The Modern Butlers’ Journal, January 2016, International Institute of Modern Butlers

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

The Modern Butlers’ Journal volume 12, issue 1

International Institute of Modern Butlers

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

Message from the Chairman

Another of those relatively rare instances where butlers spar publicly with their employers through the media and legally through the courts comes to us this month from Hollywood, only this is not a movie, but real life. This one, like all the other examples, is one where the butler community loses face because of the actions of those who never should have been butlers, and only the lawyers and muck-racking tabloids win.

If an employer is not remunerating as promised or expected, then sort it out privately or find another employer. If an employer blows up at you, then that is what that stiff upper lip is all about, and the age-old standby, maintaining your dignity. Not to mention having an ounce of understanding and compassion—yes, employers are human and sometimes fly off the handle. What are you doing demonstrating human frailties, too? You are meant to be a butler: above all that.

Butling is not all about posing with blingy bosses and filing your nails every day while collecting a stratospheric salary, no matter how many articles and promotional pieces are written painting such a picture. As anyone who really is a butler knows, there are tougher moments to work through, and the reward for doing so is a stronger you and a stronger relationship with the employer.

For the butler involved, and any of the same mindset, time to grow up and join the ranks of real butlers, or quit while you are still ahead.

As for the rest of us, may 2016 be all you wish it to be!

Letters to the Editor

“I had a conversation with someone about how butlers are addressed by their surname, but without an honorific [i.e. Mr./Mrs]. Will you explain why butlers (and household servants generally) are addressed by surname without honorific?” JW

Ed: I have no certain idea, but can say that in earlier centuries in England, members of the upper or middle classes talking to the lower class, or senior officers to junior officers, always referred to them without an honorific, as a subtle way of distinguishing classes or seniority. Likewise, the juniors/lower classes always addressed the seniors in station or rank by the appropriate honorific; as well as addressing each other with honorifics as a professional mark of respect. 

I know this applies to the UK, but have no information on other countries. The same convention existed at public (private boarding) schools, where students were (at least in the 1960’s when I attended) addressed simply by their surname.

“Subtle signaling of seniority” is the short answer, but I have no reference from an authority such as Emily Post to confirm my opinion. Which brings me to another potential resource for you: The various schools of etiquette and/or protocol, who beyond teaching proper forms of address, may know the whys and wherefores. Hope this helps somewhat.

“I just finished reading your article in the International Luxury Hotel Association, Issue 3, and wanted to say thank you. It is a wonderful, much-needed reminder.” NS

Butlers in the Media

Taking our Name in Vain

Craig’s List carries an advertisement for an Airport Butler for a Concierge company offering “personalized service and extra care when arriving, departing or connecting through an airport.”

Also appearing on Craig’s List is a Shaving Butler—a mirror with small draws beneath it, that is placed on top of a chest of drawers—perhaps from the days when shaving was done using a bowl of water.

Then we have a Toilet Butler, holding extra rolls and magazines. And a Bar Butler, which is a cloth to place over brushes used for cleaning glasses in a bar.

A Bike Butler is advertised to hang up a bicycle for storage—not perhaps realizing some other imaginative soul already calls his or her bicycle stand a Bike Butler.

And from the UK, we find Wellness Butlers, also a Concierge service, being offered at some hotels.

The whole point of marketing is that one finds a way to stand out from the crowd. One would have thought, after decades of marketeers asking themselves what represents a superior service experience for their customers, with which they can identify their product or service, that they push beyond the first idea that comes into their mind and try something less trammeled and tired.

Temp Butlers

$12 an hour to be “a butler” in a banqueting company in London….

A Japanese gentleman is interviewed about a butler company he has established from nothing (no training), and apparently turned into quite a success in Japan. He is joined by quite a few others around the world riding on the coat tails of the butler profession while having no idea about butling, but has succeeded, it seems, because he is passionate about service. No doubt it helps when the clientele have Japanese anime and manga as their reference point, and it might not work with well-heeled clients who expect a level of sophistication and knowledge that may be missing in his untrained personnel; but if one is providing superior service, then passion and a basic understanding of discreet service, which this gentleman seems to have, are the best starting point. We wish him well.

And finally, a good article on butlers and technology.

The second and final installment of the Chairman’s article, Would You Like Your Service Today Live or Programmed, Madam? has been published, initially by Hotel Business Review magazine in November. The entire article can be read here.

Swarovski swan


 More of Mr. Gutman’s custom-made soap and fruit creations to add a little something to the guest experience.Reindeer

Amer1x1inch The Modern Butlers’ Journal for Service Professionals Worldwide, July, 2012

Let’s Talk about Mixology, Part 8

by Amer Vargas 

The Three Wise Men

Happy 2016!

