Robot Butlers

It’s certainly fun and challenging to work out how to create a house where a robot can serve the tea. Relevant questions: would employers like to live in such a house? Would they prefer to be served by a robot rather than a live human? Would a Beef Wellington taste better cooked by a robot than a chef? Robots have their faults, no doubt, and certain advantages, but do anything other than robots prefer them for company?


  The Fallen Idol, The Failed Butler

Always a pleasure to discover a new (old) film featuring a butler —

but we don’t recommend you follow in his footsteps. 

Letters to the Editor

We heard from an avid reader in the path of Hurricane Irene just before it hit: “With regard to emergency preparation, all I had to do was to turn to the household bible, Butlers and Household Managers. It’s really the only book in the world that one needs! A stunning work.  I am never without it now.” (NG)

Editor’s Note: Not exactly the application we had anticipated, but very warming and encouraging to know our readership thinks outside the box!

Last month, we put out a call for more information on this query:  “I’m searching for a re-usable leather seating plan used in a home, replicating the table that features slots to slip a tiny card or paper in, with the guest’s name. I saw this type of table plan presentation at the Baronness de Rothschild’s château in Geneva: it was in leather, and placed on a table just outside the dining room with the tiny cards containing the guests name indicating where they were seated.”  S. Hedqvist

Editor: We suspect this seating plan was custom made, but if anyone knows where such an item may be available commercially, please contact us.

Thanks go to John Robertson, who had the answer:

“Table boards may be ordered from William & Son, 10 Mount Street, London. Cost could range anywhere from $500 to $1,000 depending on size, etc.  They do a beautiful job, will emboss with the family crest and so forth. I don’t know anywhere that still stocks them (Harrods used to).”

 A New Resource for Personal Assistants

Not everyone has what it takes to be a Personal Assistant, but if you answer “yes” to more than three of the following questions, you may already possess some of the inherent skills of successful Personal Assistants.

  1.       Are you the event planner for your family and friends?
  2.       Do people say you are obsessive with details?
  3.       Is color-coding and organizing a friend’s closet your idea of a fun Saturday?
  4.       Do you alphabetize books by author and also by subject?
  5.       Is coordinating a complicated trip an exciting challenge?
  6.       Do you love when no two days are the same?
Intructor, Bonnie Low-Kramen

A Personal Assistant is charged with great responsibility and is the liaison to all contacts in an employer’s life.  He or she must hit the ground running when faced with almost any situation and do it with calm precision, informed discretion, and a positive attitude. As more and more busy celebrities and executives desire a more customized approach to their lives, high-paying positions for skilled, smart, and sharp Personal Assistants are increasingly available in the 2011 workplace.

Teaching a class about a profession that is often glamorized & misunderstood, former Personal Assistant and co-founder of the professional association, New York Celebrity Assistants (NYCA), Bonnie Low-Kramen’s passion is to pull back the curtain to portray accurately the work of personal assistants.

When I began as a celebrity personal assistant for a famous actress 25 years ago, we didn’t  even know there was a name for what I was doing. There were no classes or books on the subject. What we did have were employer needs that needed to be met. So how did I know what to do? Trial and error—and I made many mistakes.  It doesn’t have to be like that anymore, and I am determined to be part of the solution.”

The author of the book Be the Ultimate Assistanta compendium of best practices, Ms. Kramen is also the curriculum developer and instructor for the new course Basic Skills for the Personal Assistant, available at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

The 25-hour course, is designed provide students with the opportunity not only to learn the basics, but also to develop the mindset, confidence, and tools to succeed with the most demanding employer. Check out Basic Skills for the Personal Assistant.


Hangers & hangers

Part 1 of 3, by Amer Vargas

Maybe there are not as many types of hangers as there are wines or cheeses, but still, there is a wide choice that can be used in your own or someone else’s wardrobe. I hope these next few lines will shine some light on this rarely written-about subject, especially for those butlers who are new to the profession.

For anyone who might have dropped in recently on the way to another sector of the galaxy, a hanger is a device shaped somewhat like human shoulders, with a hook that allows the hanger to suspend clothes in the air and so be draped as they would when worn. Sometimes, the human-shoulders shape is omitted and instead the hook holds a horizontal rod to hang trousers, or a fine bar with clips for suspending skirts or pants, or a clamping device that may be used to hold skirts or pants instead of the clips.The best hangers are those that combine the human-shoulders shape with the horizontal rod, the clips or the clamping device, allowing the user to store a suit, for example, on the same hanger. Other types of hangers also allow one to hang multiple ties, cravates, foulards,* scarves, or belts.

