Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, December 2019, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry


Having covered the managing of F&B items, we’ll next take a look at the standards and expectations for the service of food and drink two centuries ago, starting with breakfast.

Butlers were directed to “place green cloth on the table and then the linen cloth. If the linen cloth is too large for the table, turn it up under the green cloth.” Tea and coffee was served, with one staff person having the responsibility of making the tea or coffee, and having the usual cream jug, tea/coffee pot, sugar and tongs, placed conveniently on a tea caddy and placed next to the person being served—the emphasis, in laying the table, was on placing items as conveniently as possible for each person.

The butler had to keep the water in the urn boiling by use of a hot iron, and had to toast the bread in the fire that was lit, using special techniques for producing thin and crispy, as well as thicker and not crispy toast, and keeping both warm by the fire until the diners asked for them.

Always take anything to the table on a waiter (a small tray), never carry it in your hand.

As a side note, the etymology (history) of the word “waiter” is an “Attendant or watchman,” from someone who waits and watches. The general sense of “to remain in a place” and “to see to it that something occurs” and “to stand by in attendance on” began to be used five centuries ago, and by about the 1560s, the specific sense of “to serve as an attendant at a table” began to appear, referring to household servants serving at table. It was a whole century before the term “waiter” was finally used to identify waiters in (what we today call) restaurants.

The author then describes how to clear the table, how to remove the tablecloths without rumpling them, and how to press them, as well as how to clean the dishes. Again, just boiling water, no mention of detergent.

In the next issue, we will cover points of interest about the service of lunch two centuries ago.

Extracted from the 1823 book, The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remembrancer, re-published in hardback by Pryor Publications. You may obtain your discounted copy (with free s&h) by emailing the publisher: Mr. Pryor (alan AT

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