In the past number of years a need to have properly trained butlers has led to the creation of butler schools in many countries. A school that has been consistently regarded among the best is The International Butler School (TIBA) in Valkenburg near Maastricht in the Netherlands. TIBA was founded in 1999 by Mr.Robert Wennekes, himself a distinguished butler, in response to the need to answer the demand at the time for professional butlers. The ensuing years has seen TIBA become the guarantee of excellence that principals the world over have come to appreciate. We the graduates have learned from our time at TIBA to wear our white gloves, to have shiny shoes and most important of all a big bright smile!
TIBA is currently housed in the magnificient Kasteel Oost in Valkenburg aan de Geul in the Netherlands. Those familiar with cycling will be well aware of the town’s association with both the “Amstel Gold Race” and the World Road Cycling Championships. The current building dates from the 17th to the 19th century and presents the student butler with a great opportunity to experience life in a great house and how it is necessary to modify one’s behaviour to one’s surroundings.
The training lasts for eight weeks with the first two days being a general introduction to one’s fellow students, the chateau and the town of Valkenburg. Students assume the role of student head-butler for 3 to 5 days depending upon the number of students on the course and he or she will be assisted by an assistant head-butler. Each day is on average 12 to 14 hours beginning with “morning graces” which sees the chateau being cleaned. In the classroom students are led through a myriad of subjects including; butler service, etiquette and protocol, event management, housekeeping, valet service, table decoration, high-fashion etc., all of which are interspersed with visits to producers of fine goods. Notable among these visits are the cigar producer “Laura Chavin”, “Greve” handmade shoes, “Veuve Clicquot” champagne and “Tinello” bespoke kitchens. Each day also sees the students being given a “master” duty covering many areas of activity including plant care, music or outdoor to cite but a few.
Formal events however are an important of students’ activity and these events vary from charity dinners to weddings to afternoon teas. During my 8 weeks at TIBA we had a couple of weddings one of which involved taking food from a food truck through the chateau and out to the garden where the guests were seated; every event presents one with fresh challenges! We also had several formal dinners which took much planning and as we tackled each event our planning became ever more detailed. Pressure was our constant companion and led us to make many, many errors. During one dinner we served a cheese course with beautiful knives but without forks which led to the sight of guests eating cheese from their knives and nobody thinking it strange!
Overall the training is a test of one’s resolve, stamina, problem solving and reaction under pressure whilst maintaining that bright smile and calm exterior. Having spent 8 weeks with 5 days off and having had to fit in several projects we were all drained both emotionally and physically. The training is tough but it prepares one for a life in private service especially as the chateau is a real, private residence with a demanding principal who pushes us to be the best our profession has to offer.