Doing Christmas the UK way: how do multicultural household staff coordinate and incorporate traditions to lay on an authentic and professional British experience?
Most international clients living in the UK use the Christmas break to travel and thus private staff are busy in the run up to the festive season planning flights, arranging accommodation and car hire, organizing pet sit cover, looking into security in preparation for these trips.
Once the principal is away, domestic staff often take annual leave. However, for those clients that opt to stay in the UK, several steps must be taken to ensure Christmas is a success.
Households have both private and public faces. Yet no matter what faith your principal professes, or none, Christmas is special for everyone. It is associated with dinners, family, friends and gift giving and receiving.
Exposure to the critical gaze of dinner guests at a formal meal over Christmas must be mitigated by planning which goes beyond wrapping presents and choosing the Christmas tree.
If the family are interested in celebrating a traditional British Christmas they must be fully briefed on what this entails. This briefing is usually the responsibility of the butler or the housekeeper.
The conversation includes a discussion about cultural boundaries. Questions are addressed about alcohol, decorations, music and food. One of our staff recently told us that in the teetotal house we have placed her alcohol is not allowed even in chocolate liqueurs but that they offer a fantastic Indonesian cocktail made from avocado which tastes like the heavens!
Occasionally the incorporation of British customs and ideas are left to the initiative of the butler or housekeeper. When so, we advise that comfort reigns, with authenticity running a close second.
The chef and kitchen staff are made aware of whether the principal is planning on having Christmas lunch, Boxing Day lunch and New Year’s Eve / Day with invitees or privately.
Seasonal delicacies such as mince pies and Christmas cake are ubiquitous, as are Brussels sprouts and roast potatoes. But when to offer gravy or bread sauce, what ingredients to use in stuffing and whether to serve salad as well as cooked vegetables are topics open to discussion.
For example, if there is a call for an evening meal then perhaps duck, goose or pheasant are more suitable than turkey.
Sometimes when alternative dishes are opted for rather than traditional British cuisine, there is still a call for seasonal touches to be incorporated throughout the event such as a Christmas tree in the corner and Christmas crackers and a centrepiece on the table.
Christmas comes with a certain aesthetic that is pleasing to adopt even when the meal being served is anything but traditional.
Entertaining guests over the Christmas period requires forward planning too. Wherever possible book tickets ahead of time, always factoring in a bad weather alternative if travelling to the theatre becomes complicated due to meteorological changes.
Remember the name of the person you spoke to when making the booking just in case last minute alterations are called for.
As well as the considerations above, we at Irving Scott would like to share our top tips for a smooth festive season. These include:
- Printing off a list of the holiday opening and closing times of the usual stores and the family’s favourite restaurants.
- Planning the roster and sharing it with staff in good time, allowing for reasonable time off whenever possible. If staff see this issue has been addressed beforehand, it can elevate team morale. Consider employing additional cover to support the regular staff so that they don’t feel overwhelmed.
- If the house is not usually fully occupied, it is a good idea to check all electrics, televisions, Wifi connections, water faucets, etc throughout the whole house. If these are not regularly checked and not constantly in use there may be unexpected difficulties and it can be a challenge to get contractors out on Christmas Eve!
- Make sure the house has enough irons and upright steamers for gowns or delicate clothes. Is luggage going to be stored away from the rooms? If so, make sure to use luggage tags and jot down which guest is in which room to avoid embarrassment and confusion when retrieving luggage at a later date.
- When decorating the tree make sure extra matching baubles have been purchased in case of breakages
- Purchasing New Year’s Eve party hats and so forth must not be left to the last minute. Housekeepers often confer with the lady of the house and order over the internet in advance.
- Always keep a couple of emergency contact numbers on the standby just in case you need them.
It goes without saying that we at Irving Scott have an unrivalled reputation in finding solutions to last minute staffing concerns at moments of high intensity such as Christmas and the New Year. We are dedicated to making your principal’s lives easier. Do not hesitate to contact us.
Written by Adam Winogrodzki Irving, who is the director of placement agency, Irving Scott