Butler training Etiquette

Complaint-handling skills for Hotel Butlers

This week my butler class has been doing training on complaint-handling procedures – something I take very seriously. A poorly handled complaint can do irreparable damage. Sites such as ‘’ allow guests to do far, far more harm to your hotel’s reputation than  in the past.

In order to make these sessions as realistic as possible, we asked the trainee butlers to deal with actual complaints received by staff members of the resort in the past. Of course, all resorts have repeater problems and in an ideal world these would be sorted out. However, some things, such as bad weather, poor internet connections in remote areas, and the presence of migrating birds, various creepy-crawlies and the occasional reptile, forever bedevil our efforts to satisfy the unadventurous traveller.

The issue of sand flies came up. Sand flies are notoriously unpleasant; they leave ragged, painful, saliva-filled bite marks and it is common for people to develop allergies after only 50 bites or so. Their preferred habitat renders spraying largely ineffective and in ecologically sensitive areas there is currently no acceptable solution to the problem. Very few insect repellents seem to work and the few solutions that do seem to work are home-made. These contain ingredients such as lamp oil that no sane hotel would offer to a guest.

The question arose as to whether it would be better to warn guests of impending problems, or rather to wait until they complained before addressing the issue. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, nor do we wish to pre-empt problems. In my experience however, if one is to build trust with a guest, it is better to communicate openly with guests from the outset. This is particularly important for those issues which are unavoidable and for which the management have no remedy. Ideally, this would have been addressed at the time the reservation was made, but we all know this won’t happen. So, it is up to the butler to give the guest the bad news.

This is where the butler’s communication skills and tact come into play. A well-trained staff member is an invaluable asset to the organisation when it comes to guests accepting less-than-ideal scenarios. Very often, a small issue becomes a non-issue when handled well. The same issue left unaddressed, festers, and if handled badly later on, leads to an irretrievable situation.

Having said this, a few minute’s research online lead us to the website of a New Zealand company selling a repellent which they claim is not only effective, but also 100% organic. The team’s response was that this falls outside of their scope of responsibilities. Nonsense. Anything that impact’s your guest’s enjoyment of their holiday is your responsibility. You may not be able to approve the purchase order, but you can get the ball rolling!

Butler training Etiquette

Tips On Middle Eastern Service

In the real world of the service industry in the Middle East, it’s the little things that make a huge difference, the day-to-day interactions that you need to know in order to avoid unpleasant little surprises.

Juice Service

If your lady is receiving female guests, a selection of juices and water is offered upon arrival. The juice must be fresh and can be plain or made up of combinations; I have also seen some houses that use yoghurt in their juice selection. Do not use canned or packet juices/drinks, especially pineapple (trust me on this one!).

Combinations could include: orange and mango, lemon-lime and kiwi, strawberry and mandarin to name a few. The regular variety would be watermelon, sweet melon (similar to honey dew), lemon, carrot and orange. You would only offer the guests juice once…then tea service would follow.

Typical Tea Service

Tea service would include a pot of Moroccan mint tea (make it with gunpowder green tea sprinkled over sprigs of fresh, common mint, add water, boil then strain). This will generally be served in a silver Moroccan tea pot. Red tea is also provided (what people in the West refer to as normal tea; your favorite or English Breakfast). This is served in a regular china tea pot.

Moroccan tea would be served in Moroccan-style glasses, red in regular tea cups. Milk and sugar (cubes only) and sweet ‘n low (or similar sweetener) would be offered. Coffee generally would not be offered to ladies unless requested.

Following tea there would be an offering of what in the East is called “sweet items or salt.” These can vary from house to house: from Moroccan-style biscuits to cakes, sandwiches or hot finger food. After offering food, you offer another round of tea. You don’t generally offer a second round of food, unless specifically requested. The serving dishes are to be loaded full and “mountain style” (stacked like a pyramid formation). The selection you are offering should not be mixed on the same platter either. One dish/one type of food.

Arabic Coffee Service (Ghawa)

This follows tea service to indicate that the meeting etc. is coming to an end. Sometimes Ghawa (Arabic coffee) would be brought out in a Dulla (a typical Arabic coffee pot) and poured from the left hand only into Ghawa cups that are held in the right hand, which are stacked inside each other (normally up to 6 at one time). If more cups are required, one staff member would follow with more cups on a tray or holder. The pourer would pour a round, then go around again and offer seconds – which are poured into the same cup. If the guest does not want a refill, they will shake their cup from side to side indicating ‘no, thank you’ and will place it on the stack back in your right hand. If you were working in the Middle East, there would be someone designated to making the Ghawa. Some people/houses like to add Saffron to it as well.

