Published Articles

Are You Being Served?

If you think the latest hot trend in vacations is Italian packages, climate sightseeing, or medical tourism, then adjust your sights a bit higher, because a quiet revolution has taken place in some of the better hotels around the world: look for that icon of superior service, Jeeves, waking you up gently to a bright new morning in your hotel suite. Hotel butlers first appeared in the 1980s, but have become increasingly popular in the last few years. Currently, The International Institute of Modern Butlers lists 150 hotels and cruise ships with butler service (

So what is a butler in a hotel? What does one ask butlers to do? How does one judge a hotel’s butler service? Does one tip them? Is he really going to come into your hotel room while you are in various states of undress?

The simple answer is that not all butlers are created equal. A “tanning butler” is a marketing gimmick, not a butler. What a butler should do is be the single contact point who schlepps around the hotel taking care of all the little things that would otherwise raise blood pressure when you have better things to do. He (or she, lady butlers are becoming increasingly common) can start by unpacking your bags so you can get right down to the vacation (in some resorts, they even take the stress out of the trip by bathing your feet when you first arrive while you sip margueritas on the balcony); and by packing your bags, they allow that extra hour on the beach.

Early morning field trip or tee off? The butler will wake you gently with the beverage of your choice and while he clears up the mess from the night before, lays out your golf clothing, and runs the bath, you sit in bed reading the newspaper.

Want a romantic bath with all then trimmings (in Manhattan, baths can cost up to $1,600 for what [not who] the butler puts in the bath and, more particularly, the bottles of fun stuff they serve)? The butler’s your man.

This isn’t the kind of luxury most people will pop for, but you’d be surprised how many hotels, recognizing that improving service is the best way to a tourist’s and business traveller’s heart, are drawing upon the same expertise formerly reserved for the elite, and all at non-stratospheric rates.

If your hotel offers butler service and you decide to try vacations in the well-served lane, here are the questions to assess whether your butler will be an asset:

  1. How many other rooms does the butler service (unless you are paying over the odds for your own private butler, you’ll be sharing)? If you share with too many others, you’ll hardly see the butler.
  2. 24X7 service?
  3. What services do the butlers offer?

Steven Ferry, Chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers, who spearheaded the industry’s Hotel Butler Rating program to sort the Jeeves from the “Jeepers!” points out that, “Unless hotel butlers have been trained by one of the few real butlers who are also reputable trainers, one is likely to experience a pale shadow of butler service that may put one off prematurely from experiencing real butler service at hotels offering it. It’s best to review the Institute’s listing for a hotel’s butler service rating and to ask questions before booking. If the butlers do not pack and unpack and otherwise care for your clothes, deal with any personal secretary/business needs, provide personalized service such as the traditional morning wake-up service and luxury baths, and essentially take care of you during your stay, then the likelihood is that the hotel is just climbing on the bandwagon.”

As Ferry says, “When you experience discreet, anticipatory and creative service from your butler, you’ll know you have arrived and your vacation really is one.”

So what do you ask your butler to do? According to Ferry, anything and everything (legal). Does one tip them? Yes, at the end of the stay. How much? Well, how long is a piece of string? Whatever you feel the service was worth: tips range from nothing to thousands of dollars, but whatever you decide will be graciously and discreetly accepted (by real butlers). And if he or she comes into your suite while you’re in a state of undress or packs your unmentionables, count upon more discretion and a professional response.


Maureen Herron