Proper Butlers Stand Ready To Fulfill Discerning Guests’ Every Need

Apr 15, 2013
Magazine / Editorial

Walk into The Lanesborough Hotel at London’s Hyde Park Corner and you’re immediately escorted to your room, where check-in takes place. Once reception has completed the arrival procedures, you are introduced to your butler, who is there to be your personal assistant for the rest of your stay. He’ll unpack for you, set up your WiFi, make restaurant reservations, draw your bath, make hotel transfers, wake you up with coffee and tea, be a personal shopper . . . and a whole lot more, if need be.

“We’ll do anything as long as it’s legal,” says The Lanesborough’s head butler, Daniel Jordaan. In the past, that included cutting the hair of a businessman who was late for a meeting; finding reindeer from a farm, people to dress up as elves and Santa, and a snow machine for an impromptu Christmas party; redecorating a private hospital room in the style of The Lanesborough for a woman who had come to London to give birth; filming a husband and wife dining together for the first time after marriage; and sending a courier on the Eurostar train to Paris to have a confidential document signed urgently.

Blame it on Carson, the hard-working butler who runs a tight ship on the popular television series Downton Abbey, but more and more high-end clientele are yearning for yesteryear, when personal service extended from the hotel or cruise line’s concierge to inside the suite. With the addition of butlers, hoteliers now have the opportunity to serve their guests behind closed doors.

“Certainly, Downton Abbey has brought back the nostalgia and what it is to have personal butler service,” says Sean Davoren, head butler at London’s iconic Fairmont Savoy, in charge of a 23-person staff. “We live in such an automated world now that it makes sense that people crave human service.”

Whatever the reason, butler service is proliferating across the travel industry, from high-end hotels to luxury cruises to first-class service on Singapore Airlines. From the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan to the new St. Regis Doha in Qatar, expect to find butler service for all suites. Jumeirah’s Burj al Arab, an ultra-luxe all-suite property, known for its unique shape modeled after a billowing Arabian dhow sail, offers 24-hour butler service to all guests of the hotel. The Burj al Arab’s butlers answer to any hotel guests’ whim, and, in fact, it could be said this property even takes service a step further — aside from butler service for every guest, the hotel boasts an 8:1 ratio for staff to suites.

According to recent estimates, there is now proper butler service at close to 400 hotels around the globe. Luxury hotels, in an effort to compete with one another, now see the butler as a necessary employee to lure the most discerning traveler.

The trend is particularly keen in the U.K., where properties across the region have announced the introduction of your own personal Jeeves. Café Royal reopened on London’s Regent Street in December with complimentary butler service to guests in all 159 rooms. If you plan on staying at the Isle of Wight’s Priory Bay Hotel, you can have your own “yurt butler,” one who services the wood-framed dwellings on premises.

“We have a very high percentage of return guests, in excess of 60 percent. The fact that we offer this unique service to all guests plays a major role,” says Daniel Jordaan. The Lanesborough has offered butler service since its opening in 1991, long before the current trend. “The most important aspect during welcoming is to build trust with the guest in order to make them feel at ease with their butler,” he adds.

Over at The Savoy, each suite has its own personal butler who only works with that one patron, so your Man Friday is at your service all day, every day. They’ve had their share of out-of-the-ordinary requests, including a woman who only bathes in Evian water. The butler carried 30 liters of warm Evian water to her bath each morning. Then there’s the time a guest requested goat milk directly from the goat. The butler sent a chauffeur to northern Wales, some 250 miles away, to collect the milk. “The milk only cost 25 pounds. The chauffeur cost 600 pounds,” says Davoren.

Butler service has also extended to warm climes. Sandals Resorts has butler service at 13 Caribbean properties. The service has been such a smashing success that, starting this month, the Grande Riviera Beach & Villa Golf Resort in Jamaica will feature an “All-Butler Village,” following the resort’s recent $60 million refurbishment. Butlers handle all needs from unpacking luggage to booking dinners, activities and spa treatments to reserving chairs on the beach and ordering snacks and beverages.

“Butlers at our resorts have gone to such extremes as meeting guests at the airport two hours away, planning surprise baby showers and video-conferencing in family members who were unable to travel to a destination wedding at a resort,” says Gordon “Butch” Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts International. “In fact, many guests will return the following year and request the same butler,” Stewart notes.

Butler service on board Crystal Cruises © Crystal Cruises

Butler service
on board Crystal Cruises © Crystal Cruises

Be it land or sea, expect butler service to be top-notch. In 1990, Crystal Cruises became one of the first cruise lines to introduce butler service to their penthouse-level berths. Their butlers welcome guests with a beverage, give a tour of the ship, unpack their suitcases, provide IT assistance, run a bath, dry-clean suits and dresses, help with shore excursions and provide a slew of food delivery options like hosting a multicourse meal in your room for friends.

“Until butlers arrived on the scene, there was very little we could do for guests in their suites other than the occasional amenity and room service,” says Thomas Mazloum, senior vice president of operations at Crystal Cruises.

