The Pursuit of Picture Perfect: A Butler’s Guide

I recently attended a bridal shower with the colour theme of Tiffany blue. Mini cupcakes sat on a tiered tray, adorned with Tiffany blue icing. A candy station overflowed with matching blue gummies and jujubes waiting to be dropped into mini white bags with Tiffany blue detailing. And guests sipped on – you guessed it – Tiffany blue punch under strategically placed decorative blue pom-poms.

The attention to detail was beyond immaculate, so much so that it became an inter-generational discussion at the party. All of the boomers in the crowd of women leaned into each other with comments like, “Times have changed since my shower 20 years ago! What happened to a slab cake and gift opening?”

Times certainly have changed in respect to picture-perfect party planning. Ironically, the generation of rebellious teenagers who went against all things traditional brought up a generation who are bringing back rituals from before their parents’ time.

Charles MacPherson is the founder of the Charles MacPherson Academy School for Butlers and Household Managers, the only school in North America qualified to train butlers. His new book, The Butler Speaks, comes at a perfect time for the many Downton Abbey enthusiasts who are enthralled by the rituals of Carson and his crew of attentive housemaids and footmen. It is a sneak peek into what it takes to run a house and entertain – the traditional way.

The details that used to only matter during a time when wealthy families had the help of butlers and footmen to get the job done are now on the priority lists of many who want to open their home to family and friends with style and grace.

I spoke with MacPherson, and he shared some of the tips that make his graduates so sought after. Explaining that it is the tiniest details he teaches students that will impress future employers, he says, “You’ll be surprised how many students leave that class and say, ‘I have been cooking eggs wrong this whole time!’”

Now, MacPherson’s expertise is not reserved for the students of his prestigious school. In his new book, he shares all of his best secrets for entertaining, good housekeeping and proper etiquette.

Anyone looking to have an event with the same caliber and etiquette as enjoyed by the characters in Downton Abbey can do so. For example, when you’re stuck for which wine to pair with a specific cheese, he has a thorough list of wine pairings (cheddar pairs better with a Sauvignon Blanc, while brie is better matched with a Pinot Noir). If you want to set your table like Carson would, follow the 24-inch rule – that is, the space between the centres of plates from the centre at a rectangular table as well as the measurement from the back of the chair to the table’s edge (seriously).


And the tips do not stop at entertaining. There are tips to solve simple housekeeping woes, like the proper way to iron a shirt; how to properly fold a fitted sheet (mine are currently rolled up, neatly); and how to care for your ceramic floor or laminate or hard wood.

His expertise can even be applied to the tasks of the modern-day man or woman. Learn how to load a dishwasher, how to eat sushi correctly and how to properly eat soup (British style versus French style – yes, there’s a difference).

And, let’s face it, in a time when it feels like we’ve all lost our basic manners, MacPherson reminds us of the basics with this etiquette refresher.

We put MacPherson’s tea tutorial through a pepsi-cola-inspired taste test in the office. Our method vs. his and while the results were split down the middle, it was fun for the tea enthusiasts to know the proper way to pour afternoon tea.

The Butler Speaks is available on amazon, or in your local book store.