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Finding Mr. French – How To Hire A Butler

From the 1960’s through the 1990’s, there was a trend in television and movies to portray happy (if sometimes dysfunctional) families and their faithful servants. Of course, nobody questioned how these average income families could afford employees like Hazel, Alice, and the many other live-in cook / maids / referees that often kept their huge families functioning

As an impressionable youth during that period, the uber domestic help in my opinion was the butler. Mr. French not only raised Uncle Bill’s kids in “Family Affair”, but he was the ultimate rich man’s accessory. Elegant, discreet, and impeccably dressed, he could decorate, cook, and clean to create the ultimate seductive lair for the many sophisticated female friends Uncle Bill would bring home. Ditto for Dudley Moore’s faithful Hobson in the “Arthur” films. Hobson upped the anti by bringing the boss Bloody Mary’s to the bathtub, and taking Arthur’s female conquests home the next morning in a Rolls Royce. Of course, two single men living together, with one that was fashionable, and could cook, clean, and was not opposed to scrubbing your back in the tub might now be a bit suspect, but… Along with Benson and Mr. Belvedere, these incredible gentlemen convinced me that as soon as it was financially feasible, I needed a butler!

So last year, even though I am now happily married and no longer in need of a cohort to assist with my sexual adventures, I convinced my wife that it was time to find our own Mr. French. There was some financial justification. When we totaled what we were paying for maid service, visits from a personal chef and car services, and added on the potential convenience factors of having someone to help manage two homes, it seemed to make sense.

Unless you live in one of the largest four or five metro markets, finding an experienced and classically-trained butler is not easy feat. While there are a few domestic-help websites that offer to assist with placement anywhere in the country, we initially chose to work through personal contacts, and were surprised to get two strong candidates.

The choice was easy when we met Jeeves (believe it or not –not his real name but I want to avoid litigation). Jeeves drove up in a meticulously maintained classic Jaguar, looking like he just came straight from Butler central casting. Clad in a finely tailored blue blazer, he was a handsome bald man with a wonderful mustache and a perfect European accent. He had completed his degree in electrical engineering in Europe, and trained as a butler after moving to the US. Jeeves had worked for several famous families, including one Hollywood legend, so we assumed he would find us easy in comparison. We explained to Jeeves that we needed a very versatile employee, and his duties would include cooking, cleaning, driving, and managing the household. He accepted the position with enthusiasm, and we all celebrated what we all hoped would be a great move for all of us.

Jeeves moved in, and at first all went well. I loved rising to find my latte and breakfast just as ordered, and my cocktail waiting when I arrived home. Jeeves carried around a little notebook, and he seemed just as efficient and interesting as Mr. French ever was! And while not an exceptional chef his food was quite good considering all his other duties.

But within a couple weeks the cracks began to show. Despite being an immigrant himself, Jeeves apparently had a bit of a racist bent, and we began to receive complaints from some of the construction workers at the house. He also had quite a temper, and our architect and contractor had consistent run-ins with him over silly issues. Unfortunately their nickname “Little Mussolini” stuck. He also proved to be more uptight than we had anticipated given his past Hollywood employment. Jeeves freaked out when one of our very liberal friends offered him a marijuana joint as a thank you for a lovely dinner.

Our butler experience only lasted about a month before we jointly parted ways with Jeeves, but we learned a few things from the experience that I would encourage anyone in the market for a butler to consider.

  • Be very clear about the position. Many butlers are actually house managers – overseeing a staff that would potentially include a cook, maids, gardeners and other domestic help. While we told Jeeves he would be doing it all, I don’t think he comprehended what that entailed until he was in the position.
  • Do you want a generalist or “best in class”? Ultimately we decided that we would be happiest with a professional part-time personal chef, a daily cleaning service, and professional car services when we don’t want to drive ourselves. While Mr. French made it look easy to be incredible at everything he did on TV, I suspect it is more difficult to find someone with extensive culinary credentials that also doesn’t mind scrubbing toilets.
  • How do you feel about a roommate? Unless you live in a fifty room English manor, you are going to notice another person roaming around the house. Make sure you are compatible.
  • You get what you pay for. We have discovered through trial and error that it pays to pay well when you find the right people to work in your home. Hiring the lowest cost option doesn’t make sense when you are entrusting someone with your most private and priceless possessions.
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2 Responses to Finding Mr. French – How To Hire A Butler

