Published Articles

Not All Butlers Are Created Equal

In an industry that is completely premised on the idea of service and in which service is a key differentiator, increasing numbers of high-end hoteliers have decided to institute butler service. So far so good for a number of reasons, such as raised rack rates, customer loyalty, enhanced word of mouth and, on the employee side, greater retention and raised standards facility wide.

But the reality is somewhat different, as anyone who has experienced butler service in a number of hotels and resorts, can attest. Not all butler departments have been created equal. Sometimes the butlers are invisible; sometimes they are simply pool attendants with a new name badge: «Pool Butler.» Or any of the myriad of other inventive ways marketing departments and managers have devised to siphon some of the prestige of the profession. While real butlers appreciate the recognition afforded their profession when offerings of superior service are personified by a butler figure, they are not themselves served well in the long run by this cheapening of their profession. More importantly, guests can recognize a gimmick when they see one and are left in a poor frame of mind at being handed a Mickey Mouse version of the service they had expected and paid for when booking into a facility.

Where butler departments are established, they enjoy varying degrees of success based on their adherence to the basic purpose of butling: the providing of a superb and seamless service that knows and anticipates guest needs. The sources of failure, then, include anything that cuts across this goal. Such as: not selecting proven service professionals for these positions; not training them on the persona, mindset, communication skills, and service skills of the butler in a hospitality setting; not launching the butler program to the rest of the employees in such a way that they support it, rather than viewing it as a threat to their income stream; trying to cut costs by cutting service, resulting in harried butlers providing an irreducible minimum of service to too many guests; not organizing the butler department in such a way that it can run itself, with butler coordinators, runners if needed, head butler, a deputy and supervisors.

As the standard setter for the profession, the International Institute of Modern Butlers, based in Florida, has therefore formulated a rating system that parallels AAA and Mobil ratings but which is focused on butler service in hospitality venues. The purpose of the rating is to help guests make informed decisions about the nature of the butler service being offered by a venue they may be considering; and to assist management and butler employees of those venues in improving their butler offering.

The ratings range from «No Butler» to «Five Butlers» and while assessments are being made initially on a self-assessment basis mixed with assessments by butler trainers around the world, the intention is for the assessments to be made ultimately by the traditional organizations that travelers turn to for information on venues they are planning to visit.

A brief overview of each level (the specifics of these levels run to thirteen pages, so are not the subject of this article) are as follows:

No Butler
The butlers are called such, but have no training or understanding of the nature or skill-sets of a butler, often having a modifier in front of their title, such as «fireplace butler» or «technology butler» or «baby butler.»

One Butler
There is literally one butler on the floor, rushing to service guests who are kept waiting or improperly serviced. There may be more than one butler, but training on the skills of the butler or the grace of a butler are lacking, even though some of the service is being provided.

Two Butlers
The butler-to-guest ratio is still too strained, so guests are kept waiting or not fully serviced, but basic elements of butler service are performed and the butlers have been trained in their profession either in schools or on site. No night butler on duty and no butler coordinators to connect guests with butlers.

Three Butlers
There are enough butlers in shifts to manage guests, including night butlers, butler coordinators, and a head butler. The Butler department exists as its own department, not under Housekeeping, Concierge, Room Service, F&B, or any other department. Guests are offered a good range of butler services and these are satisfactorily executed. Butler service has been established and fine-tuned with the assistance of trained professionals.

Four Butlers
Butlers provide excellent, often invisible service to guests who are wowed by the attention to detail. Includes a full complement of butlers who have sufficient presence with the rest of the employees that they have raised their level of service and can obtain instant service for guests. Butler Department personnel receive ongoing training and quality control to keep them sharp and there is a Deputy for the Head Butler who facilitates this training and other organizational steps to keep the Butler Department running smoothly.

Five Butlers
Guests have their own private butler to attend to their every (legal and ethical) needs and desires, including accompanying them on excursions as chauffeur and guide. In the case of guests lacking companions, this level of service may extend to the butler being a companion for a guest, even being skilled enough to play such as golf or tennis (but sufficiently diplomatic always to let the guest win by a narrow margin‹and never crossing the line). Where spa service is offered, the butler may also be the spa therapist or so knowledgeable in spa methodology that he or she presents a seamless experience for the spa-going guest.

Expect to see these ratings in use increasingly as the better hotels and resorts recognize the value of making their level of butler service known. If those facilities seeking to ride on the coattails of the butler profession then become earnest about their levels of butler service, then both they and their guests will benefit.

The above article was published on September 18, 2005 in 4Hoteliers on-line magazine.