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A 21st century butler's duties may include managing a household staff or serving as a personal assistant. The job usually involves working for a single person or household, but some butlers are attached to hotels or resorts instead. This career field isn't defined by law or licensing, so a butler's responsibilities are flexible. To some extent, the job description is whatever the employer signing the paychecks wants it to be.
A butler working as a house manager oversees the running of her employer's household, taking the burden off her boss. If there are other staff – maids, cooks, housekeepers – the house manager hires, fires and pays them. She deals with contractors if repairs or renovations are necessary. In movies, this kind of job is associated with big estates, but it doesn't have to be. A high-powered professional with a small home may be very happy to have a house manager take over most of the day-to-day household tasks.
A house manager also sets the tone for the household. He lets the staff know what's expected of them, what the service standards are and how formally they should conduct themselves.
The Little Things
If the household doesn't have a large staff, or any staff, the butler's responsibilities may include the tasks that would fall to other servants on larger estates. These may include:
- Cleaning and maintenance
- Care of fine china, crystal and silver
- Automobile maintenance
- Security and safety
- Answering the phone and receiving visitors.
Whether a particular position involves any of this depends on what the employer wants and what the employee is willing to do.
Some employers want a butler to fill the role of a valet or a personal secretary rather than a household manager. The job description could include maintaining the employer's clothes and wardrobe, handling the mail, managing the household accounts, and personal and grocery shopping.
Butlers also provide personal services to guests at upscale resorts and hotels. A day's work can include tracking down lost luggage, delivering room-service food with elegance, packing suitcases or helping coordinate a wedding proposal. The big difference from a household manager is that the people the butlers wait on change frequently.
What the Job Takes
This isn't a job field for someone who wants to be the center of attention: Good butlers do their work as invisibly and subtly as possible. The exact skills vary, like the duties, with each job. Some employers want a household manager who knows how to handle and care for their valuable antiques and art. A big house may require a manager who's versed in the latest security technology. Working in even a small household typically requires an ability to multitask. Because a butler has to work closely with her employer and the employer's family, the ability interact well is also important.