Much as modern audiences loved the TV series Downton Abbey, few would have felt any connection with the culture of service in the grand houses of Edwardian England. Yet as Paul Little finds in our feature today, we have as many servants in modern life. And just as many of us are servants in a thoroughly modern way, supplying services online.

Those he interviewed, supplying a range of personal services on the web, from grocery shopping to party clean-ups, spoke of their work with as much pleasure and pride as Mr Carson, Mrs Patmore, Mr Moseley or any of the fictional servants of the Crawleys.

Pride in service was one of the striking themes of that production, which took care to be true to the period. Respect, too, was evident on both sides of the relationship. That is worth noting today as service industries continue to be a growing sector of advanced economies.

When it comes to services such as hospitality, New Zealanders on the whole are not very good. Our instinct is to be informal and casual, which is probably why the hospitality sector employs so many immigrants. Many of these are not even professionals, they are the foreign students or young people on work visas which far outnumber new permanent residents in our record immigration figures.


They come from countries where services such as waiting on tables or serving paying customers in any capacity has been traditionally respected and almost everyone from those countries seems to know how to serve people with style and professionalism.

If we are going to complain that these are jobs that could be done by New Zealanders, we had better learn to do them with as much panache. Our tourism needs world-class service in hotels and restaurants, Downton Abbey standards without quite the starched collars, white gloves and tails.

The online entrepreneurs in our feature today do not have the secure incomes of employed servants. They offer their services as and when needed. But they are anticipating needs and delivering satisfaction, and deserve to do well.