In 1827, Robert Roberts published the House Servant’s Guide, a comprehensive collection of how to be an exceptional butler. Written for two of his young friends just entering the profession, Roberts was the precursor to Hints from Heloise and provided instruction not just on etiquette, but on how to resolve all types of cleaning problems.

Roberts offered tips on such items as how to prevent flies from settling on pictures, how to recover a person from intoxication, how to take ink spots out of mahogany, to restore carpets to their first bloom, to preserve apples for the year round and to make lemonade water of a most delicious flavour. In addition, he offered his proteges advice on the benefit of early rising, the order in which to attend to their work and regulations for the dinner table.

It may have been the first comprehensive orientation and job training manual for any position, and it happened to be written for African American butlers almost two centuries ago.

The House Servant’s Guide provides not only entertaining reading and a glimpse into the past, but also serves as a model for the detail that is helpful in modern day on-boarding. It contains a mixture of techniques and norms, as well as encouragement and advice on how to be successful.

In 1827, it was a production to write such a guide — you didn’t just sit down at your laptop and then hit print — but Roberts persisted in writing the book and getting it both published and promoted. Use him as a model as you onboard your new staff.



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