Butler training

No shoes, great Mr. Fridays

Another visit to beautiful Maldives, this time to train in Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice number 1 worldwide: Gili Lankanfushi.

Surrounded by transparent waters, white sand, beautiful corals and a great variety of sea life, this wonderful property is the perfect landmark for the butler’s cousin, the Mr. Friday, who provides the best of the best of services.

Whilst at the property, this instructor had the opportunity to be wowed by some of the Mr. Fridays, managing to really impress someone who is already used to receiving excellent service. Keep on working that way, my good men (and ladies)!

Mr. Fridays team

In this team, we have all sorts of profiles. Whilst all of the Mr. Fridays are openly service-hearted, it is interesting to note how some members are great kid-carers, whilst others are amazing artists, painters, musicians, or photographers. All together, they are a great mix of personalities that can bring about the ultimate wowing experience.

And so high is the attitude of this staff that the instructor couldn’t leave the property without awarding two International Institute of Modern Butlers Gold Seals, as a recognition to the great job they perform and they keep striving to improve.

To you, Yasir and Gasim, thank you for your amazing work!

Gasim, Mr. Calder, Yasir and Mr. Bahauddeen



The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, June 2014

  BlueLogo2011web The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 10, issue 6

International Institute of Modern Butlers

IIMB Chairman Steven Ferry The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012 Message from the Chairman 

One of the traditional duties of the butler, which has fallen by the wayside for the simple reason that it is no longer required in our age of digital communications and improved technology, is the ironing of newspapers. Two reasons are typically given for why this was done in the first place, neither of them correct. If you send in the real reason, we’ll pick out of a bowler hat one name from all correct responses received and send the winner a free copy of his or her choice of either Butlers and Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals (in English, Spanish, Italian, or Russian) or Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators (in either Spanish or English).

But I digress: the reason I am discussing newspapers is to suggest that we all have enough challenges in our lives running households in today’s society, or seeing to guest/passenger needs for butlers operating in hotels, resorts, airplanes, yachts etc., without taking on the burdens of the world as forced upon us by, and reported in, newspapers, TV and online news channels, etc.

In the old days, newspapers were the only way in which news was reported, and you might be pleasantly surprised to know that mayhem and murders were reported simply as brief facts in a couple of short lines on the back page. Until Mr. Hearst introduced the dubious practice of “yellow journalism” to America and the world about 120 years ago, news was focused on a measured relay of the facts. I don’t have to paint the picture of the various news media today, but suffice to say, if you invited a person to your home who behaved like the ravingly bombastic and agenda-ridden news media does today, we would ask them to leave rather promptly! Yet in this day and age, we do invite them in, often many times a day, day after day.

So my suggestion is: try cutting out all bad news bearers, using whatever medium, from your life for a week, and write down how doing so impacted your life and outlook. Then watch and read the news again for a week and note down how that impacted your life. Compare the two sets of notes, and go with what you feel most benefitted you personally and your performance on the job and in life.

What brought this on? Simply a list that someone compiled of newspaper headlines that, while being recognizably ridiculous, nevertheless betray the same regard that almost almost all media outlets and their owners demonstrably hold for the intelligence of their readership/viewers. Plus the fact that most discussed a negative take on life events. Bear in mind, the average size of font used for the actual headlines was 244, not the 12 point of this Journal.

















“MAN WITH 8 DUIs (Driving under the influence [of Alcohol]) BLAMES DRINKING PROBLEM”





“RANGERS GET WHIFF OF COLON” (A baseball player)


I’d be interested in the result of your little experiment, if you’d care to share.

Butlers in the Media

Finally, commercial airlines are bringing the expected level of luxury to the skies with the launch of three-cabin suites offering butler service. Thank you Etihad! The Institute has been beating the drum about this for over five years.

A very interesting article on how Starwood has approached serving those we typically service.

