Butler history Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, February 2021, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry


It is encouraging to see that the same advice we dispense today on how a butler “waits” was given two centuries ago. If some accident occurs, keep yourself as “quiet and cool” as possible in the event the principal blames you for it publicly; and if it was not your error, pick a time later on to defend yourself in private with the principal.

Accidents will occur if one serves with the left hand from the right side, or the right hand from the left side.

Do not attract the attention of a guest when bringing a drink on a tray by nudging his arm with it. Instead, holding the waiter (tray) in the left hand, place the drink discreetly on the table with the right hand when the guest is engaged in conversation to his left; or if he or she is talking to someone on his right, hold the tray in the right hand (behind the guest) and place the glass in front of him with the left hand from the left side. While the butler handling the glass was frowned upon, it was considered better to do so than to keep other guests waiting, if short staffed, while waiting for the guest to notice you.

Likewise, it was frowned upon for a butler to laugh in front of guests.

Obviously, plates were not manufactured as well as they are today, because one problem was they were known to break in two as they were being served—the error being the chef plating food onto plates that presumably were cracked. In this case, the butler would be standing with half a plate of food in his hand and the other half on the table or floor.



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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