A Modern Butler vs. a Downton Abbey Traditional Butler

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A Modern Butler vs. a Downton Abbey Traditional Butler

Older man serving a woman tea on a tray

People who have seen the television series Downton Abbey get a good look into how a wealthy household is run and the various roles of household staff, including a traditional butler. The butler in the show, Mr. Carson, has specific duties that include:

  • Overseeing and managing the male household staff to ensure they are performing their assigned duties.
  • Overseeing the wine and liquor inventories that are stored in what is called the buttery.
  • Caring for the silver, crystal, and other valuable china.
  • Ensuring the silver, crystal, and other valuable china are kept safe and secure.
  • Greeting guests.
  • Overseeing formal meals, parties, and special occasions.
  • Overseeing daily meals and beverage service for the family.

Mr. Carson is portrayed as a senior household staff member in the show. However, in smaller households, traditional butlers could be middle level household staff. In some cases, they were part of households that had limited staff on duty, aside from a housekeeper and cook.

When in households with smaller staff or limited staff, it was not uncommon for traditional butlers to take on additional roles and responsibilities such as serving all meals, overseeing meal preparation, running errands, ordering groceries, managing the entire household and estate, and so on. Some even assisted with household chores and cleaning.

Downton Abbey does a decent job at showing the distinction in household staff roles for other types of positions like the head housekeeper, junior housekeepers, handmaidens, valets, and footmen. If you are curious about the roles of these positions, it is interesting to see how, in many cases, many of the responsibilities and duties performed in the early 1900s are still quite common, even today, for a modern butler.

How Butlers Have Evolved over the Decades

The traditional butler has not vanished from households. Some households still prefer their butlers to perform traditional duties and responsibilities as they have for decades. Thanks to technology, managing various responsibilities and duties has become easier, such as keeping track of wine and liquor inventories and placing orders when stocks need to be replenished.

A traditional butler, dressed in the familiar suit—even the more formal one with white gloves—is also desired at formal events, special occasions, and parties when they need to fit the part, still to this day. Seeing a butler dressed in traditional-style clothing adds a sense of elegance and luxury to these events. Plus, they bring with them all their knowledge of wines, liquors, proper etiquette, and other such skills to ensure these events are a huge success.

A modern butler quite frequently possesses all the knowledge and skills of a traditional butler. Many still attend a formal butler school of training to develop their abilities. Many modern butlers also know at least one foreign language, if not several, just like their traditional counterparts. This makes them equally valuable at events where you are entertaining guests whose primary language is not English.

What Has Changed for a Modern Butler?

One noticeable change from traditional butlers is the clothing modern butlers wear. Unless it is a formal event that requires traditional dress, most modern butlers are allowed to dress less formally. Business casual dress is appropriate for many households. In more informal settings, modern butlers may be allowed to dress down and wear jeans and a polo shirt or other less formal styles of clothing.

Another change is in the education and training of the modern butler. While many will still attend formal butler school, they also obtain training in the hospitality and foodservice industries. The skills they learn in the hospitality and foodservice industries can include management skills, budgeting, payroll, bookkeeping, event planning, meal planning, meal preparation, travel arrangements, and so on.

Some even will obtain a chauffeur’s license to be able to serve as the household’s personal driver. Having these additional skills and knowledge further adds value to what a modern butler can bring to your household.

Professional driver helping woman with shopping bags to get out of car

While the role of a butler has been traditionally male, this is no longer always the case today. Traditionally, if a female is in charge of the household, she is typically referred to as a housekeeper or household manager. Yet, today some households have hired females to serve as the homes’ butlers.

Another difference between traditional and modern butlers is they do not always live-in at the households they service. Traditionally, butlers were expected to be live-in and available 24/7. However, that is no longer the case for every household. Some households will allow their butlers to live off-site in their own homes and have set working hours each day.

The age of butlers is also another thing that has changed over the years. Traditionally, butlers were often older men who had the wisdom, knowledge, and training to serve as the household’s butler. With education and training being readily available these days, butlers can be much younger.

What Are Some Modern Butler Job Duties?

Modern butlers still perform many of the same duties as a traditional butler, along with other job duties that have evolved as the position has evolved and changed over the years. Modern butler job duties can include:

  • Serving as Household Manager
  • Overseeing Maintenance and Upkeep of the Home
  • Greeting Guests
  • Answering the Household Telephone
  • Processing Payroll for Other Household Staff
  • Attending to the Head of Household’s Needs
  • Performing Light Housekeeping
  • Managing Household Security
  • Paying Household Bills and Expenses
  • Grocery Shopping
  • Running Errands
  • Event Planning
  • Managing Household Cleaning Tasks
  • Managing Other Household Staff
  • Teaching Children Foreign Languages
  • Household and Estate Budget Planning
  • Making Travel Arrangements and Reservations

Please keep in mind, this is an overview of the more common job duties modern butlers are asked to fulfill by the households they serve. Each household can and does have different needs and requirements. As such, butler job duties are often custom-tailored to fit the needs of each household.

For example, some butlers are expected to provide valet services and will travel with the family when they are on vacation, business travel, or an extended holiday. In cases where the family owns multiple homes or a yacht, the butler often is tasked with moving the household staff and preparing the residence or yacht prior to the arrival of the family.

Other butlers not only take care of managing and overseeing the household but also serve as personal assistants to the Head of Household. Again, these are just a few examples of the different butler job duties a modern butler can be expected to perform.

What Has Not Changed with Butlers over the Years

Waiter in a tuxedo on a black background

One of the most important things that has not changed with butlers over the years is their dedication and commitment to the families they serve. Their objective is to provide impeccable service with an attention to detail, no matter the task, job duty, or function.

Many modern butlers will still often serve families their entire lifetimes until they retire, much like Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey. Once you find the perfect butler for your household, you will want to make sure they remain in your service for many years, whether they are live-in or live-out.

As you can see butlers are still valuable to households today and still perform many of the same duties as a traditional butler while taking on new duties to redefine the role of a modern butler.

For further information about the role of a modern butler, or to hire a butler for your household, please contact Staffing at Tiffanie’s by calling 866-484-5500 today! We can also assist you with filling other household positions, including nannies, personal assistants, chefs, housekeepers, household managers, estate managers, yacht staff, and more.