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Butler: A Brief History of a Noble Profession

Butler: A Brief History of a Noble Profession

A butler is a person who works in a house serving and is a domestic worker in a large household. The word “butler” comes from Anglo-Norman buteler, meaning “officer in charge of the king’s wine bottles”. For centuries, the butler has been the attendant entrusted with the care and serving of wine and other bottled beverages, which in ancient times might have represented a considerable portion of the household’s assets.

In Britain, the butler was originally a middle-ranking member of the staff of a grand household. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the butler gradually became the senior, usually male, member of a household’s staff in the very grandest households. However, there was sometimes a steward who ran the outside estate and financial affairs, rather than just the household, and who was senior to the butler in social status into the 19th century.

Butlers used always to be attired in a special uniform, distinct from the livery of junior servants, but today a butler is more likely to wear a business suit or business casual clothing and appear in uniform only on special occasions. A silverman or silver butler has expertise and professional knowledge of the management, secure storage, use and cleaning of all silverware, associated tableware and other paraphernalia for use at military and other special functions.

A butler is usually male and in charge of male servants while a housekeeper is usually a woman and in charge of female servants. Traditionally, male servants (such as footmen) were better paid and of higher status than female servants. The butler, as the senior male servant, has the highest servant status.

Butlers can work in various settings, such as hotels, private residences, estates, or yachts. Depending on the employer and the level of service required, the butler’s duties may vary significantly. However, some common tasks that most butlers perform are :

  • Ensuring that cleaning and household chores are completed.
  • Answering telephonic and written communications on behalf of the employer.
  • Greeting guests in a professional manner upon their arrival.
  • Sourcing and training new staff, preparing and communicating staff schedules, and running payroll.
  • Coordinating the maintenance and preservation of the estate’s artworks, antiques, and silverware.
  • Assisting with the management of important assets, such as wines, cigars, books, and automobiles.
  • Overseeing monthly budgeting and security, as well as household inventories for the property.
  • Assisting the employer and other household staff with the planning of events.
  • Overseeing the smooth running of hosted events, parties, and dinners.
  • Performing all duties and obligations with decorum, tact, and unwavering professionalism.

To be a successful butler, one needs to have a high level of customer service skills, organizational skills, multitasking skills, and attention to detail. A butler should also have a thorough understanding of hospitality protocols, etiquette, food and wine pairings, and household management. A butler should be able to anticipate the needs and preferences of the employer and guests, and act accordingly. A butler should also be discreet, loyal, trustworthy, and adaptable to different situations and environments.

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