Regardless of the type of hanger, its aim is always the same: to accommodate hanging the item for which it is intended so as to prevent wrinkles.

Hangers are typically made of metal wire, wood, plastic, or are fabric-covered. In this era of “organic” whatever, we have even seen the birth of organic clothes hangers made, for instance, of bamboo cane.

* A tie or handkerchief made of  silk or silk and cotton, typically having a printed pattern. 


 The Butler’s Guide to Tea 

   by Frank Mitchell

Making the Perfect Cup of Tea

Now that we have all our tea-making equipment, let’s take a look at the correct method for making Ceylon tea. The following is the accepted method for brewing Orthodox Black Teas (as preferred in the UK), confirmed as correct by myself when visitng Sri Lankan tea factories.

These rules do not apply to all teas or tisanes. Oolong Teas, Green Teas and some China Black Teas take cooler water. Jane Pettigrew’s excellent The Connoisseur’s Guide to Tea gives a very comprehensive list of brewing temperatures for various teas


Start by pre-heating two teapots – fill them with hot water or place them in a low oven. You will also need the following:

LEMON Do not use toothpicks for serving lemon slices – this new trend seen in hotels is one of my personal pet peeves. Please serve lemon with a small cocktail fork or a pair of tongs.

MILK Do not serve cream with tea – it overwhelms the taste of the tea and should only be served with coffee.

SUGAR White or Demerara sugar, preferably in lumps and served with a pair of tongs. Offer honey as an alternative.

Experts maintain that sugar spoils the taste of tea and it may be worth weaning yourself off sugar if you are enjoying some of the finer teas available today. Bear in mind that tea is a healthy drink and it makes little sense to extol the virtues of the beverage if you are consuming it with refined carbohydrates!

WATER QUALITY A good pot of tea needs fresh water brought to the boil as quickly as possible. Water kept warm in an urn or drawn from a coffee machine boiler —let alone the hot-water tap (faucet)—should never be used for making tea. It has low oxygen levels and the dissolved salts and minerals will have been concentrated through evaporation.

Filter tap water before filling the kettle. Use spring water when making finer-flavoured or higher-priced teas. We experimented and found a significant improvement in the taste of fine Darjeeling made with Evian, compared to a control pot made with tap water.

Tea made from soft water or permanently hard water (CaSo4) results in a bright, clear infusion, while tea made with temporarily hard water (CaSo3) results in a dull and flat infusion that quickly develops a layer of scum on top. This effect can be reduced by adding sugar, although it is not recommended that tea be taken with sugar. Milk increases the amount of scum on the surface, although reduced-fat milk produces about half as much scum as full-fat milk. The best solution then is to pass temporarily hard water through a filter before filling the kettle.

TEA Store your tea in a cool, dry place and add it to the warmed teapot just before the kettle boils. Add one heaped teaspoon for each cup and ‘one for the pot’. This gives a slightly stronger pot of tea and allows you to serve each guest according to his or her taste.

DRAWING Pour rapidly boiling water over the leaves and draw for the correct length of time. A common mistake is to draw tea longer for a stronger pot of tea. This is incorrect and will result in ‘stewed (bitter) tea.’ Add more tea and draw it for the time stated on the tea tin/packet, no longer. Since colour infuses before taste, looking at the colour of tea in the pot will not tell you much. Good tea producers will change the drawing time from one batch to another, so consult the instructions each time you open a new tin or packet. Stir the tea twice while brewing, once halfway through and once again at the end, to ensure the water is able to access the leaves and draw out their flavor.

Strain the tea into the second heated teapot. Rinse out the first pot and refill it with boiled water. The two pots are taken out together so that those guests who do not like strong tea can dilute their cup with a drop of hot water.

High tea is probably one of the most misused and misunderstood terms in the hotel trade today. Next month we will look at the difference between high tea and the low teas and give you some tips for serving a memorable afternoon tea.


 That’s all for this month.

 See you next month.


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