Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dealing With House Guests: Laundry Services

I've often been asked "Do you provide laundry services for your guests?" 

Well, the short answer is no, 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 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 their 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. Although we do have a rotary iron, 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 her day's labor - especially that the pillow cases and dinner napkins have to be spray-starched and ironed by hand.

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 if need be, for an additional fee of course. So the guest's garments are sent out through this service, which is 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 scatter-brained rich people are accustomed to having things sent back home from wherever they go - jewelry, cell phones, books, garments, what have you. We once had a lady jump into her Bentley and rush off - leaving her annoying little Pekingese behind. Luckily for us she came back fifteen minutes later to pick up the little monster.

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: Valet Services

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 this service. I mean, this is not a luxury hotel or royal palace, right? 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.

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 $30,000 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.

Thanks for stopping by tonight,

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dealing With House Guests: Dietary Needs

Like a plague of locusts, house guests arrive suddenly. They eat you out of house and home, destroy everything in their path, and on top of that they're damned hard to get rid of, right? And it's no different around here with my rich employers.

Thankfully every detail concerning guest care was well covered at the butler academy in a four-part course. So here goes with the first of a four-part series on how to deal with this vexing problem.

The first topic: "How do you fulfill your guests' dietary needs, restrictions, or favorites?"

First of all we have a Guest Registry Log that details a previous guest's needs or requests. This might include such things as Splenda instead of sugar, a gluten-free diet, tea rather than coffee, a soft boiled egg instead of scrambled or fried and on and on until your eyes glaze over. Since I intensely dislike our chef, I'm always delighted to pass along these annoying little notes just to get him all stirred up and crazy.

If it's a first-time notable guest headed our way, there's no problem at all in calling their office, their personal secretary, or their house manager to find out any personal needs or requirements. Sometimes there's a form letter these people email right back, itemizing any special idiosyncrasies. Some go so far as to specify what magazines are appreciated - which I don't appreciate one bit. The most I'm willing to do is put gender-specific magazines in a guest's room. But to run all over town to find a certain title? Forget it.

If the guest is way up there on the fancy-pants list, like European royalty or some significant politician from Washington, you can bet that some bitch someone from their staff will alert this house before their arrival as to any specific needs and other nonsense we have to deal with. Not the least being protocol - how to address them, how to bow, curtsey or shake hands, and where to put them in a reception line or at a dining room table. We're not idiots around here, you know? We can handle all this silliness without their Office of Protocol waking me up early in the morning.

And finally, if we have no notice or information regarding the plague that's about to hit, there's no problem at all in simply asking the new guest "Is there anything we can get you while you're here?" 

Which we may or may not do, depending entirely upon their uppity stature or the threat we face if we don't. I'll admit that on rare occasions it's actually fun having house guests, contingent upon their pleasant nature or entertainment value. But generally speaking it's just drudgery and extra work.

Thanks for dropping in this evening,

PS: This post is dedicated to Liz, Stacy, Butler Fan, Jeff, Molly and Jason, who all asked this very same question about seeing after a guest's dietary needs.