This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The next proposition does not admit of a straightforward answer. It is: "The steward does all the buying of supplies for the table and all kitchen utensils." Undoubtedly the coming steward will; he is wanted for that very purpose, but as a matter of present fact, as the correspondent puts it, he does not, except in a few cases. And the hotels are the worse off because of the deficiency of stewards, the buying for a hotel being a trade in itself, not to be picked up or assumed by anybody on short notice, but requiring long practice and varied experienced to become proficient in. The steward's functions in this respect are often assumed now by the proprietor. We read that one or other of the proprietors of the largest of New York hotels goes regularly to market at five in the morning and makes the purchases for the day, numbers of prominent hotel keepers, besides, have been noted as following the same practice. If it be a lack of confidence in stewards in general which has led to their being shorn of their proper authority, it is likely the stewards of past years have themselves to blame.
There is very little that is pleasant in a steward's life, he has to be a sort of a policeman, austere, apparently unsympathetic, and he cannot permit familiarity, nor afford to be sociable, but most men in the position find a pleasant relaxation in marketing and driving good bargains, and when, in addition to the pleasure of smart trading, the idea of making a little private gain in a seemingly harmless way is entertained, the steward is very liable to give that part of his duties nearly his whole attention, and leave the disciplinary portion inside the house to neglect;then the proprietor volunteers to do some part of that duty that his steward may have more time to "stay in and look after the help".
Yet no volunteer or occasional buyer can leave the office desk, or pantry, or store room and go and buy at once cheaply and intelligently. The experienced steward does not have to memorize a lot of rules to know whether game, fish, poultry or meats are fresh and wholesome or not, he knows at a glance; he has no chemist's tests about him for determining whether a sample of butter is genuine or imitation, he knows at once, he is practiced at it The volunteer buyer, landlord or clerk rushes out and buys what he thinks are bargains because below the retail price, while the practiced steward comes in with the same thing twice as good and bought at half the price. The practiced steward does not buy small potatoes, nor small apples, nor stale eggs because they are under price, as the volunteer buyer does, for he knows they will all waste away in use and cost double in the long run, nor does he buy fruit that will not keep till next day, nor buy anything on a falling market. He knows where small supplies of a scaice article may still be found in the bye-ways of the market and keeps them in view, but does not buy till absolutely compelled, thinking that new offerings and cheaper may arrive at any hour.
The volunteer buyer cannot be so systematic, nor can he watch the fluctuations of the market in staple groceries and provisions to take advantage of them as the regular steward does. The coming steward will get all these things down finer yet, including fuel and furnishing in his purchases, and he will not sell his independence and freedom to roam the markets over to any merchant for "a commission".