Paul Burrell continues to make himself right via the media for breaking the unwritten (and written) code of the butler. Sad business: he was wrongly accused initially, but instead of taking the high road and restoring his situation financially by all the opportunities that providence throws our way by doing so, he decided to break the golden rule as the best solution for himself and his family: Ethics is those decisions and actions one takes that most benefit the majority of the individuals impacted by the situation and one’s planned actions to be taken. The situation Mr. Burrell found himself in involved many more players than just himself and his family, no matter how important they indeed are. One other point: Mr. Burrell claims that those objecting to his book have not even read it and so are not qualified to judge (a point that normally is valid), for they are missing the fact that he writes about them with “love.” In this, he is missing the point: to state the obvious, nobody should be reading about their private affairs in the media when that information has been collected by somebody who had been brought into the sanctity of the home to serve those being reported on; for the understanding upon which they were invited in includes a trust that their confidences would not be betrayed. Private Service 101/Basics, Mr. Burrell.

Hazards of the profession, it seems—a fellow employee going postal.

A Reuters article on butlers in Italy quotes a gentleman who looks down his nose at other butlers because they did not, as he did, learn the trade by working his way up. He has a point, in that some aspiring butlers may be a few bricks shy of a load when it comes to making the grade; they may lack the necessary apprenticeship to make it via a butler school; and certainly, the butler profession is a lifelong learning experience, as there is so much to discover and improve upon in all the different areas of expertise upon which our profession touches, that rare indeed is the man or woman who can say, “I have now arrived as a fully fledged and competent butler.” But to out-of-hand dismiss anyone wanting to join the profession by attending a school and jumping in the deep end, is to dismiss the practical way that anyone learns any profession today; and also, to dismiss hundreds of potentially intelligent and effective butlers who are quite capable of serving others well. Maybe they would fall on their faces when trying to service those who are well used to experienced butlers, but why assign them such positions straight out of the gate? Let them work up to it after years of experience—a concept the gentleman in question no doubt can agree with. I understand the desire to maintain standards, but this old “pecking order” game of self-importance based on some imagined edge (such as one’s employer’s high title meaning one sits above those serving those of lower rank at the servant’s table at meals) is just a little bit old.

Yet again the butler is drawn upon as the quintessential role when it comes to superb service; and once again, it is in reference to the up and coming skillsets of robots serving hominids.

Baron Shortt

Executive Protection & Security

by Baron James Shortt

“Sorry About That, Boss”

This is the last thing you say before you are out of work.  This is also about the only thing that could be said by those at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas and Prince Harry’ s personal security teams (after Prince Harry was photographed in his suite in a compromising situation)–”Sorry.”

Most of our clients have more money and more power than they know what to do with—and that is fine by me.  It is our job not only to protect their lives and skin, but also their reputations and wallets, so they can keep their money and their power and continue to employ us.

Who took the photos? Why was a cell phone camera anywhere near this man?  All guests could easily have been searched as they entered—it is not like they were wearing much, and their bags could have been searched, too—not just by hand but also with a simple wand. Didn’t bring a metal detection wand? Borrow one from a local agency or buy one at WAL-MART—they only cost $90-$250!

What else is the same size as a cell phone camera? A .22 Derringer, up to 3 shots; a .45 Liberator, 1 shot; a .45 Intimidator from puzzle pieces; knives of all sorts, including titanium ones that most metal detectors miss; a grenade disguised as a cell phone; street drugs and poisons; a pack of genuine Marlboro’s and other deadly things.

This was a red-cheeked moment for a young man, but two big black eyes for the his personal security team and the Wynn security team.

What to do in similar situations?

1. Assemble some gear

• A Faraday Bag, safety pins and tags: Bag all of the cell phones and cameras in a Faraday Bag and give guests a safety pin with a number corresponding to their items.  Cost for Faraday Bags between $50 and $200; safety pins and numbers, deminimus.

• Hand wand, top of the line, $250.00

• Spy camera finder, which also finds sniper scopes, $80.00

2. Set up the safety zone and perimeter and search those entering and exiting.  Also set up a mobile perimeter: grey men and women in appropriate attire mixing with the crowd.  Yep, in swimsuits and having fun all while still watching those around your charge.

3. Pack up lots of good manners and rehearse how to intervene to stop all of the situations that can occur and how to stop offenders—even if they mean no malice.

