Manhattan taking tips from ‘Downton Abbey’

Butler Bertold Wiesner
Bertold Wiesner demonstrates how to set a table, with downtown Delmonico’s serving as the setting.
Credit: Miles Dixon/Metro

Must be able to fly to the Hamptons at a moment’s notice. Yachting skills a plus. And be willing to refill the refrigerator.

These are just a few of the challenges offered up by the super rich, and a new breed of domestic staffer is filling them.

Experts in the industry are chattering about the “Downton Abbey” effect – the hit British drama follows a manor’s family and their servants in World War I-era England.

And after watching stars like butler “Mr. Carson” open doors and smooth jacket shoulders, some New Yorkers want that for themselves.

Bertold Wiesner, managing director at Society Staffing, which provides British-style services, said calls increased after the show, now about four or five inquiries a week.

“There is a certain amount of glamour to the world they inhabit,” Wiesner said of the show’s allure.

Mary Jane Seymour at Chelsea-based The Butler Did It, Inc., which provides special events staffing, said New Yorkers want familiar faces, requesting the same people again and again, which resembles ‘Downton,’ where staffers live in and stay for years.

“In that sense, it is a little ‘Downton,’” she said.

Within Society Staffing’s job listings are phrases found in the show — one woman in Tribeca wants a lady’s maid to organize her seasonal wardrobe and prepare her for events.

In the show, personal maids help ladies drip in jewelry and dress lavishly for even a routine dinner at home.

And although butlers, ladies maids or valets will work in Manhattan apartments, not the sprawling English countryside, most demands remain the same, Wiesner said — unwavering loyalty and discretion.

Most clients are executives with families living on Park or Fifth Avenues, said Society Staffing CEO Robert Parry. New Yorkers are a different breed of boss.

“They know exactly what they want, so it’s always a challenge,” Parry said. “They want to have the best of everything.”

What does a Butler do?

Wiesner recently launched a “Butler for a Day” service, which lets clients try out a butler at the cost of up to $1,000, depending on services. The tasks themselves range daily, Wiesner said. Some are “mundane,” he said, like stocking the fridge or booking a car, but others may be more spontaneous or complex, like finding balloon rides for a party or specific embroidery for a garment. And getting the gig isn’t easy – New Yorkers want staffers to be college educated, fluent in at least one language – preferably French – and well traveled with a valid passport. “They must be able to travel privately, leave any time at the client’s discretion,” Parry said. Wiesner manages the company’s European offices, but he previously worked as a butler around the world for clients, including New York. One client in the Hamptons asked him to check electric dog fences surrounding the property.  “I was shocked like 38 times,” he said.

Listings on the Society Staffing site:

A Great Neck family would pay a butler/house manager more than $90,000, but a must is “providing excellent service to residents and guests alike.”

Much like the butler in Downton, they would be in charge of liaising with staff and overseeing daily meals.Another butler wanted on the Upper West Side would need to travel to the Hamptons and live in during the summer months. Pay is $80,000 plus.

A woman in Tribeca wants a lady’s maid to organize her closet and keep track of her seasonal wardrobe and prepare clothing for personal events for a salary upwards of $60,000.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter: @reporteralison

Follow Metro New York on Twitter: @MetroNewYork


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