  1. C, Warner Johnson says:

    Great comment. To the point and especially when it comes to compensation, it could not be said better. My experience is a bit different. I had the honor of working for President Reagan. As it happens I spent quite a bit of time in England. I was fortunate enough to really hit it off with some close friends of the Ambassador. I found myself being entertained at several English Estates. I have always been an avid shooter from Sporting Clays to bird hunting. Shortly after what I could only call one of the best weekends of my life. My host very suddenly and tragiclly died of a heart attack. I was informed and of course went to the funeral and a reception after for close friends at the estate. I was a single parent and though my children were not real young my mother would come in to stand in for me when I had to travel. I had just purchased a large home along with acerage in the Virginia countryside. The buttler, housemaid and cook had been with my friend for many years. However he was the last of his family. Sadly, they would soon be unemployed. My friend and I discussed the benefits of having help a number of times. He knew I was unmarried and a single father of 4. He said that with the demanding schedule he had he simply could not accomplish what he did, were it not for his help. So, I asked to speak to his staff. I invited them to come to the United States, meet my children and tell me if they thought they could bring some additional order to my home. I had had a series of helpers but none of them gave me the feeling of trust I needed to both do my job, but first and foremost be a the best Dad I could. All the staff accepted my invitation. We established a date and I arranged for a car service and van to meet them at the Airport. To make a long story short, The children loved the concept and found the potential new staff members to be a delight. The new home came with a 5 Bedroom House that was intended for the Farm Manager. So they were not underfoot all the time. But since I wanted someone there 24/7 they would take turns using the servents bedroom in the back of the house. The Butler ran the show but also took part in each and ever task. Someone had to be in charge. However I described the task as one were everone was involved as the need required and common sense demanded. That was 1982. I am glad to say that all three are still with me. They are paid well, I also made them employees of my company so they could take part in a 401k and have medical and dental benefits plus disability insurance. I trusted them with my children and I would trust them with my life. Be it a dinner party, a formal event or just a quiet. day on the weekend. They are the best, amazing creative and like members of our family. My daughter was recently married I believe the ladies took the matter so to heart that they would act the same had they children of their own. I once overheard the butler explaining to my now new son in law (back when he first started to date) that “Sir” is an exceptional marksman. He has looked out for my children in virtually the same way I would do it myself.
    Some rules to go by. when you have professional help. NEVER, NEVER forget that they are first people with fillings. Recognize the hard work they do and be ready willing and able to say Thank You. It goes so far. Don’t be cheap. Yes they have a set salary and a Holiday Bonus, but some of the best money I have spent is giving them an extra hundered dollars every now and again and say take the the balance of the day and do something nice for yourself. Ask their opinion. It is critical that they have a say. There is no question who is in charge, but I have found many times that a good point of view added value the the solution.. Finally, I always insisted that my children were polite and respectful to our staff. If they made a big mess (mostly when they were young) it was up to them to clean it up. I also always insisted that friends and visitors to our home were both polite and respectful of our staff. I know that each one would walk through fire for me but more so for my children. No one gets to be disrespectful to members of my family or staff. If you use common sense and respect you build a priceless asset that is more loyal and a better friend than anyone I could hope to meet. I know my friend is looking down from above and just as happy as I am to be blessed by the many efforts of these fine people. My daughter is now married, three boys still maintain rooms at my home though one works overseas most of the time. Honestly, none of us are spring chickens but the good company, care and concern on all sides for everyone involved had made a positive difference in the lives of everyone! If you have half the luck I have enjoyed you will be amazed by how much help your help can be.

  2. Bizzy Life Author Avatar Tim O'Leary says:

    Thanks. I enjoyed your story!

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