4. Clear cameras and goodies as people leave.

I am sure the person who had a picture of Harry in the pink made a small fortune by selling the rights to the picture.  Even those who had no malice aforethought can be tempted to sell pictures or information when the price is high enough. We are all human and subject to the pressures of economics. 

Mr. Baron Shortt is the Executive Director of the IBA

Amer1x1inch The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012 Let’s Talk about Spirits, Part 4 

by Amer Vargas 


Today we are in Greece enjoying one of its characteristic spirits, Ouzo.

Plomariou Ouzo, photo by Jack Newton
Plomariou Ouzo, photo by Jack Newton

Ouzo is a clear-as-water transparent drink with more than two centuries of history, thought to have its origins in the tsipouro drink first made by monks in a monastery on Mount Athos, located about one hundred kilometers from Thessaliniki, during the 14th century. These monks wanted to make use of pomace (the residue left after grapes are pressed) instead of discarding it. Thus, they left the mass of pomace to ferment for a few days and then proceeded to distill it several times. The resulting drink had a 40 to 45% average alcohol content.

Following in this tradition, Nikolaos Katsaros opened a distillery in the 19th Century that still produces the famous Tyrnavou Ouzo.

The word “Ouzo” has a peculiar possible origin, coming from the Italian Uso Massalia” (“for use in Marseille”), which was stamped on the best silkworm cocoons that were being exported from Thessaly to the French city during the 19th century. One day, the Ottoman Greek consulate physician Anastas Bey, impressed by the wonderful taste of local tsipouro, exclaimed: “This is uso Massalia, my Friends”—meaning it was of superior quality. Over time, this anecdote spread until that sort of tsipouro gradually became referred to as “iso” or “ouzo”. Another possible origin of the word hails from neighbouring Turkey, where grapes were called uzum in medieval times.

Nowadays, ouzo is produced out of 96% alcohol rectified spirit either from pomace or from wine. Flavorings (which include anethole, anise, cinnamon, coriander, cloves and star anise) are added to the copper still before distillation and help to produce ouzo of 96% alcohol by volume that receives the name of Ouzo Yeast. This brew is then distilled one more time before finally being diluted with either distilled or spring water (for the finest quality Ouzo), or with rectified spirit to finish the production of the drink, leaving it at the typical 40% alcohol content.

Mr. Vargas is the Institute’s Vice President for Europe and can be contacted via AmerVargas at

 Of Butlers and Roses, Part 2 of 20

First Plantings – Preparing to Welcome your New Plant

by GJ dePillis

Wollerton Old Hall, photo by David Austin Roses
Wollerton Old Hall, photo by David Austin Roses


Choose The Spot

Decide on where to plant the rose bush. If replacing a bush that is to be retired because of disease, either replace the soil or plant the new one elsewhere.




Bear Root Roses, photo by David Austin Roses
Bear Root Roses, photo by David Austin Roses

Ordering the Plant

Support local nurseries where they offer high-quality stock and the required variety. If ordering a bare-root rose, ask the breeder when the best time would be to plant for your area. If ordering container roses, of course, planting at any time of the year should be possible.

Preparing the Soil

Prepare the soil before the arrival of the roses by digging a hole about 1 ft (30 cm) deep. Break up the sub-soil to ensure good drainage. Add well-decomposed compost (or rose planting soil from your local nursery) and mix with the top soil.

Planting Day

I like to fill the hole with water before placing the rose into it. If planting container roses, roll the pot on the ground to loosen the sides. With gloved hands, carefully shake the plant out of the pot. Shake off excess dirt from the pot and place into the water-filled hole, then add the soil.

Diagram by David Austin Roses
Diagram by David Austin Roses


Plant bare root roses by spreading out the roots and covering up the main stem in soil.

Establish the Roots

Deep watering the roses may be necessary once a week for a couple months until  fresh leaves can be seen to grow. Once this occurs, the plant can be placed on a regular watering regime.

Refrain from pruning freshly planted roses for about a year, instead allowing the roots to establish themselves.

In our next section, we will cover the different types of roses. Until next time, happy planting!

