Butlers the latest must-have for China's nouveau riche

Top academy for upmarket home help has set up branch on mainland to knock the rough edges off tycoons who see service as their right

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 8:33am

The rise of China's super-rich has lured one of the world's top schools for butlers to set up a branch on the mainland.

International Butler Academy chairman Robert Wennekes said the school in Chengdu aimed to cultivate a culture of service in a country that had only recently begun to appreciate the finer points of presentation.

"When people go to a restaurant, all they care about is the food, and not where and how - and indeed, if - the service is good," Wennekes said.

The academy, based in a castle in the Netherlands, will open another branch in Sichuan next year.

"New millionaires are made every day in China," said Wennekes. "And when they have a large villa with elaborate decoration and marble flooring they need someone who knows what they are doing.

"As people become better off they look at a restaurant's decor, how clean the toilet is, what kind of material the serviette is made of."

The rising demand for butlers in the East follows a long decline in the West. There are about 10,000 butlers in Britain, down from 30,000 in the late 1930s, although their numbers have recovered from a low in the 1980s, according to International Guild of Professional Butlers.

The academy runs an eight-week course, three times a year, in Valkenburg aan de Geul, in the southern Netherlands. Besides house and table management, students learn those little all-important chores, such as how to store cigars.

They are also given practical lessons on "how to deal with a greedy guest" and "how to deal with the task of having to ask a guest to leave the house".

One that might come in handy is "how and if to accept a gratuity from a guest".

The Chengdu branch will have its own curriculum taught by some local instructors, mainly because of language barriers.

Some of China's super-rich insist on importing butlers from the West. Wennekes said one mainland company recently requested 15 Western butlers.

But he said Chinese butlers would better understand Chinese bosses.

Wennekes said some Chinese employers treated their staff with scant regard, never saying "thank you" for simple acts of service because "they think they are entitled to them because they pay money for it". But he said such behaviour was not unique to China.

"Employing a butler has helped some Chinese businessmen a lot because a butler can tactfully tell you 'maybe when you meet foreigners in London next week, you shouldn't do this, you should do that'," he said.

Wennekes believes the nouveau riche in China still have a lot to learn. "Chinese companies spend millions on splendid chandeliers, but their staff are generally underpaid. I don't understand why."