Inside the Gold Rush for Butlers and Maids to the Super-Rich

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

There is only one suitable mindset when tending to the ultra-rich, says Ronnie Prassas, a private butler and estate manager for a wealthy client in New York City: “I’m like the yes-man who can get things done.”

Once, Prassas recalled, a client wanted to “save a buck” on construction, so he found himself plastering her walls. Another time, he was asked to transport a fleet of luxury cars from Aspen to Beverly Hills. “My boss flew in one of my friends” on a private plane so he could lend a hand, Prassas said.

Super-rich tycoons like those who have employed Prassas have done spectacularly well over the course of a pandemic, their fortunes largely rising alongside a climbing stock market, at least until recent months. And those gains have finally trickled down to their legions of staff—butlers and chauffeurs and housekeepers and cooks—even as a public health crisis has upended large portions of the economy.

“It is an unprecedented market,” said Anita Rogers, founder and CEO of British American Household Staffing, whose business has nearly tripled since 2020. Luxury enclaves like the Hamptons have been particularly affected. “With COVID, an enormous amount of our clients move out to the Hamptons, and many have stayed.”

That migration has pushed up demand for labor, and wages have risen in turn. Previously, a salaried housekeeper in the Hamptons might earn $60,000 to $65,000 per year, said Rogers. Today that figure stands at “a minimum” of $85,000 or more. High-end nannies can pull in north of $110,000, while some estate managers, Prassas claimed, are making five times that.

“The $25-an-hour salary doesn’t exist anymore,” said Vincent Minuto, who founded his staffing firm, Hampton Domestics, more than three decades ago. The going rate has left some new Hamptonites with sticker shock, having moved to the luxury playground expecting to pay a meager wage to an hourly cleaning person. Instead, workers are demanding annual salaries, overtime, medical care, and transportation reimbursements.

“Nobody wants to work for just the summer. They want full-time, year-round jobs [for] between $40 and $50 an hour,” Minuto said.

Post-COVID, there’s a new reality in billionaire land: Either pay up or clean up yourself.

How does one enlist in a billionaire’s domestic ranks?

“That’s the hardest thing to do, to break into this industry,” one New York-area butler told The Daily Beast.

To Prassas—who also runs his own domestic worker job board, myEstateStaff—it never seemed like a realistic career plan. A decade ago, he had just graduated college with a hospitality degree and intended to join the restaurant or hotels business. Then he happened upon a job listing for a butler position in Palm Beach.

“I was like, what does this even mean? Like, do I have to wear a bowtie?”

He took a flyer and arrived at the sprawling Florida estate for an interview. The owner hired him on the spot, and Prassas started that day at noon. He ended up staying for six years, part of a roster of more than a dozen employees. “It was pretty insane,” he said.

Another private butler, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid violating a non-disclosure agreement, said the job pays well, especially for workers who stick around long enough. While a hospitality or culinary school certification might help land a role, a candidate without a degree could earn $65,000 from the jump, the butler said. “With three years in the industry you can be making $80,000.” Two years after that, compensation hovers around six figures, and pay can steadily climb from there.

There are other perks, said a number of the industry sources who spoke for this article, including joyrides in Lamborghinis, luxury trips, and—when the boss is feeling generous—access to amenities like courtside basketball seats.

“He’s a person that everyone wants to hang out with, because he’s got, you know, the toys,” one domestic staffer said of their employer.

Still, it will always be more fun to be the boss than the butler. “It’s definitely like six days, seven days a week. I’m running multiple estates… a house in the West Village, a house in the Hamptons. And, you know, he’s got girlfriends,” one high-end domestic worker said.

An employee’s responsibilities can easily expand until they’re juggling multiple roles at once, the person added. “It’s definitely an industry that you can be taken advantage of. But you’ve got to know your worth.”

Rogers, of British American Household Staffing, said that some nannies grew frustrated during the pandemic because their clients started spending more time at home, disrupting the typical childcare structure and creating an environment with “too many cooks.”

Some opted to leave their roles, choosing instead to become recruiters during this period of immense demand. Those that remained in their jobs, Rogers said, now often work in teams of two, spending four to seven days on duty at a time followed by an equal amount of time off. Each nanny might make $110,000 per year or more.

Rogers said she recruits high-caliber governesses, some with degrees from Oxford or Cambridge, and who are proficient in both general childcare and teaching etiquette lessons. “You can’t get better for your children than that,” she said.

Employers must move quickly to snap up talent, said Aleksandra Kardwell, president of Hamptons Employment Agency: “The market is tight right now.”

But for the billionaires of Southampton or Aspen or Palm Beach or Bel Air, there will always be funds for the help—whatever it costs.

“Money’s not an object, it’s about what they want,” one butler said of their boss’s profligate spending. “If one of the kids even forgets a basketball at a certain house, they’re flying a $30,000 jet to get that basketball. It’s one of those things where they don’t care… I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff.”

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