Ms. dePillis is a freelance contributor to the Journal who is based on the West Coast of the United States. She can be reached via depillis at


Jeff Herman Consulting the Silver Expert

 by Jeffrey Herman

Q: How should I go about insuring my employer’s silver when I need to ship it for repair?

A: Your employer’s homeowner’s insurance may state the value of the piece and whether it is covered off premises.  If the policy is not that specific, try the following:

  1. Identify the object: Coffee pot, sardine server, caviar server, etc.
  2. Identify the country in which it was created;
  3. Identify the maker: Gorham, Tiffany, Georg Jensen, Arthur J. Stone, Paul Storr, etc.;
  4. If you cannot identify the maker, go here;
  5. Identify the metal standard: Sterling, .925, coin, standard, 800, 840, EPNS (Electro Plated Nickel Silver), etc.
  6. Type the above information into your browser’s search window and see if your piece is found.

Mr. Herman continues to offer his services to our readers, for any questions you may have about the care of silver. Either call him at (800) 339-0417 (USA) or email jeff at

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and skills of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resort,  spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts, & cruise ships around the world.
Butler training Training

Service in Asia

I had the particular pleasure of experiencing service levels in Taipei, Taiwan, as well as Phuket, Thailand, recently, and wanted to comment on them.


The staff I trained at Regent Taipei, the premier hotel on the island, were all university graduates, very intelligent, wanting to understand rather than learn by rote, very solicitous, and very professional in their mindset, approach, attitude, and  behaviour. In a way, I found them as a group at the pinnacle of both Western and Eastern cultures and service standards. While every hotel has some individuals of this caliber, what impressed me was how every individual was of this standard. Part and parcel of this focus on professionalism was that there were zero politics and cliques, so that they always worked as a team within and between departments.

The MBJ includes some photographs of these stars. I include just one here of the Senior VP of Operations for the Regent chain, Peter Finamore, and his family, who were kind enough to take me to  Taipei Palace Museum, which has many high-quality Chinese artifacts, as well as a special exhibition of Cartier jewelry. The statue is probably of Confucius.

Taipei is a vibrant city with swarms of kamikaze scooterheads swarming through the street,  friendly people, and much to see. Definitely worth a visit, and I recommend using Regent Taipei, with its array of luxury stores and wide variety of quality restaurants, as your base.




In Phuket, the staff of the soon-to-be opened Regent Phuket Panwa Bay were not as professional in terms of behaviors: innocent and excited would be closer to the reality—but if there be any culture that can surpass even the group dynamic of the team in Taipei, it is the complete teamwork that the Phuket individuals exhibited. It came across as the sheer excitement of being with and helping other people, honestly caring for others and their welfare. I really hope that the coming ASEAN (Asian common market) does not prompt  the Thai people to drop their wonderful friendliness and gentleness or allow it to be changed or pushed aside by workers coming in from China and Vietnam, etc., who may exhibit a more driven work-ethic while lacking the same friendliness and view of life as one constant mutual party—surely one of the reasons tourists come to Thailand.

Some of the butler-team graduates hamming it up at their graduation party—the hotel was still not open, so their party was a bit bare bones—but that didn’t stop them having fun.


Butler training Training

The beautiful sound of the water in Southwestern Turkey

An intense and fruitful week in Belek, near Antalya, located in the Southwest of Turkey. The Susesi Luxury Resort & Spa is one of the most prominent hospitality establishments in the region and this year, their aim is to be nominated as Best Hotel in the area. Even though this is not an easy task, Susesi has many elements in place to achieve this goal: marvelous infrastructures, different restaurants and bars offering international gastronomical experiences and, most important, a staff devoted to pleasing the guests. The latter point was reinforced by the most recent training conducted by the International Institute of Modern Butlers for the butlers that serve guests in the Villas and Suites to a standard of excellence.

The name of the hotel has been coined from the Turkish words “Su” (meaning water) and “Sesi” (meaning sound of). Thus, the name evokes the wonderful spa services available and the pleasure guests can experience through the water, in the form of the different fountains, swimming pools and the beach that are part of the resort.