Oud/Bahoor Service

Oud or Bahoor is a fragrant wood or a little incense ball of a strong perfume smell/scent which is placed on what is commonly called ‘Magic Charcoal’ or real charcoal which is placed on top of a burner. The Oud, or Bahoor, is then placed onto the hot charcoal to smoke away; the pieces of wood are offered to guests to waft the smoke onto their clothing; it is a polite Arabic way of saying ‘party over’. Oud is very expensive and is mostly used by the royal family. The size of the piece of wood denotes the importance of the guest: the bigger the piece, the more important the guest. The smell is very typical of the East and clings. Arabs love it. Normally it is kept in a safe or under lock and key.


Mastica is imported from Greece and comes in the form of little dried balls of sap. It has a very distinctive smell and, like Oud and Bahoor, it is placed on the hot charcoal to smoke away, You use Mastica after you have cleared the dining room so as to remove food smells, of which the Arabs are very particular (hence there is always another kitchen out the back of the house for cooking). Bahoor could also be used to remove or mask smells…but never Oud.


Make sure you turn the smoke alarm system off before offering Oud or Bahoor to the guests… ( trust me on that one as well!).

If the guests are men, just add Ghawa at the beginning of their visit, before the juice, and again at the end before offering Oud.

Darren Schneider
(A Butler in Bahrain)


A Duty To The Profession

Much media has occurred of late concerning Mr. Paul Burrell and his book, “A Royal Duty,” excerpts of which have been run in the sensationalizing Daily Mirror tabloid. In addition to using his own observations while serving the Princess, he has drawn upon private letters sent to and from her. Mr. Burrell has stated, “My only intention in writing this book was to defend the princess and stand in her corner.” He also stated it was “nothing more than a tribute to her.”

From a logical standpoint, this raises some questions:

  1. Is anyone actually besmirching Princess Diana’s name, as Mr. Burrell claims? Does anyone actually think badly of her, that Mr. Burrell should feel compelled to intercede? My understanding is that she is one of the most popular women in the world. So why is Mr. Burrell tilting his lance at this windmill?
  2. How does revealing the details of Princess Diana’s private life make people think better of her?
  3. Would Princess Diana welcome the effect Mr. Burrell is creating on her sons, who have stated of Mr. Burrell: “… abuse(d) his position in such a cold and overt betrayal. It is not only deeply painful for the two of us but also for everyone else affected and it would mortify our mother if she were alive today. And, if we might say so, we feel we are more able to speak for our mother than Paul.”

From other statements made by Mr.Burrell, he published his book because he was angry at the Royal Family for not helping him during his time of need while undergoing trial (for taking items belonging to his former employer). His anger may or may not be justified, but the way he chose to remedy the situation was not the path a true butler would have chosen.

From an ethical standpoint, Mr. Burrell (whom I have shared the stage with on a couple of occasions and found to be a very likeable fellow, so I have no personal axe to grind with him) has unfortunately broken the written and unwritten code of conduct of a butler. If every butler made public the private life of his employer, nobody would ever hire a butler.

Put another way, if Mr. Burrell hired a butler, would he feel aggrieved or satisfied if that butler later wrote a book revealing every intimate detail of his private life? It’s the old golden rule at work.

It is for this reason that I feel compelled, in the light of the barrage of media concerning Mr. Burrell’s actions, to reaffirm the basic principle and ethic of butling. It is based on trust and confidence. Writing a book may pay in the short term with wealth and fame, but the profession is weakened with each such book, as is the author. Without maintaining our standards, we will cease to have a profession. This may not concern Mr. Burrell at this present time, but it does impact the rest of us, as well as existing and potential employers. I believe it is important, therefore, that whenever we have an opportunity to comment, we put forward the same message as above.

As for Mr. Burrell and his threat to keep on revealing Princess Diana’s and the Royal Family’s secrets, if he truly feels that he is “the keeper of these (Diana’s) secrets,” then I invite him to do as he says. I also invite him to make up the damage he has done to our profession in some way that will restore trust and peace of mind among employers.

Steven Ferry
October 2003

Butler training Etiquette

Butler’s Professional Code of Ethics


Always act in the best interest of your employer. Placing their interest above your own, perform and maintain the highest level of professional standards in all relationships and duties.

Keep all confidences regarding employer, guests, and other employees.

Serve the guest as the guest chooses to be served.

Lawful Behavior
Be knowledgeable of and ensure compliance with all applicable local and national laws. Abide by the highest ethical, moral and legal standards.

Perform your duties diligently, impartially and responsively, to the best of your ability. Activities outside working hours must not diminish confidence in you or your ability to perform your duties.

Personal Development
Endeavor to improve and enhance both personally and professionally. Strive to increase your service knowledge and improve your skills through training, study and the sharing of information and experiences with your peers.

Work towards achieving a strong foundation of mutual respect between the employer and other employees. Educate and instill a healthy respect for all persons and property associated with the employer and guests.

Professional Relationship
Strive to maintain appropriate relationships and boundaries in all aspects of service. Avoid discrimination based on age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin or family politics.

Commit to the promotion of superlative service, through personal and professional example, mentoring, establishing industry standards, and consistent, active involvement.

Summer 2001