Three WisemenThe arrival of the New Year doesn’t bring to an end the Christian Holiday season in some parts of the world, because celebrations continue until the traditional arrival of the Three Wise Men on January 6th, bringing gifts of  toys, games, and sweets to children who have behaved well throughout the year.

In homage to these Three Wise Men, we talk today about the cocktail bearing that name, too.

It is a very simple and straightforward concoction for whisky lovers, served in a highball or lowball glass, neat or on the rocks, according to the drinker’s taste.

Three Wisemen IngredientsThe ingredients are…three (what a surprise, right?): Johnny Walker—Red or Black Label—Scotch Whisky (yes, that is the correct spelling for European Whisky); Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey (and yes, that is the correct spelling for American Whiskey); and Jim Beam –White or Black label—Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. They are served in equal parts.

Some interesting variations exist: the Southern Western follows the same recipe and presentation but substitutes Tequila for Scotch; for a Three Wise Men Go Hunting, add an additional part of Wild Turkey Bourbon; from the movie Three Men and a Baby comes another variant, adding one part milk; the Tropical Wise Men is done with Tennessee Whiskey, Tequila, and Dark Rum in equal parts; and lastly, if you want to enjoy a Three Wise Men and a Mexican add an additional part of Tequila to the original recipe.

Mix and enjoy, it’s easy!

Mr. Vargas is the Institute’s President and can be contacted via AmerVargas @


A Head Butler position needs to be filled in a major upscale chain hotel with a long history of employing butlers. US work-permit required, 60K pa or DOE and your salary requirement. Email us your CV/Resume if you’re interested in finding out more.

Of Butlers and Roses, Part 21 of 25

by GJ dePillis

Calendar For Rose Bush Care and Pruning

Some roses bloom once a year, and some repeat flowering a couple of times a year. For a basic rose, prune between December and February, take the petals off before it becomes too hot in the summer, and prune  lightly in September.

Prune the center dead canes (thick stems) to improve air circulation as well as allow light to penetrate into the interior of the plant. Allowing light to come in decreases the likelihood of unwanted mold or mildew growth.

Pink Mary Magdalene, photo by David Austin rosesSome rose bushes are dense and can be shaped into attractive and clean lines, providing an opportunity to be creative in shaping the rose bush.

Several sites offer rose-care calendar activities throughout the year, such as the Orange County Rose Society in California.




Prune, plant and repot roses. Do not fertilize until there is 3 inches of growth.


If  soil temperature is not at least 60-degrees Fahrenheit, continue pruning.


Assuming  3” of growth, fertilize with nitrogen for green leaves, phosphorus for healthy blooms, and potassium for strong canes. Do NOT use “indoor plant” food, as that may result in a green rose bush, but one without flowers.


The roses may give their first bloom, but pests may also appear: Keep bushes deep watered and procure a couple pounds of ladybugs to eat any aphids if needed, and, as a last resort, spray.


The warmer the weather, the more frequent watering is required:

If the weather is this hot…then water this much…

  • 70-80F: 2x per week
  • 80-90F: 4x per week
  • 90+F : Daily
  • 100+F: 2x per day

For clay soils, add compost or gypsum to allow for drainage to keep the rose roots healthy.


Watch for mildew during the foggy days. Use Fungicides to prevent mildew, rust, blackspot, downy mildew, and anthracnose. Remove parts  of the plant infected with anthracnose and disinfect the tools used before moving onto another plant. Water during the day, not at night, to avoid encouraging mildew growth.


Unless the temperature is over 85F degrees, spray as needed to manage thrips and other pests.


Prune back the top third of the bush, but keeping the leaves on.


Look for buds with holes in them and remove them (pests live inside them). Prune again if needed.


Final feedings to maximize growth for the rose shows that commonly occur at this time of year.


Water to supplement the precipitation if needed.


Roses may well be dormant—a good time to plan for which roses to buy for the following year.

Peach-colored Carding Mill Auswest, photo by David Austin RosesLastly, this website provides further insight into which roses are best to prune and when.

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: What are the white spots I see on my plated piece?

A: This phenomenon usually occurs on a freshly plated piece where moisture has migrated to the surface. Even if the piece were properly dried after plating, some spots may still appear over a short period of time. This is true especially where the base metal is a lead alloy or pewter that was not nickel-plated before being plated with fine silver. The nickel would normally keep any moisture from migrating to the surface. Polishing usually makes these spots disappear, but often only on a temporary basis. To achieve a more permanent fix, after polishing, heat the piece with a hair dryer (do not do this if your piece is weighted (see the December 2015 issue for the definition of weighted sterling) until it is warm to the touch. You may have to repeat this procedure a few times until the white spots no longer re-appear.

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.


