Dear Mr. Cadbury,
We all make mistakes on the job. Even you have erred, or so I would assume. What is the worst thing you have done while on duty?
Your question is like asking a lady her age. You get the raised eyebrow response! All of us in private service make mistakes from time to time. A lapse in judgment, a poor response to someone else’s bad manners or some incident can cause one to say or do something regrettable. The best response that a Butler can make to an indiscretion is to recognize the error and to apologize, if appropriate and then move on. Therefore, I must say that I cannot recall any serious mistakes in my past. All have been dealt with.
Could I ask how you would feel the best way to deal with a situation, where during silver service, a guest is victim to a slight accident with a platter of hot sauce? I am curious how to explain this to the staff.
Accidents at table are not uncommon. A guest knocks over a drink, the fork slips off the platter or the Butler makes an error. This is not the time to look around for who is at fault. In the hot sauce scenario, the server should immediately accept the responsibility and take actions to make the situation right. Start by saying, “I’m sorry Sir (Madam). Are you all right?”
If there is an injury like a burn, than you might suggest, “Follow me please and we will have this attended to”. More than likely the host will get involved at this point and you will let him or her work with the Guest.
The apology and advise the Guest that you will alert Housekeeping to be on the lookout for the garment to have it laundered/dry cleaned ASAP.
Remaining calm and professional while using common sense is the best strategy that a Butler or other private service professional can use in times of “crisis”.
The full time help is removing items from the trash and it is making the principal of the house feel awkward. The principal has found “trash” in the staff room, sitting on the counter. She has asked me (her assistant) to take care of the problem. Do you have any suggestions for approaching this with sensitivity and also making a very clear point?
Thank you for your message. Every staffed household is different in the way it functions. In the best organizations there are regular staff meetings and this kind of problem is brought up at a meeting as a routine request from the top. This staff would already be accustomed to fine-tuning and would be conditioned to take the instruction as a normal request, no big deal.
Your situation sounds a bit more upstairs / downstairs and you are the messenger. I would suggest a small card on the staff bulletin board left up for a week or two. Phrased something like:
Mrs. X has requested that we not remove items from any of the trash containers. The feeling is that any items disposed of are trashed for a reason and it is inappropriate for any of us to be sorting through these discarded items and removing them. Your cooperation is appreciated. Thank you!
Keep in mind that the institutional memory may be somewhat short and the problem can pop up again at a later date. There are probably quite a few protocols of the house that when followed keep Mr. and Mrs. focused on other matters. We recommend a Protocols and Procedures Manual which should be kept in the staff room or at least reviewed with staff on regular basis. The International Guild of Professional Butlers offers assistance with such documents through its consultants network.