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Brand Butler: Infusing the Butler into Hotel Brands

Butlers first began to appear in hotels a quarter of a century ago. However, they have been in service for a millennium and have become synonymous with the highest level of service to employers and guests alike. How butlers reached such giddy heights is not the subject of this article, but how their standards of service are being recognized and adopted as the most important consumer trend in 2010 is what you will find in the following few paragraphs. High-end hospitality providers and those who care to provide superior service will recognize their own standards being validated, and it is to them this article is dedicated.

Despite national media attention, the Ritz Carlton South Beach has had a perennial problem keeping its “Tanning Butlers” over the past seven years that it has offered this service: modeling agencies keep snapping them up.

Hotels interested in attracting the wealthier set have been creative for the last two decades in leveraging the cachet (prestige) of the butler: nanny butler, fireplace butler, technology butler, pool butler, dog butler, and maybe you have others to add. All positions characterized by the offering of a narrowly defined service that has nothing to do with butlers, but the implication being that the same level of service is provided.

At the same time, the International Institute of Modern Butlers, as the guardian, so to speak, of the standards of butling, has been busy decrying this dilution of the butler name into a commercial opportunity. The Institute offered the Hotel Butler Rating system precisely to differentiate the serious efforts of hotels with real butler service from these “wannabes,” so that guests would be clear on the degree of butler service being offered by any hotel they planned to visit.

The irony, however, is that the Institute has also reached beyond the narrow confines of its own profession, and even its cousin, the hospitality industry, with a persistent, and some might say unwelcome, drum beat over the last six years: the need to export the mindset of the butler to all service industries (any business or organization, large or small, whether government bureaucracy, hospital, airline or hotel staffs, etc.)—wherever one person provides another with a product or service—as the biggest-return strategy for improving the service experience and loyalty of clients, guests, customers, patients, etc.

A case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it, too?

The Butler Goes Mainstream

Perhaps; certainly of a conflicted message of “brand name protection versus promulgation of what the brand stands for.” Fortunately, helped bring into focus and so resolve these unaligned positions in its April 2010 issue, identifying the most important trend in the consumer world to be Brand Butler.’s hundreds of trend watchers in 120 countries actually recognized this emerging trend back in 2007 (when they coined Brand Butler).

How do they define Brand Butler, why is it so important to the corporate and hospitality world, and how does it manifest in, and relate to, the hospitality industry specifically?

Brand Butler is a brand that is brand new and a thousand years in the making. It is the recognition that increasingly, brands are morphing into offering services that assist consumers/clients/guests, rather than the old model of selling them a lifestyle and identity. This translates into less “guff” (the promotion of reverential, soft-focus utopias) and a return to more down-to-earth relationships and practical service offerings. It is the recognition that the butler mindset includes valuable traits in the mind of the consumer, and so of any service or product provider: a high understanding of the client/consumer/guest/patient, a high degree of respect and liking (even for unlikable individuals), and a superior ability to communicate. It is a tried and proven path to the solicitous (showing interest or concern) service that has highlighted as being the missing ingredient, or the next big breakthrough, in servicing customers, consumers, guests, patients, et al.

In the words of

With consumers looking increasingly for control, for convenience, for assistance, and yes, to be cared for (both offline and online), brands need to shift their product development and advertising prowess to brand-consistent services (and an accompanying butlering mindset) that assist consumers in making the most of their daily lives. For brands, this means that there are now endless creative and cost-effective ways to deliver on this need for assistance, for butlers….

“It has never been more important to turn your brand into a service. Jaded, time-poor, pragmatic consumers yearn for service and care…. Basically, if you’re going to embrace one big consumer trend this year, please let it be Brand Butlers… we believe that now is the time to go all-out on ‘serving is the new selling.’”

As a side note, one could ask “why Brand Butler and not Brand Concierge, as concierge is another term that has been adopted by other industries as a flattering descriptor. For instance, Westin introduced Running Concierges a couple of years ago to accompany guests walking around the city. Apart from the obvious alliterative advantage, we can only suggest that butlers have been around longer than concierges and so come more readily to mind when talking of solicitous service.

Looking for Brand Consistency

When talks of “butler mindset,” however, one may wonder exactly what that is in the corporate world, and hospitality in particular, over and above finding ways to assist the client, customer, guest, or patient “consumer.”

If one simply create applications, policies, and SOPs for employees to implement (such as Adidas’ Tokyo store where customers can use showers, locker rooms, attend workshops, and even design their own shoes or rent running gear), then one may well still be falling short, because the butler mindset is not an app, policy or SOP, but a mindset (that is obviously best supported by apps, policies, and SOPs that are aligned with and reinforce the mindset). A mindset can design something to reflect that mindset, but it requires a mind to have a mindset, and that, in Adidas’ case, would be not just the designer of the services offered, but also the front-line employees providing the services.

