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Job Descriptions and Functions: Butler / House Manager

The titles of Butler and House Manager (HM) are often interchangeable and can have the most varied meanings in the business. Interpretation is usually a result of the employer’s other staff and management structure, as well as their cultural background. Regardless of which title is chosen, the expected functions and abilities can be very similar.

In a more complex, single residence, the Butler or HM may be strictly administrative in their duties, like a localized version of the Estate Manager. For instance, a 30,000 square foot home’s service and maintenance needs rival a small hotel, and just the office based coordination of all elements fills a full time, high level job. We might then see a variation on the title to include Butler Administrator, or Administrative Household Manager.
Environment
Butlers and House Managers can be found in homes of all sizes depending on the service needs of the owners. A House Manager is more likely to be in charge of a single residential property and have a closer relationship to the personal services in a smaller home. It is not uncommon these days to see an HM employed by a busy family in a house under 5000 square feet in order to meet a high service expectation and relieve the owners of running the home. A Butler/HM that provides high levels of personal service might even live within the home or on the employer’s property.
Functions
The International Guild of Professional Butlers describes the duties of a Butler as follows:
“A Butler typically: Oversees the household staff usually of one residence. Understands concepts like being anticipatory, friendly not familiar, privacy and confidentiality, invisible and available. Answers residence phone, receives guests at the door and supervises the reception of visitors. Assists with staff training and organizes the duties and schedule of domestic staff. May assist or be charged with keeping the household budgets and inventory supplies. May schedule and oversee vendors of contracted services. May assist with household and family security measures. Oversees family packing and travel preparations. Understands social etiquette and formal service. Assists with planning and organizing parties and events in the home. Oversees and participates in proper table settings and entertainment prep. Serves meals and drinks and performs wait services related thereto. Knowledgeable about wines and spirits and oversees the wine cellar and liqueur inventory. May also serve as personal valet to the household and/or gentleman of the house. Performs light housekeeping duties. Coordinates with other staff as needed as well as with other parts of the employer’s organization.” [The International Guild of Professional Butlers Website, 2001] Other functions and skills may include:
-Cleaning and maintenance
-Care of clothing.
-Care of fine china, silver, crystal.
-Care and inventory of artwork and antiques.
-Maintenance of automobiles.
-Security of their employer and residence.
-Co-ordination and scheduling of service contractors.
As you can see, the all-around skills required of the Butler or House Manager are very similar to the Estate Manager. One main difference, however, is the level of “hands-on” involvement that is commonly present in the role. In the Butler/HM position, one may perform the service tasks themselves in addition to delegating to other staff. An HM or Butler can usually be relied upon to fill in for sick or absent staff at a moment’s notice, or regularly support various other full time employees with their daily functions. For example, a House Manager may assist with clothing care or a Butler with laundry or formal table service (This is often part of the Butler role). In residences with both an Estate Manager and HM/Butler, the two will work like a President and Vice President, administrating to the rest of the staff. It has recently become common for a House Manager to cook family style meals on a regular basis in smaller homes that require less overall care and can’t justify a full-time chef.
It is also worth noting that in some households the title of Butler still has a certain old world connotation. The very formal service standards of a Royal Palace or traditional British culture are upheld in some US homes today. In these instances, again, the final job description rests within the wishes of the one being served, and the all-around skills of the employee should be compatible with the expected demands of the employer.
Qualification
Similar to the Estate Manager, the House Manager has a very broad range of skills and knowledge. Backgrounds range from Hotel and Restaurant Management to formal Butler school training. Others simply “fall” into the field by helping out a friend of the family at their home or crossing over from an assistant or nanny position. Many homes require only part-time help to ease the burden of the owners’ busy schedules, but most families quickly realize the value of having a full-time person. Like all positions, the family’s service needs and property size will dictate the duties and level of formality for the Butler/House Manager. Useful traits include:
-Office or restaurant management and service skills. (More formal background or schooling depending on the household.)
-Broad knowledge of household items and their care.
-Good social skills and personnel management.
-Business and technology capability including computers and accounting.
-Leadership and motivation skills.
-Independent and team project management.
-Problem solving and “get it done” attitude. Very “hands-on” and ready to pitch in.
-Very resourceful, quickly learns the how and where to get things done in the local area.
-Negotiating and supervisory skills for outside contractors and other staff.
Again, the right person for the job will be adaptable to the standards and desires of the employer. Less formal households may choose to hire someone with related skills simply because they like their personality and can be trusted, while a more formal, larger organization will tend toward an extremely seasoned and perhaps formally schooled candidate. The Estate Manager or the owners themselves will sometimes be able to train the Butler / House Manager on the necessary and specific procedures of the home. In most cases, however, a well trained Butler with years of experience in similar households is the only consideration.
Compensation
Typical salary range is $70,000 - $120,000. More formal or specialized service requirements, a higher number of employees supervised, more demanding family and entertainment schedules, and related complexities will dictate higher pay rates. Additional benefits may include fully paid housing, automobile, insurance, clothing allowance, and more.