Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, January 2020, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry

PART 32: Luncheon

Luncheon posed some challenges that we still meet today, and some that we do not—such as the management of trays: Butlers were advised to refrain from putting too much on the trays before closing the hinged sides, in case a side burst open and items fell off.

Then there was the difficulty of carrying trays laden with food and plates, etc. when climbing stairs so narrow that one might scratch the walls.

Apparently, one should be careful not to place anything on these stairs, as fatalities had been recorded of unsuspecting colleagues tripping over such items.

Instead of cloches or cling film to cover food being transported on trays, the butler simply folded over the extra cloth used to cover the bottom of the tray.

One last danger the butlers had to be careful of: Sliding a tray without a green cloth glued to its underside, over an unprotected wooden table in case a screw might be protruding and scratch the surface.

Younger children would sometimes eat their dinner at the same time as the parents ate their luncheon, meaning that a tablecloth would need to be laid and the butler remain in attendance.

Otherwise, adults often just ate bread or biscuits and a glass of wine for luncheon.

One might wonder what luncheon actually meant in England two centuries ago (if not the formal wording used today for lunch or the midday meal) if children were eating their dinner when the adults were eating their luncheon.

The word first appeared in English during the late 16th Century meaning two things: Either a hunk or thick piece of something (from Spanish lonja, meaning a slice) or from English lunshin, meaning a snack, which was a variation of earlier English noneschench, meaning a drink at noon. By 1913 in the USA, luncheon meant a lump of food eaten at any time. It would appear, therefore, that luncheon was more of a snack than the full-on midday meal it is today.

Another point of caution for butlers when not all food was consumed at a luncheon: If they lacked the time to store the food properly, they should cover it with a cloth – not to protect it from insects, but so that any staff or vendors passing through not have their “honesty exposed to temptation.”

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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