In other words, the app developers and managers need to understand and adopt the mindset, in order to then create the apps and SOPs; and beyond that, customer service employees in each company need to understand and adopt the mindset in order to apply the procedures that have been conceived with the butler mindset in mind, and so bring about brand consistency. Which is to say, the trend does not just impact product development and advertising, as outlined by, but also the actual service provided when it is person-to-person.

Otherwise, launching Brand Butler as a brand strategy may well result in confused ideas, SOPs, product and service offering design at the front end, and poor service at the back end for lack of extending the Brand Butler concept through to customer service—and therefore a lack of brand consistency that jaded customers will reject as care without soul or passion.

The main challenge in achieving this brand consistency is translating the butler mindset into practice drills, role-playing, and one-on-one procedures that bring about the required mindset and smooth communication skills upon which genuine service is predicated.

For more information on this trend, and examples of services major brands are providing in their pursuit of Brand Butler, see

The latest (mid-May) example of Brand Butler that came across my desk(top screen) is Monkey Butlers. The mind boggles, but the nod to butlers comes from Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers For The Disabled, which trains South American Capuchin monkeys, at a cost of $45,000 a head, to help amputees and paralyzed soldiers from the Afghan and Iraqi wars. The vets shine a laser pen at an item and the monkey butler will fetch it (or switch it on, for instance, in the case of a light switch; or open it, in the case of a peanut butter jar, etc.). Assistance on a practical level with an exclamation point.

Hitching onto the Brand Butler Star in Hospitality

Leisure services already see this Brand Butler service-over-sales approach, in such as Ski Butlers (in ten locations across the US), who are front-runners in ski services in the country.

Another recent application of Brand Butler comes from the venerable Lanesborough in Knightsbridge, London, one of the first adopters of real butlers in hotels, which initiated its Picnic Butler in May, 2010 to deliver the “ultimate hassle free picnic” at $400 a pop to “cash-rich, time-poor picnickers.” This, at first blush, would seem to weaken the status of their “Butler Butler,” but it need not. The Picnic Butler lays out the picnic in Hyde Park with crystal glasses, china, rugs, and cloth napkins, serves champagne and dishes such as Cornish poached lobster with Beluga mayonnaise, balotine of truffled foie gras, and Cropwell bishop stilton trifle with pear marmalade and oatmeal sable.

This bright and mouth-watering idea, most probably conceived over some beers by marketing rather than within the bowels of the Lanesborough kitchens, is something they are selling; but it is also, given the solicitous execution (more than the use of the word “butler”) of the service, a Brand Butler-oriented move designed for its particular guest list.

Le Richemond in Switzerland, likewise, recently instituted a “Watch Butler” to indulge the horological aficionados amongst its guests.

Each of these brands elected to use the word “butler” in their newly created titles…a tendency peculiar to hotels in the main. Do we now need to add a suffix to each hotel title: “Receptionist Butler,” “Valet Butler,” “Housekeeping Butler,” etc. in order to signify that we are serious about Brand Butler?

No need to answer this question. It is the actual service that counts, not assertions of service embedded in titles. This issue, however, might well be the next windmill toward which the Institute will tilt its lance.

In the final analysis, not all hotels can afford to, or will find it appropriate to its guest lists, to field a butler department. But they cannot afford to miss out on the Brand Butler trend with the rest of its employees. A genuinely caring mindset is part of the butler mindset, but there is a lot more to understanding and adopting the butler mindset. It is not something that occurs with a few days of ongoing training. But any attention to the subject helps.

Does Brand Butler represent a long stretch for hotels? Not high-end ones, where the effort is always to find something that will make the guest experience more pleasant and desirable. There is the butler in everyone in hospitality—the honesty, the creativity, the caring, the social graces, the phlegmatic (calm disposition); it is rare to find someone with all these qualities who is able to keep them turned on day in, day out, despite all the reasons not to; and rarer still to find the entire team like this. All of which reinforces the value of the butler mindset, and the skills to achieve it, in its various manifestations to hotels and resorts around the world.

Butlers, however, having been at it longer than hotels, may be able to offer pointers to reinforce the existing push.

Copyright © Steven Ferry 2010 All Rights Reserved

This article also appeared in the July 2010 issue of

Published Articles

The Future Hospitality Professional

As adventurous as it may be to predict the future, there is no doubt in my mind that we stand today at the same point as Dick Tracy when he conversed through a two-way, walkie-talkie video wrist-watch to a remote caller six decades ago. In other words, the prediction that hospitality professionals of the future will read the minds of guests may sound a far-fetched fantasy and possibly even ludicrous, but it will come to be. Why? Because it has been done to some extent for centuries by that quintessential service provider, the British butler, when in top form; and because the technology to bring all service professionals to that pinnacle already exists.