All participants in the training proved their great abilities to work closely with their VIPs, using their distinct communication skills, observation, anticipation and attention to detail. The trainer left the hotel with the firm conviction that he will soon have to re-issue the certificates earned, to add a Golden Seal so as to acknowledge the great job performed by one or more of these butlers.

As these lines are written, high season has started! The hotel is going to benefit from a high occupancy rate for many months. This will provide the butlers with numerous opportunities to show off not just everything they have just learned, but also their innate kindness and care.

Many thanks to all staff that helped with the organization and good progress of the training, and who took care of the instructor during his stay, including Eric, the photographer, who caught the best moments of the certifications hand-out for posterity with his knowledge and savoir-faire.

Susesi butlers, I wish you the best.

Butler training Training

Sofitel Santa Clara and Cartagena


Time seemed to fly during our recent training sessions in Cartagena. Being in such a wonderful place always leaves a visitor convinced that time passes far too quickly.

While the time allotted for the training seemed too short, it was extremely well utilized. I believe the smiles of the attendants, all of whom received their well-earned certificates on Saturday, 12th May, speak for the whole of the course: each and everyone devoted all their attention and efforts to the Instructor and the subjects being taught. As a result, their progress was outstanding and the “final product” was a great team, ready to surpass clients’ expectations. Thanks to all of you…and not just for your attention, but also for your presents!

The first present was the extraordinary kindness of the staff. Second was the hotel itself: a former convent for the Clarisas nuns, building first started in 1617 and the convent was finally opened in 1621. Hence the name of the hotel’s upscale restaurant, the “dieciséis-veintiuno” (meaning “sixteen twenty-one”), a must-dine-in for any visitor staying in Cartagena. Here, sommelier Oscar Santos introduces, every Wednesday, three new wines from their vast cellar to anyone interested in the subject and so helps deepen the knowledge of any wine amateur. Excellent food and wine combine with the delightful ambience of the restaurant, and are accompanied by lovely music, a pleasing temperature, kind service and wonderful decorations.

Have a close look at the lower part of the restaurant walls, where the local humidity (a constant 90% during my stay) causes a decorative moss growth that creates a one-of-a-kind phosphorescent effect on the gold colored walls. Altogether, an experience that no one should miss.

The always-friendly visits of Mateo, the hotel’s toucan, were another present; some days he was more eager to be photographed than others. The toucanness, named Clarita, was just as beautiful as Mateo, but harder to get along with: it proved almost impossible to have my picture taken with her (at least for me!).

The day before my departure, the hotel staff organized a tour for me around their beautiful city. Located in the north of Columbia, Cartagena is especially known for its port, which has been one of America’s most important ones since the founding of the city by Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia in 1533. In those early days, the port and the city were a continuous target for the British and the French, so it was forced to constantly improve itself to defend its population, its interests and its marketing power. To protect Cartagena from these invaders, wide walls were built with sloped fronts so as to minimize damage if the city were attacked by cannon balls. Likewise, the fortress of San Felipe de Barajas included labyrinth-like hidden passageways to help the defending forces beat back the invading enemy if they ever managed to conquer their quarters.

The beautiful La Popa Convent is located at the highest point of Cartagena, and received it’s name because of its similarity to a ship’s back end when viewed on arrival to the city from the sea. The Augustine Fathers founded the convent in the early 17th century. Nowadays it is home to the unique Santa Clara altarpiece that was originally kept at the Santa Clara Convent, which today houses the beautiful Sofitel Santa Clara Hotel.

There are still more sights to enjoy in the streets of Cartagena, which are lined with beautiful houses one to three stories high, depending on the county they are built in. The number of stories was a mark of the acquisitive power of the owners. However, what is common to all properties are the bright colors on the outside walls and the beautiful architecture dating back to colonial times, always accompanied by the natural green of the indigenous trees and shrubs.  All in all, Cartagena was truly an unforgettable experience.

Published Articles

Luxury Hotels: The Butler is here to Stay, But will the Guests be Happy Driving Fords?

“If hotels can have ridiculous things like butlers, they can certainly have bed bug inspectors,” bemoaned one hotel magazine editor in December, 2010. This might well be the epitaph for butler service in hotels, as it is too commonly practiced: in booming Asia, seemingly one-for-one, butler training programs have gone to the cheapest bidder who, perforce, is obliged to reduce training to well below the irreducible minimum. Against this backdrop, we have to wonder if butlers really are here to stay. I believe they are, but they need a make-over.”