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

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

Hotel Butlers – Lynch or Lynchpin?

Butlers were first introduced to hotels with great success to the bottom line and guest satisfaction in the 1980s. The last few years have seen a steep increase in hotels offering butler service. The key driver has been the realization by top-tier hotels that when one had everything marble and gold could offer guests, the arena where the most rapid ROI and increased guest satisfaction could be achieved was improving service; with butlers the quintessential haut-service providers in private service, a metamorphosis into the hotel environment was an obvious move in the dance to win guest loyalty.

Currently, the International Institute of Modern Butlers lists 150 hotels ( offering butler service of many stripes. The Institute created the Butler Rating system to help hoteliers move their butler service to the next level, as well as allow potential guests to distinguish between the pretenders, the also-rans, and the serious players.

Enough track record exists now to discern where the pitfalls in establishing butler departments may lie, and what actions or situations may allow butlers more surely to deliver on the promise. For in many a hotel and resort the author has trained, the butler concept has formed the lynchpin in the marketing strategy to differentiate that hotel in the local market. Yet too often, hotels are finding themselves floundering short of this goal with much time and money invested and the time to deliver on the promise well past. Rather than waiting for this dire state of affairs before calling in Butler Busters, a proactive approach as follows might be easier on the blood pressure readings and wallet.

Top Down

Butler programs begin with an owner signing onto the concept and management embracing the mandate. Yet I have seen one hotel manager pay for two rounds of expensive training and the minute it was over, replace the carefully trained head butler with an individual without butler experience who decided that the services being offered by the butlers were not to be continued. Result: half the butlers left almost immediately and the guests complained that the butler service was not up to standard. An alert to the chain’s COO was met with, “Well, the service I received there just now was very good.” Hmm, ever met a corporate exec who was not given the red-carpet treatment?

In another hotel that found itself in a crush to meet the opening date through the construction dust, and so neglected to properly market and sell its services, the newly hired GM decided that the best way to reduce costs was to let go the “overpaid” butlers. The problem was, however, that the butlers were very popular and the only thing of note about that hotel in a city with plenty of others.
Perhaps the most egregious was the GM who took the owner’s bright vision for a butler department that had been ably grown to a department of 45 butlers by a strong head butler and trained by the Institute, and reduced the butlers to glorified bellman while blowing off half the staff. What was driving this glad-handing GM was the knowledge that the high standards of service being demonstrated by the butlers was showing him up in a most embarrassing manner; and as further investigation was to reveal, hiding unethical behavior, such as personally taking over the ordering of coffee for the resort—coffee that caused the owner to bring his own whenever he stayed and the guests to go off resort for a good cup—on the basis that he could bed the rather good-looking coffee vendor.

Where do I Find Butlers?

Some hotels have really struggled to find butlers for their departments. The difficulties tend to start with HR not fully understanding what butlers are and so not clearly communicating to prospective employees what they would be doing and why it is a desirable thing to do.

Calling butlers something else (such as “personal concierges”) is a non-starter, because people go blank and inert when they encounter something they do not understand. There is no precedent or clear definition for “personal concierge,” so nobody knows what it is. The effort to move away from the more formal and stiff-upper-lipped butler is understandable, but this is achieved in the training process and the resulting attitude of the modern-day hospitality butler: not by denying the name of the relatively recognizable (in many countries) butler moniker.

If HR and management and the head butler do not conduct a PR campaign to gain acceptance of the butler concept, then the butlers will not fit in, will be elbowed out, their income and morale will be low, nobody will want to be “one of those butlers” and butlers will keep leaving the department, making the butler/guest ratio untenable and the butler department hard to populate.

Butlers should be paid the most of any line staff and be tipped positions. As the hospitality side of the prestigious private service butler, there is a certain cachet/prestige to being a butler; and when taken to heart, the delivery of service to butler standards is extremely satisfying. It should not be difficult, therefore, to hire for the position once it is explained properly to prospective employees. One does need high-caliber staff for intelligent interaction with guests, but there should be enough locals of this caliber interested in the profession without having to go to the lengths and expense of hiring overseas trainees who leave after a couple of years. While it helps to have previously trained butlers, only the head butler really needs to be in this category, and therefore also perhaps non-local. There is no reason why a month of training should not create a very effective butler staff from scratch (given basic hospitality experience and a service-oriented mindset).

When Unions Run the Show in First Gear

There was a time when unions were a much-needed antidote to employer abuse. The author’s experience of them in hospitality in various countries in the 21st Century has unfortunately shown them to be particularly insensitive to the purpose of the activity in which their members are engaged: namely, the protection of member “face time” with guests/tip revenue being more important than the guests having smiles on their faces. Butlers at one resort instituted “morning wake-up service,” for which half the resort signed up on the first day; judging by the tips generated, they found it most pleasant. The service was cancelled the same day. Why? Because the unionized IRD staff found out about the tip stream and stated that as a beverage was presented as part of the service, only IRD could present it. However, as there is a lot more to a morning wake-up service than beverages, this was a non-starter. So the union cancelled the service.