Here, we are not talking some corporate formula for guest interaction that too often results in canned phrases and plastered-on smiles; or a consultant guru’s mantra for superior guest services that seeks to put a datum where intelligent observation and action should be. We are talking information relay followed by drilling on the “how to’s” resulting in an ability gained. It’s nothing mystic and has no relationship to any psychological mumbo-jumbo, but down-to-earth application of workable principles resulting in guests being properly assessed and treated in a way that they find pleasurable, which always leaves them feeling better than before the service was administered.

Such guest service employees of the future will be closer to Life Consultants than room service and will care as much about guests as their mothers. So says the crystal ball. Predicting the future can be fun. Take the “Future Holiday Forum” held in London, England recently for leaders in travel, technology and design. Their “2024: A Holiday Odyssey” according to a report predicted the future hotel for remote destinations as a foldable/ transportable, self-sustaining, low-environmental-impact pod on stilts in which guests could choose the images to be projected on the walls. The technology for such hotels already exists.

The line-up of future hotels that will similarly soon be with us includes underwater hotels and airship hotels that permit scenic views as one travels leisurely to one’s next destination. Resorts in space no doubt lie in the future, incorporating spinning rooms for all the comforts that we have come to expect from living with gravity.

As for space-age technology addressed at specific hospitality issues, we already have 3-D hologram teleconferencing for hotels specializing in conference services. We will soon see smart cards containing all information on a guest, including likes and dislikes, as well as credit card information that will no doubt make check-in and customized servicing of guests easy.

Other technologies to be introduced into the hospitality sector include robotics for cleaning and check-in; biometric security such as retina scans for entrance to rooms and access to safes. Then there is nanotechnology (manipulating and manufacturing at the molecular level). While we are close to imprinting electronic equipment onto our clothing and even skins, there is talk of using nanotechnology to reconfigure rooms per guest wishes, transmogrifying the furniture, fixtures and decorations at the push of a button (so to speak).

However, notice that the talk of the future is invariably in the realm of gadgetry and machinery. Whatever happened to the human element? Are we giving up on our fellow man? Are we just using him or her until some machine can replace him not just on the factory floor but also in the giving of service? Just as Astounding Science Fiction moved beyond machines to focus on the human element regarding things from outer space during the 1930s, so I believe we need to move into improving the human element, rather than always focusing on the mechanical and even trying to substitute machines for humans. And by improving the human element, I mean moving beyond formulas and mantras to increase employee intelligence and ability to act self-determinedly, rather than other-determinedly by rote.

Butler as Future Service Standard

Whether or not Mr. Horst Schulze, former chairman of Ritz-Carlton, was serious when he announced his plans to introduce a six-star hotel chain that was defined in part by private butlers, he was signaling a recognition of the value of a certain something that classic British butlers bring to the guest experience.

So what’s the connection between the British butler of the past and present, and the future hospitality professional? How does one move service employees from transient lower-paid wage earners to professional service providers acting with pride and knowledge, more akin to Life Consultants than room service and caring as much for guests as their own mothers?

Try the code and standards of the traditional butler: trustworthiness, loyalty, attentiveness to guests predicting what they want and attention to detail in providing it before they even know they want it. Always calmly smoothing events into a successful conclusion with a can-do attitude and real caring for the guest; social graces, treating each person with dignity; the soul of discretion; never crossing the invisible line between friendliness and familiarity, attitude free; a superb organizer who always achieves targets set; able to deal with the raw emotions of upset staff, imperious or discourteous guests, indignant bosses, shifty contractors and suppliers and the best-laid plans falling apart at the last moment-all the while maintaining his composure, his desire to provide the best possible service, and ensuring events turn out satisfactorily. Who finally has the energy and humility to ask, “Was there anything I could have improved about my service today?”

That’s the basic butler persona and mindset. But beyond that, we need something more to create the service provider of the 21st Century.

Current Best Practices in guest services result in an industry effort to have all guests greeted cheerfully or enthusiastically. That’s fine for employees who are naturally cheerful or enthusiastic. But how fake the result when they are not. And is it really appropriate when every guest is so greeted when they are neither cheerful nor enthusiastic at that particular moment nor even as a general rule. One size does not fit all.

What is needed is an understanding of the human mind and character, how their emotions dictate their attitudes, and what they will find acceptable to talk about, consequently, and at what emotional tone.

