Serving and silver Service is one of the main tasks of a Butler, in privacy for the principal, whether on a dinner-party or on a Royal gathering. Serving and silver service is the primary task for the professional Butler, and it is crucial to be a perfectionist.
Cocktail receptions, Guest-lists, Table plan, Menu setting , Setting up the table, Etiquette for the dinner, Setting the bar, Wine setting, Staff planning…Being maitre`d. All of this is the Butler’s responsibility, and it is all about what we in hospitality call; «mise en place» (everything prepared).
As a butler, prior planning prevents poor performance
The Butler is often the main person responsible for a party on behalf of the principal, even if the principal is not around or available. The household manual is key in preparation when entertaining. Important information such as guest lists, favourites, who is who, who is with who, guests who can not be in the room with another… In short, a list of what, where and who on all regular guests. This is, of course, private and completely confidential, the household manual is kept in a private place, strictly for internal use only.
It will contain information such as allergies – Wine and beverage favourites, Smokers, Vegetarians, Vegans, Diabetics, Special wishes and needs. These are typical notes in the household manual regarding guests.
During table setting, it is common to use restaurant rules and basics. The normal serving method is to serve everything from the right side of the guest, silver-service by dish is done on the left side. (Note: In Britain, most food serving is done on the left side, and is opposite to French serving which is also normal in restaurants in Europe).
Classic British Butler Dinner-party setup
- The principal gives details about which, and how many participants as well as their potential preferences
- The Butler notes down as much detail as possible and repeats correctly when everything is understood
- Then the kitchen or catering partner require all of the noted information. It is important that they verify all details back to the Butler to avoid mistakes being made.
- Make a table setting list based on details from the household manual or the principal’s wishes.
- Correctly calculate the exact number of staff required for the service. In a restaurant, it is often 1 waiter per 12-16 guests in a silver-service dinner, in the private service realm, the service demands 4-6 if it is very formal.
- Contact the housekeeper or dry cleaners for the number of napkins and tablecloths that will be needed.
- Make the wine and beverage order. This should be based on the principal’s wishes, or if the Butler is in total charge, in cooperation with the chef and menu. One bottle of wine is about 5 glasses, have enough, and always calculate 20% extra.
- When the beverage arrives. Place it correctly (fridge, cellar, room), and taste and verify the wine by its quality and correct vintage.
- Have all the invitations, place cards and menus printed to all invited guests. The invitation should be signed by the principal or the Butler on «behalf of…»
- Send invitations no later than 14 days before the dinner, preferably the notice should be 30 days.
- Check and polish: Glassware, plates, cutlery, salt & pepper trays, cover plates, carafes, vases, candelabras. Check candles, linen, and cloths.
- Check the household manual for specific wishes on aperitifs, bar, and beverage in total. Order enough.
- Order in flowers and decorations for the occasion. Deliveries on flowers should be done at least 24 hours. Remember to store the flowers in a cool environment.
- Make a service-plan for the dinner from start to finish. Make copies for all staff involved.
- Put up the bar with a small menu. Aperitifs/cocktails should be prepared and ready on a silver tray. Remember non-alcoholic alternatives as well as napkins.
- Check all chairs and tables.
- In cooperation with the housekeepers, place tablecloth on the table and press one last time to rid the material of any creases.
- Cover up for one and make your co-workers copy and do the rest.
- Cover plate: 15 mm into the table.
- Never more than three wine-glasses, one water glass, and three sets of cutlery.
- Cutlery, one thumb into the table.
- Never more than two units above the cover plate.
- If more is needed during the dinner, You can the number of supply it.
- Make the cocktail trolley or bar ready for reception – Check the table and galley.
- Organize the wardrobe and have a wardrobe system in place. Organize all garments by names or using a number system. All for the guest’s convenience at the beginning and at the end of the evening.
- Put out flowers and decorations. Avoid high flower arrangements on the dining table, as guests would prefer to see each other.
- Prepare the candles. Place the candles in the fridge before using them. The wick should be dipped in vinegar before lighting.
- Have the music-system ready to play with soft dinner music. (avoiding music containing vocals).
- In the back/pantry: ensure all Trays, plates, extra cutlery and glasses are at the ready. Also everything for the avec serving, in case if the principal wants it on the dining table.
- Cocktail preparation. If it is sparkling wine, pour the glasses half full some minutes before the guests arrive. Then top up to 2/3 upon the guest’s arrival.
- Have staff ready in the wardrobe area. Remember to have clean hands or white gloves and adhere to the two finger technique.
Prior planning is a Butler’s mantra. The household manual is where very important notes and facts are noted, and is key for a smooth evening. Everything is on behalf of the principal, so it is crucial that everything goes as planned, and as regular guests demand. The manual is a sealed house-book and is strictly for the few, discretion is, of course, mandatory.
Good luck on Your next dinner-party, and remember the old quote saying: «The best company for a nice dinner, is me and a professional Butler».
Article put together by hospitality specialist, Tore Berger who is British Butler Institute graduate, and F&B Consultant