It bills itself as a "unique, exclusive and professional butlering and house management school…the finest and most innovative butler service training institute in the world." Set in Huize Damiaan, a former monastery founded in 1892 by the followers of Saint Damien of Molokai, a 19th century Belgian priest who cared for people with leprosy in Hawaii, the International Butler Academy uses the full run of 80,000 sq feet, or 135 rooms, of the largest private mansion in the Netherlands for its training courses. Applicants need to be 18 years of age and over, able to speak 'school English' and have "a service oriented attitude and the right personality for this esteemed profession". They also need to part with the not inconsiderable sum of 14,500 Euros for the 10-week programme which includes all food and board. The Academy claims that 95% of students graduate successfully. The curriculum at the Academy includes such essential skills as table management, etiquette & protocol, laundry and wardrobe management and pets. The 800 hours of instruction are supposed to train the trainees in everything from the more practical duties of setting the table and serving food to managing an entire estate and its domestic staff. The managerial side of the training is achieved by appointing two of the students as head butler and assistant head butler on a rotating basis. These temporary leaders are then expected to organise meals, plan field trips, oversee the reception of guests and generally ensure that all the other trainees are clear about what their duties are.
To lend the training a sense of urgency, the Academy builds much of its training around real people and events. The resident 'owners' of the estate receive 'guests' who expect to be looked after and waited on. A resident chef, who also cooks for the trainees for the duration of the course, prepares regular meals for a demanding cohort of guests and the trainees need to deal with real delivery people and maintenance staff called in to troubleshoot.
The days are meant to run from 8am until 8pm but students are warned that many days will run into the night or may start extra early. As a precautionary note, the Academy makes clear that "the training programme is intensive and strenuous, perhaps even exhausting."
The tuition fee, which the Academy likes to call "your investment" includes such practical things as a 3-piece, high quality butler uniform with two white shirts, cuff links and four pairs of white gloves; a toolkit consisting of writing pads, pens, a tie, suspenders, an arm band, an apron, an umbrella, a pocket knife, a wine bottle opener, a pocket watch, a manicure and a shoeshine kit. Trainees are given wi-fi access, free Netflix, access to the library and the fitness studio, free printing and a personal iPad with appropriate software - a must-have for the 21st century butler.
The Academy's pledge, presented on its website, reads like a religious creed:
I pledge to respect and adhere to the philosophy, rules and principles of The International Butler Academy and the norms and values it represents.
I take full responsibility for my actions, attitude and performance at all times. By my professional and reasoned conduct, and through my energy, passion and commitment, I will embody the highest standards of service, loyalty, trust, discretion and excellence. I will establish and maintain my personal accountability and integrity through honest achievement and commitment to my vocation. My attitude is shown in my behavior and my behavior shows my character. My character is my destiny.
Fernando Moleres spent eight days living with the budding butlers, learning what it means to be "willing to put another person's wishes before your own", as Robert Wennekes, the CEO and Chairman of the Board of the International Butler Academy demands of his students.