Anyone who thinks that “emotion” is the opposite of “rationality” won’t be tracking with the above. “Emotions” actually refer to the measurable wavelengths emitted by an individual as an expression of his or her like or dislike for various subjects. Some men are enthusiastic about football or conservative about receiving that promotion. Some women grieve over the loss of a relative or dissolve in raptures over a friend’s new hair-do. The exhilaration of an individual who has just won the Lotto can be contrasted rather handily with the apathy exhibited by an individual who has nowhere else to go for help and has given up. Or take the boredom a man might exhibit during a business conference as it enters its fourth hour, or the covert hostility (the equivalent of the phrase “passive aggressive”) exhibited by a woman as she smiles crookedly while saying “What a lovely dress. I saw one just like it in the thrift store yesterday.”

There is more, though: being in the moment or now with guests. Presenting a guest with an attitude, or dealing with them while one’s attention is elsewhere, completely misses the boat when it comes to making them the most important element in a hospitality setting. So the question is: how does one anchor employees in the now? It’s easy. If you know how.

And when you have that licked, you will find employees will be there enough to observe what is right in front of their faces, compute intelligently, and then act effectively to predict and cater to guest needs, and more importantly, read their mind.

And that is why the future of hospitality lies with the ancient butler tradition, married to the latest in “mind-reading” technology to better read and serve guests. Fit that into the equation, and we will find those floating or space-based hotels, as well as the regular landlubber hotels of today, better serviced and continuing to attract guests who prefer the human touch. Robots for humans is about as satisfying as petting a Sony RoboDog instead of your loyal, lively and loving Lab.

This article also appeared in the Hotel Business Review section of Hotel Executive on-line (August 2005), the October 2005 issue of Hotel Online and in

Butler training

The Word Was Butler

Last month, we discussed other names for “butlers.” Of equal interest, perhaps, are the variations of the word “butler” itself. There are many more ways in which it can be used, and if these are brought back into use, it will help anchor the profession more firmly into society.

“Butle,” we know of as the verb, but so is the word “butler.” For instance, “Every great house should be butlered (served by a butler).” Or “Would you like to butler today?” meaning “take charge of and serve liquor.” A variant spelling is “buttle,” meaning “to pour a drink” or “do a butler’s work.”

The fairer sex within our ranks has been known as a “butleress” for the last four centuries (and for the record, the spelling of our title used to be “buteler” or “butelere”).

Like the word “stardom,” “butlerdom” means “of the estate or class of profession of butler.”

We even have a couple of adjectives for our profession: “Butlerian,” as in the sentence, “He worked with strict attention to his butlerian duties.”

And thanks to Aldous Huxley, we can consider using the word “butlerish” to mean “characteristic of a butler.” He wrote in 1923, “He moved with a certain pomp, a butlerish gravity.”

“Butler” can be used figuratively, meaning to bring something in the same way as the butler brings the welcome wine. As in the 15th Century example of “humor being someone’s butler,” always serving them with fun.

Along the same line is the phrase, “butler’s grace,” meaning “a drink.” Sample sentence: “Would you care for a butler’s grace?”

The butler used to be the high-ranking official in charge of the importation and supply of wine to the royal table. No big surprise there, but how about “butlerage?” That was the duty every importer of twenty tons or more of wine into England, had to pay the King’s butler. The duty amount? Two tons of wine!

And talking of perks on the job, the “butler’s box” was a box in which card players put a portion of their winnings at Christmas time, to give to the butler. For those who don’t know the custom because it is probably dying out even in England, Boxing Day is called that because the day after Christmas, vendors such as the milkmen and “sanitation engineers” (dustmen) with regular deliveries or pick-ups for households, visit each house with a box, into which homeowners put gratuities for the servicemen’s work over the prior year. So butlers, no doubt, worked out a way they could have their own box, and without having to traipse around the neighborhood to fill it up!

The “butlerage” actually had more than one meaning: it was once used to describe the office of the King’s butler, and thereafter grew to mean the office of any butler. The physical office in which he sat was called the “butlery.”

We refer loosely these days to the butler’s office as the “butler’s pantry,” but it was originally, and still is in many houses, the room where the plate, glass, etc. were kept.

And so we conclude past uses of the word “butler.” Maybe we can resurrect some, and certainly, language being a living beast, we can create new ones. The old ones have centered around the concept of wine and its serving. Maybe with the butler’s duties being so much more these days, we can create new definitions and have them accepted into the common language. If so, would be better coming from butlers doing good works, rather than infamous activities designed to grab the public spotlight (such as “Doing a butler,” which might mean “telling all to the media about the boss for great profit.”).

So, does anyone have any suggested new uses of the word “butler?”