Full Formal Household Staff Hierarchy

chef staff1

Published on February 10, 2022

Do you know the full staffing hierarchy of a formal household? Many things have changed since the days of Downton Abbey-style estates, and modern-day technology has definitely also had its influence on how a household is run. Still, it is important to know what a full formal household would look like in terms of staff. As there still are, and will always be, households, estates and palaces all over the world that are run this way.

Management Staff: Does The Butler Rule All?

Let’s start with what may seem like the most important task: who is in charge of the whole team of staff? This can either be the Butler, House Manager or the Estate Manager.

Back in the day, especially in large traditional British households, the Butler would be the head of staff. In those more traditional, old fashioned days, the Butler would be male, and be directly responsible for and in charge of the male staff, as well as being the overall head of staff.

ButlerThe Modern Version

The role of the butler has certainly not disappeared. The role of the butler has evolved and has become more modern, certainly. However, in more informal, or more modern households, it now is more common to have a House or Estate Manager be in charge of the running of the house and the staff. The Butler would still have a very high position in the staff hierarchy, right underneath the House or Estate Manager. However in this case the Butler would focus solely on the traditional Butler tasks such as serving food and drinks.

In some smaller households, it could also be the case that the Personal Assistant is in charge of the staff. This is not a formal part of the job role, but as PA’s grow in their private household role, they sometimes get to be in charge of staff management, rotas and payroll too. It could, however, be argued that once the PA takes on these staff management tasks, the role is much more what we would traditionally call a House Manager, than only a PA.

Management Staff: The Head Housekeeper

In a traditional, formal household, the person to follow in charge right underneath the Butler, would be the Head Housekeeper. As with the Butler, in more traditional, old-fashioned households, the Head Housekeeper would be female, and thus also in charge of all the female staff.

housekeeping training

The Modern Version

In more informal or modern households, it is still very normal to have a Head Housekeeper. This is mainly suited if there is more than one Housekeeper, perhaps some (part-time) cleaners or laundry staff. Having a Head Housekeeper ensures that the housekeeping and cleaning team is kept in check and trained to the standards of the Head Housekeeper. Often a Butler or House Manager would not be knowledgeable enough about specific housekeeping tasks. Therefore having a specific Head Housekeeper ensures that all housekeeping tasks are being delivered to the best possible standard.

Management Staff: The Chefchef

In formal traditional households, the staff would consist of three groups. The Butler and his male staff. The Head Housekeeper and her female staff. And finally, the Chef and their assistants. In large households, the Chef would have several (under)cooks and kitchenmaids in the kitchen solely there to prepare meals and be in charge of produce and shopping. Even though the Butler would still be above the Chef in the household hierarchy, the cook would be in charge of the whole kitchen team.

The Modern Version

In modern households, the Cook or Chef is very much part of the whole household team. They work independently, sometimes with another chef. This depends on how large the household is. Often they share shopping and kitchen duties with (one of) the housekeeper(s). Some modern chefs even set the table and would serve the food, if there were no Butler in the house to do so.

The Support Staff in Formal Households

Under the Butler

In a traditional formal household setting, the male staff would report back to the Butler. Here you would find any under butlers who assist the Butler in all his tasks, as well as footmen who mainly wait tables. In modern households, it is quite rare to have either of these members of staff. However, you will still see both in large palaces and estates.

Valets are here too. Often known as a gentleman’s gentleman, this is a role similar to the Butler. However, the Valet focuses more on the wardrobe, dressing and clothing care for a distinguished gentleman. In the Royal Household as well as other large formal households, valets are still a very popular member of staff to have.

A chauffeur would traditionally often be male too, however of course in modern times this is no longer automatically the case. Gardeners and any outdoors staff would report to the Butler too.

Under The Head Housekeeper

You would find all housekeepers and cleaners here, as well as those in charge of laundry and ironing. The Lady’s Maid was traditionally the female version of the Butler or Valet – again in large households and palaces still a very popular member of staff to have. Especially in households where the staff is still split by gender.

Traditionally, if the family have children they would employ a nanny or manny.  Historically, these were typically female gendered roles, however, in modern times both genders take up these positions. These could be nanny’s, maternity nurses, governesses and tutors. Nowadays, having a nanny is probably one of the most popular members of staff to be employed. Sometimes, the nanny role would be combined with housekeeping duties too.

Times Have Changed

A full formal household hierarchy is rarely to be found anymore. Except for large palaces and formal estates, most households have a smaller team of staff. Modern-day technology has made processes quicker and easier modern households often do not have strict titles for different roles anymore. A Butler might be House Manager, PA and Chauffeur all in one role.

How Can Polo & Tweed Help?

Private household staff roles have definitely become more hybrid and all-encompassing, rather than the clear structure of the olden days. If you are looking for any household staff, formal or informal, Polo & Tweed can help! Why not contact us today to find out how we can find you the best staff suited for your household, however large or small.


  1. Krisjanis Liepins says:

    What is considered a large household? What factors determine that?

    • mm Alexandra Parker Larkin says:

      Hi Krisjanis,
      Whilst there are no set rules of what determines a large household, there are two factors that would be considered and that is the number of staff at the property and how many rooms it contains.

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