Exploring the Butler’s Pantry
All Things Biltmore • 11/15/18
Written By Ashley Annin
Welcome to the central nervous system of Biltmore House: The Butler’s Pantry. As its name suggests, the Butler’s Pantry was the main work area for the head butler and his staff of footmen and it played a critical role in each and every meal enjoyed by the Vanderbilts and their guests.
As part of the upcoming exhibition A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, guests can enjoy the Butler’s Pantry as part of their self-guided tour of Biltmore House for the very first time.
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Strategically located on the first floor between the Kitchen and the Breakfast Room and directly above the basement kitchen, the Butler’s Pantry is a room that was constantly abuzz with staff activity. Meals prepared in the kitchen and would arrive in the Butler’s Pantry via dumbwaiters and floor maids, ready to be plated and delivered to the family and guests. It was the primary responsibility of the butler to ensure that all meals, including afternoon tea, were served smoothly and effortlessly, as the performance of the head butler and his staff were a direct reflection on the Vanderbilts.
Not only was the Butler’s Pantry the central hub for meal preparations, it was also the primary point of contact between the butler and guests. A visit to Biltmore offered guests anything their hearts desired, all at the push of a button. When a guest had a request, they simply pressed a button in their room, and a bell would ring on the state-of-the-art annunciator outside the Butler’s Pantry. The butler or a servant on duty in the Butler’s Pantry would attend to the guest themselves, send a nearby servant, or call a servant on the appropriate floor to see what is needed, then call down to the Butler’s Pantry so that the task could be delegated to the appropriate person. Like a well-oiled machine, the request would be fulfilled and the butler would be on to the next.
Technology in the Butler’s Pantry
Managing a Gilded Age mansion the size of Biltmore was no easy task, and the house featured the most cutting-edge technology of the time to assist the domestic staff in their daily duties. In many ways, Biltmore functioned like a luxury hotel, and these technological features helped ensure that all operations ran smoothly and quickly. Below are some of the Biltmore House’s most notable technologies:
- Annunciator System: The Annunciator System (also known as the servant call bell system) allowed staff to respond to guest calls from virtually any room in Biltmore House. Service was literally available at the push of a button.
- Dumbwaiters: The Butler’s Pantry features two dumbwaiters used to deliver food from the basement kitchen and pantry: one electric and one manual. (The electric dumbwaiter had a lifting capacity of 250 pounds and an operating speed of 100 feet per minute.)
- Refrigerators: In addition to the walk-in refrigerators in the basement, the Butler’s Pantry housed small refrigerators to keep milk, butter, and other dairy products cool until served.
- Warming oven: Conversely, an electric warming oven was used to heat plates and serving dishes, as well as keep small portions of food warm prior to serving.
- Telephone: The telephone was part of Biltmore’s in-house communication system manufactured by Stromberg-Carlson Telephone Manufacturing Company in Chicago.
The Vanderbilt legacy of hospitality and entertaining comes to life for guests during A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, where guests of Biltmore will feel as if they are a houseguest of George and Edith Vanderbilt.
Join us February 8 through May 27 for this one-of-a-kind exhibition featuring immersive audio storytelling and displays of elegant clothing recreated from archival Vanderbilt photos and portraits.