The last project we were asked to bid on in Asia was to train 100 butlers at a time for 3 hours each. Anything related to understanding what a butler is, how he thinks, acts, his persona, goes right over the heads of those enquiring, who can only think in terms of their employees learning rote procedures. The essence of the butler is glossed over, missed, rejected in the drive to offer butler service in name alone.

Having written the book on hotel butlers that has been used to create many butler departments around the world, one has to wonder if the whole concept of the hotel butler has been a failed experiment, a mistake, simply unleashing a Pandora’s box of tired knock-offs—like the inferior and short-lived knock-offs that pour out of Asia, displacing Western manufacturers and offering consumers choices between cheap knock-offs; or is it a work in progress that necessarily involves a clash of cultures in the face of which, a calm insistence on standards being met will win the day, eventually?

One hopes the latter, but the economic pressures on hotels to train their staff without an adequate budget and of butler trainers to take any work means there are precious few troops fighting on the side of quality. When I first began training hotel staffs as butlers, the program was one month long with follow-up visits. Keep this in mind as you read the next few paragraphs.

The pressure to institute butler service pushes up against the lack of budget and results in the solution to take the training in-house and fudge the program, much in the same way that some hotels are looking for any green certification to look green, rather than institute an honest-to-goodness program that will cost some money upfront to save a lot in the long run and reduce the ecological footprint of their facility. One famous chain, for instance, was given three of the Hotel Butler books as a first step in engaging the Institute’s training services, and from those created its own program, which ended up being a 2-3 Butler rating on a scale of 0-5. A start, to be sure, but hardly doing justice either to the full range of services a butler can provide in a hotel, nor to the guests, nor to the stature of the brand.

The same DIY impulse can be seen in the hotel that justified to the monetary powers-that-be the bringing in of an Institute trainer on the basis that representatives from other locations in its chain could also attend and then demand the trainer’s materials so they could (as it finally came out) train others as butlers back at their hotels. Yet the training had been designed as adequate for the half-dozen butlers from the host hotel, and the addition of a further 14 students stretched the trainer sufficiently thin that it was hard to provide the needed practical training for any of the students, let alone train them to train others.

In another example, a government training agency made permission for the Institute to provide training to a large hotel contingent upon its own trainers sitting in and cribbing the materials verbatim—while not engaging in any of the practical training—with the expectation that they be able to offer the course themselves as the sole supplier to other hotels in the country.

In one famous hotel, a VIP guest asked a second butler to pack his suitcases, giving him instructions on how he wanted it done—the first butler presumably not meeting the guest’s expectations. The guest then sat for the next twenty minutes, engrossed in the second butler’s technique (paying tribute to the guest’s request while moving beyond it to the optimal way of packing a suitcase). The guest response: “I’ve never seen anyone pack a suitcase like that, wonderful!” The difference between the butlers: The second had been trained properly, the first had been trained in-house by butlers who had been trained properly. And as the second butler admitted, he may have excelled in the guest’s eyes, but suitcase packing had not been his strong suit during his training.

It is generally and correctly perceived that hotel butlers are a nice idea for luxury hotels, an adaptation of the superior service to be found in the private sector—whether those individuals are called Butlers or Personal Hosts or anything else. However, one fundamental reality has been overlooked, the enforcement of which is sabotaging the program: in private service, money is no object when it comes to servicing the employer and his or her guests. In bringing the butler model into hotels, we run into an environment where money is the object (especially when the hotel is owned by investors rather than hoteliers), and increasingly so in the sense of money being a barrier when an economy—local, regional, national, or international—hits rough weather.

This fundamental contradiction and oxymoron is taking the wind out of the sails of the hotel butler concept. We are trying to make a Rolls Royce out of a Ford. We are asking swine to appreciate pearls—not intending to be insulting by the metaphor, but to borrow a particularly evocative image. Are butlers truly only for the extremely wealthy? One suspects so, although many a not-so-wealthy guest has been thrilled by butler service precisely because it is an exciting upgrade, whereas the really wealthy generally have become inured to, or merely expect to receive, butler style service.

