Butler history Newsletter Steven Ferry

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

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry


It is encouraging that the way I was taught to provide plated and butler service [presenting food on the left for guests to help themselves] in 1986 is exactly the way it was done in 1823 and exactly the way it is being taught by the Institute (and probably other butler schools) in 2020. Butlers always serve from the left with their left hand, it being “very improper to serve from the right” unless “at some particular time you will find it necessary to set it down with your right, on the right side.” No explanation is given by the author as to why, but in our training we do explain why this is the case, even though waiters around the world, even in fine-dining restaurants, serve and clear from the right and are absolutely certain of the rightness of their ways (usually based on “That is the way we have always done it,” too).

When providing butler service, they would provide one spoon for each different type of vegetable, for instance, if more than one was on the serving platter or in the bowl.

When serving sauce or gravy in a sauce boat, the double-lipped spoon was always placed in the bowl.

When lifting the tops off serving bowls or cloches, the butlers always immediately turned the lid upright while still above the bowl, so that any condensation fell into the bowl, not onto the tablecloth or guest.

The butler always brought to the table, or removed from it, any smaller items (not plates or serving bowls) on a waiter (tray).

One service style the butlers employed, which we do not today, is to bring a full plate in the left hand, remove the dirty plate with the right hand, and then place the full plate with the left—the style of the days being that the guests ate at their own speed and the butler kept them supplied with seconds [a second helping of a dish] if desired.

When pouring drinks, the butler held the foot of the glass between index finger and thumb, not by the top of the glass. For porter (beer), he poured it in a stream if a frothy head was desired. Drinks were served individually by the butler, on demand, and he brought the drink on a waiter [tray] to the left of the person, who took it, drank it, and placed it back on the waiter—the butler moving forward again to present the tray for the guest to place it. The butler returned the glass to the sideboard and was responsible for keeping tabs of whose glass was whose. The butler was not permitted to put a different type of drink into the same glass for that guest.

Something else that was taboo (“filthy”) when one had run out of a particular item, was to pour the dregs from various glasses into a new glass and presenting it to a guest. If anything had run out or was needed, the butler would send a footman or other junior to fetch it, because he never wanted to leave the guests unattended in the dining room.

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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