Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dealing With House Guests: Part 3 "Laundry Services"

"Do you provide laundry services for your guests?" The short answer being, "Not if we can avoid it!"

I don't know about you, but if I've got house guests for an extended stay I just show them the washer and dryer closet, the jugs of Tide and Downy, and let them have at it, right?

But in the world of the rich, especially in my role as butler and house manager, you can't get away with that. So here goes with the third entry of a four-part series on house guests in the world of the super rich.

First off, if guests are staying for only one night, then there's usually no need for laundry services in the first place. In fact, like in a hotel, we hang a folded plastic laundry bag in the closet which they can use to cart off their own dirty laundry.

But if they're staying for a few days, things start to get gamey in their room, and all of a sudden socks and underwear are being sent down to the laundry room. Sometimes they have the good taste to use the plastic bag, but sometimes they just leave socks and undies in a pile, along with the day's used towels, on the bathroom floor with the expectation that house staff will pick it up and return it all clean, just like they do in a hotel. We've even had guests leave their shoes outside the bedroom door, again like in a hotel, expecting us to polish them overnight. (Normally we just blow this off, daring them to complain to their host about poor service in the house.)

Anyhow, as rude and unwelcome as all this might be, guests' laundry is not really a big problem for us. There's two washers and two dryers in the laundry room. Louise, our laundry tech, just throws the items into an empty washer (along with a little bleach to kill whatever vermin and other ick the guests might be bringing into the house) and that's that. She folds everything (expertly, of course) then hands it off to Ester, the upstairs maid, who returns the items to the guests' room on her next trip up the elevator. Except for aggravation, no problem at all, really.

On the other hand, if guests are staying for a really long time (God forbid) then they'll be needing their shirts and blouses washed and ironed, maybe even their suits and woolens sent out for cleaning. I'm not about to ask Louise to do any of this. Washing sheets, bath towels, dish towels, bathroom hand towels, dinner napkins and bar towels, not to mention the Mister's own garments, is quite enough for a day's labor--especially that the sheets, pillow cases, and dinner napkins have to be spray-starched and ironed by hand. (We do have a rotary iron, but it's still a lot of work to manage it and get good results.)

Thankfully we have a laundry/ dry cleaning service that comes by the house twice a week for pickup and delivery. They even have a one-day emergency turn around service, for an additional fee of course. So all the guest's needs are sent out through this service, or I can take an emergency item to the cleaners myself and pick it up a few hours later. Either way, it's tossed onto the household expense account, not onto Louise's shoulders.

Unfortunately, sometimes a guest will decide to leave a day or two early before their garments come back from the cleaners, but there's no real problem there either. Any left-behind items can be sent to them via FedEx, next-day air, with all due regrets and apologies on my part. (Although I'm the one who has to stand on line at FedEx.)

But rich people, scatter brained as they are, are accustomed to having things sent back home to them from wherever they go - jewelry, cell phones, books, garments, what have you. (We once had a lady jump into her Bentley and drive off -- leaving her annoying little Pekingese behind. Luckily for us she came back forty-five minutes later and picked the little monster up.)

As always, thanks for dropping in tonight. I hope your guests aren't as tedious and rude as the ones we have around here.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dealing With House Guests: Part 2 "Valet Services"

"....I had to sink my yacht to make my guests go home."  F. Scott Fitzgerald

In this four-part series dealing with the horrors of having house guests, the question of valet services has come up--that is, whether or not we have to unpack and repack their luggage?

Right up front I'll just say that we certainly don't go out of our way to offer it. I mean, this is not a luxury hotel or royal palace, right? The thing is, unpacking a guest's wardrobe is a dangerous Pandora's Box that invites requests for laundry, pressing, stain removal, shoe polishing, sewing on a missing button, we've even been asked if we can lift a hem.

If someone indeed needs our help, then that's another story and we jump right in. There's a wonderful old grand dame who comes here two or three times a year and, bless her heart, her arthritic shoulders don't allow her to reach up to the hangers in the closet. I'm always delighted to help her out, and in exchange she regales me with stories about her glory days at the Metropolitan Opera.

Valet knowledge is a tediously taught subject in any good butler school, and if you're in private service you might very well be called upon to utilize theses skills from time to time. The truth is, although boring as all get out, it's not really all that hard, once you have the knack.

For unpacking, you simply hang everything up on garment-appropriate hangers and save all the guest's tissue paper for repacking (which we pray will be soon). Unmentionables and socks go into the empty bureau drawers, set aside especially for guests. The bag of toiletries and medications is placed on the bathroom vanity, without opening or touching anything inside.

Now, as for repacking, do you know how to fold men's and women's garments, stuff them into a suitcase, and get them to their destination wrinkle free? It's not entirely simple, but there's specific folds for each and every garment and procedures to pack the suitcase just right, so that things don't shift around during transportation. (There's some great folding diagrams in Cheryl Mendelson's amazing and invaluable book Home Comforts.)

As already mentioned, there's lots of tissue paper involved to put between the folds, which minimizes the wrinkles--not unlike a new garment you buy at a department store. You also need to know how to stuff the tissue into the arms and shoulders of a man's suit before shoving it into a suitcase. And mind you, not just any tissue like for gift wrapping, but acid-free archival tissue, which can cost you a pretty penny. But if you're folding a $20,000 haute-couture cocktail dress, you bet you're going to use acid-free tissue. You can buy it online, or if there's a Container Store near you anywhere, they always have a ready supply.

You'll put shoes and heavy stuff on the bottom of the suitcase, of course, then lay in the folded slacks, shirts, dresses and blouses in the space above that. Socks and unmentionables are tightly stuffed in around all the edges to keep the carefully-folded garments from shifting. And that's it. Simple enough, right?

It just so happens (to my insanely good luck) that the Mister likes to pack his own suitcases himself without our help. He just throws stuff in, without any tissue folds, and I pity the receiving end at the hotel where he's headed. Lots of pressing, no doubt, but it saves me a lot of tedious labor and headaches on this end.

The former wife used to ask Ester, the upstairs maid, to help her pack from time to time, but she basically preferred to pack her own suitcases as well. She knew her itinerary, of course, and would layer in her garments according to what event was first. And while she used tissue paper to pack, I happen to know from hotel concierges that she frequently sends everything down to be pressed or steamed the moment she arrives.

But that was her wonderful style. She had to be glamorous anytime she stepped into the public eye, and suitcase wrinkles were simply not allowed.

Thanks for stopping by tonight,

PS: I should also mention that while we don't readily offer valet services around here, Ester has reported some handsome tips when guests occasionally ask for her help.