In another unionized hotel, butlers were introduced at its reopening. The extent of the butler service had been ironed out with the different departments ahead of time and the butlers began to deliver much-appreciated service. Within three months, the unions had stepped in following specious grievances and basically eviscerated the butler offerings with the result that the butlers had been reduced to “the guys who get the ice” and were about to quit en masse.

In another hotel on a small island, the staff offered to strike one hour before a large wedding unless the GM gave them a raise. His plaintive, “But I just gave you one last week” fell on deaf ears.

It is easy to bash unions given such stories, but there is a need for unions in many countries in the world that stand where the US did a century ago. For unions to have a survival role in the Western world, however, it might be more productive for all concerned to come off the entitlement kick and work with management to bring flexibility, reason, and balance to the employee experience: what purpose a union in a bankrupt hotel?

For butler service to be instituted in a union environment, one needs to meet with the unions and handle their concerns. If they are intractable, then skip instituting butler service, because they will undermine it into an unworkability. Otherwise, consider having the butler department unionized so that the union is more inclined to look after the butlers’ interests, too.

Turf and Face Time

Unions or no, butlers are a Johnny-come-lately to the hospitality scene. They therefore tend to displace other departments, cutting across their face time with guests and customary duties. Unless this is addressed up front before a butler department is created, other departments will elbow out the butlers, or fail to support them in servicing guests. The result? Inter-departmental strife, poorly serviced guests, and butlers who leave because their job description does not match where the penguin suit hits the corridor.

What to do?

Try hiring the butlers internally, especially from IRD, so there is no issue with the butlers taking over IRD. The same could be done with concierges in hotels with 100% butler service. Conduct PR campaigns with all the staff so they understand what the butlers do and how they will benefit the hotel and themselves. And make sure that SOPs are worked out that take into account the needs of the other departments.

Great I have a Butler—Now What?

One resort had a good butler department that management was about to disband because the guest feedback showed the butlers weren’t doing anything for the guests. Why not? They had no idea what a butler could do for them. Solution: put out a CD for guests before they arrive explaining not only the resort but also what the butlers could do for them. This answer was augmented by a pictorial compendium of butler services in each suite. Result? One of the most effective butler departments in the world.

In another hotel where the failure to introduce the butler concept properly had resulted in the butlers literally bringing ice and doing nothing else, we introduced new services for them to offer the guests and created a Butler Services menu card so the guests a) knew what was on offer and b) asked for it so c) they were happy and d) so were the butlers.

Let’s Do the Butler Thing

A butler department is not a service that can be instituted by reading a book and implementing it internally (flattering for the author but unfortunately, not proven possible in practice); calling in the cheapest trainer; or simply renaming the pool attendant a “pool butler.” One would think that managers would be able to see what an oxymoron “butlers on the cheap” is. Likewise, a glitzy web site does not a good trainer make. It is easy enough to put on a dog-and-pony show of the mechanical skills expected of a butler, but if there is no comprehensive program to inculcate the right mindset and create the necessary communication skills and attitude, then one will end up with a Ford or worse a Trabant when one’s sites were set far higher. It is embarrassing for butler trainers to have to retrain a butler department trained poorly by a peer in the profession. Such represent wasted money, time, and service time with guests and just should not be borne by managers working hard to make their hotels achieve stiff targets and quota.

Some hotels approach the Institute wanting their butler department slamdunked in three days. A refresher course makes sense in three days, but not creating something that essentially requires a lifetime of learning to perfect. One expects such enquiries from a country predicated on cheap imitations and lacking any reference point for what a butler is after decades of communism; but not from Western countries in which managers should have some understanding of what a butler stands for.

There are many ways to fail, but only one basic route to success. It involves the owner making a decision, whether off his own bat or at management suggestion; management adopting the goal as its own and hiring a strong head butler (not two, as one resort is busy doing currently); hiring from within where possible; obtaining agreement with PR campaigns and meetings with any unions and other employees; bringing in competent consultants to advise at the front end (including on space needs for butlers); and trainers capable of creating a well-rounded butler department that really can deliver; and ongoing training and hiring and use of the Institute’s Butler Rating System (free download at to guide ongoing improvements.

Having beaten the drum noisily about the value of butlers in high-end hotels, it is incumbent upon the author to do what he can to ensure hotel managers enjoy the promised fruits (with apologies for the mixed metaphors).

This article has appeared in the following publications:

  • Airline News Resource, August 2008 (