However, where the rubber meets the road, or the butler the guest, the truth is that superlative service wins loyalty, (even if begrudgingly in the worst case of the most hardened guests who, even while grumbling habitually, do return because “the hotel with butler service is the least disappointing of the hotels”).

The initial vision of tiered service in a hotel, offering the very high-end suites butler service, is still totally valid. Perhaps where the concept went off the rails was when hotels tried to offer (and finance) butler service in all rooms/suites/villas, and so found such programs overly expensive. Many years ago, I consulted the flagship of a famous luxury brand on their butler options: their grand hotel had about 4 five-star hotels moving in to their city, presenting competition for the first time. Even with only about 60 suites, full-time, dedicated butler service for all suites would require over 100 butlers and be prohibitively expensive. Whereas dedicated butler service (meaning one per suite) for the top few suites, providing the full range of butler service (and earning them a top 5-Butler rating) would have a) been economically feasible, b) provided the level of service that kind of guest would expect, and c) would have helped maintain standards for butler service in hotels and made it something desirable, rather than something annoying.

Maybe “A Butler for all” is the basic misconception in importing the butler concept into a hotel. In other words, if you can’t afford the real thing, nobody is fooled by the Ford that has been pimped into a Rolls Royce. We are allowing the desire to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace to push us into this whole culture of Economy Butlers, Ford Butlers, Butler-Service Wannabes, all of which is self-defeating and oxymoronic. What can possibly be special or noteworthy about something that isn’t?
We have come this far, and too far, to drop the hotel butler concept. The genie is out of the bottle, we need to stay the course and keep pushing for perceptions to change and standards to be raised. Meaning a move away from scaled-back butler service for all guests, and minimalistic in-house or scaled-down-to-the-point-of-ludicrousness training based on drumming in how to perform a few rote actions into butlers hopelessly at sea about who they are and why. It means concentrating the butler service offering to the top suites to justify high rack-rates, as well as any guest in any other suite who is willing to pay the premium. It means training butlers who really are butlers in mind and spirit, the heart and soul of discretion, knowledge, anticipation, invisible service. It means reaffirming the butler as Rolls Royce in the mind of the butler, management, owner, and guest.

Whether or not this transformation transpires rather depends on the economy, guest demand, and whether hotels recognize a demographic that wants a) to be pampered (discreetly, not conspicuously) while b) still receiving value for money.

As the NYU’s June 2010 International Hotel Investors’ Conference showed when Bill Fischer stood as a lone voice decrying the focus on finance when good service, which ultimately drives the bottom line in a service industry, seems to take a back seat to investor returns, especially when so many hotels are owned by investor groups rather than hoteliers who really live and breath service. And there’s the rub.

How will this actually play out? My sense is butlers will divide into the Rolls Royce and the Rolls Royce Wannabes: a small but exclusive selection of venues will provide genuine butler service to some of their guests in larger resorts, or to all the guests in smaller resorts/villas.

And in the rest, butlers will be commodities, marketing gimmicks churning out the irreducible minimum, the formulaic attempts at one-size-fits-all “wowing” of guests that bows to economic pressures and the needs of mass tourism.

The danger is that the latter will so besmirch the reputation of the profession and service offering, that the whole idea will fall into disrepute and be abandoned.
And that would be a shame, because butlers really do represent a quantum leap in service potential for travelers…offering a suite of en-suite services that nobody else can come close to offering in a hotel environment. It is hard to see how the recently conceived hotel butler, whether called a butler or a personal valet, in providing such personalized service, would not be an integral part of every hotel brand claiming to offer luxury services. The butler is here to stay. The questions are, which hotels will strive to achieve the real thing, and which will be content to offer cheap knock-offs? If this article reaches anyone already invested in, or planning to be invested in, such personalized service, it would be salutary to request a consultation from one of the more reputable butler establishments and then invest in the personnel, equipment, and training that will result in real butler service—for that, surely, is the goal for guests and brand alike?

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.