Being a Butler: Then & Now

Imagine the Butler as you often see portrayed on Television or in the movies.  The scenery from the 1800’s or the early 1900 decades, being a Butler was always very serious – Dressed in a waistcoat with grey striped trousers and a bow-tie – Usually one from the older generation – Very formal – Always calm – Always a Man. 

Looking into the world of Butlers today, there are a lot of changes. There is also still a lot in common with the older generation – The Butler is still a Butler with a capital B.

During the 19th century, over 1 million people worked in private households across Britain. They would be responsible for gardening, bringing coal, delivering groceries, driving duties, horse care, general maintenance and of course, serving. 

Imagine a big household without electric power, it would be extremely demanding. To work as a Butler in these times would require a lot of effort and a lot of working hours. 

Castles, mansions, but also houses for the middle class at the time. There would be a large volume of household staff taking care of normal day to day duties. Everything would be done under the supervision of the Butler, as the Butler was the liaison between downstairs and upstairs.

In our modern society of today, the Butler has gone through a renaissance. Butlers can now be seen working in Luxury Hotels, onboard Superyachts, cruise ships, private jets and other facilities used by those with wealth. 

The demand for private butlers is growing, and the traditional British Butler have gone from mansions and castles in the UK, to hotels and luxury villas and palaces around the world. 

Even with a more digitalized and automated world, the Butler has survived the test of time. New skills, new tasks and new areas have made the vision of the Butler more clear: 

Anticipate – Anticipate –  Anticipate.

How being a butler as changed from the past to present 

The traditional Butler by and large stayed in one household for his/her entire career. Supervising the domestic staff, and being the one with the most contact with the principal. Everything went through the Butler, and a lot of the staff never interacted with the Principal directly.

Today the Butler travels on behalf of the principal more often to different residences, facilities, and to make everything ready for the principal’s/guests arrival.

Morning and night, the Butler and staff used to spend a lot of time making sure the rooms were filled with enough natural light in all the rooms as well as lighting multiple fires (particularly during the Winter months) to warm up the rooms in the house.

Today, the Butler uses a smart-phone or iPad in keeping the temperature stable and controlling the lighting of a smart-home. The workload prior to electricity was difficult, in 2019 it is all done in a split second.

Phones in a household used to be for the principal only. The Butler could answer on behalf of the principal or household, or use the phone during emergencies. Today a modern Butler uses his smartphone or iPad as a notebook and everyday working tool to deliver a better quality service to whoever he or she serves.

When cars were introduced in the early 20th century, the households had dedicated chauffeurs. Today, car-maintenance and driving is considered a typical task for a butler.

Children and their toys were something that the nannies took care of in the early Butler days. Nowadays a butler needs to have a good degree of computer knowledge. Helping with tablets, phones, computers and even the Xbox can be an everyday task. The code-word of 2019 is IT skills.

The household staffing hierarchy in the early days were strict. The Butler and the housekeeper where the only one seen around the principals. Today the hierarchy is more laid-back and a lot of the tasks are requested by the principal to members of staff without the Butlers knowledge.

Households used to have more staff. The Butler was the liaison, and the one knowing about everything which was happening. Today the households are a lot smaller staff-wise, and the butler needs to have more knowledge about everything. Gardening, car-maintenance, light cooking, packing wardrobe and others are everyday duties nowadays.

Butler Uniform: As seen in movies and television, the Butler either used to wear a suit or a grey coat in the earlier days. Today the Butler is dressed more for the occasion. From a grey coat or tuxedo to a simple shirt and tie and even slightly casual clothing. 

A hundred years ago, the Butler was a person for Royal Families, aristocracy or for those of opulence, mainly British households. In 2019 the Butler trade went global with tremendous speed.

Butlers are hired all over the world, from a cruise ship to a mid-sized Hotel. The Butler trade is more open, and with that comes questions. For instance: What is a real Butler?

Now and then – The rise and fall of the Butler.

The British Butler will never die. The British style will always be the standard. It started mainly in Britain and the key for a Butler, modern or not, is British. Where the trade was taught from father to son, from the older generation to the upcoming, it was kept inside the household. Today there are Butler schools all over the world

Earlier a Butler was taught in the exact households standards. Teaching was from hand to hand, mouth to mouth, and for the principal and his family. Today a modern Butler needs to learn skills on a much wider perspective.

Things to consider are more facilities and estates as well as at sea and onboard an aircraft in the air. The butler will always be on the right side of the principal whether it is in a mansion in the UK or a vacation villa in Spain. Serving, packing, mending, driving, completing the paper-work in customs, languages and possible translations. 

The butler tasks have in many ways become a lot more involved. 
In conclusion, a professional butler needs to remember the following:

  1.  Ability to anticipate on behalf of your principal or guest.
  2. Be discrete: We hear nothing, we see nothing, we say nothing, we serve.
  3. Discipline in all tasks.
  4. Details, it is all about the details in everything.
  5. Obliging: The principal and guest always comes first.

I think a lot of us British educated Butlers have one thing in common: We are born hundred years too late. Most of us would probably serve port at noon, cocktails at 17:00, and decant vintage Bordeaux wine daily, all as the fire and candles lights up the household. I would actually exchange my smartphone for it!

«The difference is that was then , this is now…»

Written by Tore Berger: F&B Consultant & Professional Butler. Founder of Berger Consulting

About Estate & Manor

Estate & Manor is an online magazine portal which is dedicated to global VIP staffing. Estate & Manor offers readers a glorious insight into the world of working with affluent individuals – All of our contributors are known for their expertise and knowledge in their given industry niche. These areas consist of: Estate Management, Lifestyle Management, Yacht and Jet Crew, Childcare and Education plus many more.

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