Cadbury the Butler Q&A

Etiquette & Boundaries

Dear Cadbury,
We have learned that with our house design being very open, i.e. kitchen is part of the “great room” which also includes dining room, and formal living area. That situation can make it challenging at times for staff to be non-obtrusive. But this is a not impossible, simple thing like not letting kitchen cabinets slam shut go a long way to help this. The ‘openness’ also means that staff can overhear our personal conversations. We have had staff before that made comments on what they overheard us talking about on the phone, and even one person who butted into a conversation with our houseguests on a subject that they felt knowledgeable on.

Whatever happened to a professional distance?! On the subject of professional distance, household staff should know better than to ask ‘personal’ questions, and understand that ‘personal’ is subjective. Just because you’re open with your life doesn’t mean we’re open with ours. A particularly nosey employee once felt compelled to ask where I get my money since they never saw me ‘go to work’.

Professional distance works in reverse as well; we have no interest in our staff’s personal lives/problems. Your thoughts?

Dear JLV,
Professional boundaries are a principal of private service that less professional persons who happened into the field or amateurs in the profession need to learn. One way to possibly avoid such “horror” stories as you describe is to outline a code of conduct with your new employees. Every staffed home should have a policies, procedures and best practices outline as part of a homes house book. Employer likes, dislikes and sensitivities should be noted and explained to new hires as well as reviewed and updated from time to time.

Ultimately, employer and staff satisfaction improves with good communication and mutual respect.
– Cadbury

Dear Cadbury,
I laughed and laughed and laughed at the problem of the principal describing his open plan house (kitchen AND great room AND dining room AND formal living room all opening on to each other) and wondering why he had no privacy from the staff. In the name of all that’s Holy, what did he expect? What were the instructions to the architect? Had the architect any idea of the meaning of a “staffed household”? Just where did either the architect or the principal think the staff was going to disappear to?

I once worked in a house that had been renovated to death. The silver vault was full of the (indoor) pool filtration equipment. The pantry had been ripped out to provide space for an “Architectural Digest” style powder room (I had to walk up one floor for a wine glass, down one floor for a tray). The family dining room was part of the kitchen and there was NO-WHERE for a staff member to get out of sight and sit down. Everything was designer / showcase / front-of-house with the exception of the laundry room. (Well, at least this house HAD a laundry room. I once toured a new $12 million house in which the architect had FORGOTTEN to include one, but the house won an architectural award, anyway.)

Architects use specialists to advise on security systems and sound systems. They SHOULD consult a working chef before they design a kitchen, although apparently most don’t. An astute principal should insist the architect have the plans for a staffed home vetted by a professional butler.

“Name withheld.”

P.S. Don’t get me started on what was supposed to pass for the linen cupboard!