“A cabin steward typically comes twice a day to make your bed and refresh your towels and ice, and you hardly see them at all. The butler is more available. You can call to arrange tea or coffee when you like, get your shoes shined, send out your clothes to be pressed,” notes Fran Golden, a well-known cruise writer and author of 20 books about cruising. “I remember a Crystal Cruises sailing where my butler brought hors d’oeuvres every day. He brought caviar one day, and I told him how much I liked caviar. So he began bringing it every day. I was in caviar heaven,” she says with a chuckle.

On Azamara Club Cruises’ two ships, the butler introduces himself to the high-end clientele and then tests the water to see how much attention guests might enjoy. Some relish their privacy, while others can’t wait to be pampered.

“Last year, we had a couple on board who were traveling with their grandson, an avid tennis player. A day before the ship was to be docked in Tallinn, Estonia, they asked the butler if he could find someone close to the professional level to play tennis with their grandson. The butler found a former Olympian who brought the boy to the Olympic Tennis Center in Tallinn. The kid still talks about it. It was an experience of a lifetime!” says Bert van Middendorp, Azamara associate vice president of hotel operations.

Azamara’s staff of butlers, who currently come from India and Mauritius, are trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers, the same service that trains English butlers to work in the private estates of the English gentry. Van Middendorp seeks employees who are willing to serve and never say no.

At The Savoy, Sean Davoren says, “I’m looking for a personality. I can teach all the skills quite easily, but I can’t give you a personality.” The Savoy’s staff comes from diverse backgrounds — employed in housekeeping, food and beverage, even acting — prior to making the switch to become the next Carson. Butlers are trained in-house and are chaperoned for at least three months.

Steven Ferry, chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers and author of Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators, notes butlers should have “satisfaction in serving others and bringing a smile to the guest’s face.” Ferry trains butlers for both private service and hospitality and was in Moscow training a private service butler when we caught up to him. He worries improperly trained butlers will dilute the service.

“There is a strong drive to garner the prestige of butlers to justify higher rack rates and appear better than the competition,” says Ferry. “Unfortunately, some established schools are quite happy to teach 500 butlers at a time for three hours total and then call them trained. The result is a general deterioration of the service butlers can bring to hospitality.”

The International Institute of Modern Butlers and a few other serious trainers are working diligently to reverse the trend. They’ve even introduced a 1- to 5-star butler rating service that critiques hotels in an effort to allow guests to anticipate what service they will actually receive from their butlers.

A Fragrance Butler at Rosewood Hotels & Resorts © Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

A Fragrance Butler at Rosewood Hotels & Resorts © Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

Adding to the overexposure are so-called specialty butlers, employed only to perform one duty. Rosewood Hotels & Resorts recently introduced its Fragrance Butler Program. Nine of its properties, from Jeddah to Dallas, are currently offering the service. Don’t have time to shower before that meeting in Manhattan? A fragrance butler at The Carlyle will spritz you with one of their 10 perfumes and you’re off and running, smelling like a bouquet of flowers for your next engagement.

At Antigua’s Jumby Bay Resort, another Rosewood property, a Sorbet Butler strolls up and down the beach offering the refreshing treat. The MGM Grand in Las Vegas introduced a Music Butler for folks staying at its Skylofts. Available anytime, the butlers will show you how to hook your iPod or iPad to the symphonic Bang & Olufsen sound system. In Paris, Le Meurice features a Family Butler who keeps kids busy around Salvador Dalí’s favorite hotel with scavenger hunts and games, along with providing kid-friendly dinner menus en suite. Then, of course, there are numerous beach and bath butlers at countless properties, waiting to assist you with suntan lotion or bath bubbles.

The Lanesborough’s Daniel Jordaan says that once luxury hotels recognize that butler service is a permanent job, like a concierge or bellman, the overexposure of specialty butlers will come to an end.

“A butler is a butler, and a butler can manage all. At The Lanesborough, we’re a one-stop shop,” says Jordaan.

Steven Ferry believes there is room for more butler service in the travel industry, especially in first-class cabin service on airlines.

“Wherever food and beverage service is provided can benefit from the smoother way butlers provide service. After all, butler service predates restaurants by several hundred years,” notes Ferry.

So if it’s not a bother, Jeeves, throw rose petals on the floor, make my bath steaming hot, iron that wrinkled collared shirt and hand me a glass of Champagne. After a long flight and the constant stresses of modern life, I’d happily allow one of Edwardian England’s best contributions to society, the butler, to fluff my pillow before I rest my weary head.


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Sep 19, 2019

Wilderness Safaris Reopens Jao Camp

Following a complete renovation, Wilderness Safaris’ Jao Camp reopened in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

TAP Air Portugal Adds 15 Flights Each Week From U.S., Canada

TAP Air Portugal is adding 15 new weekly flights from the United States and Canada by summer 2020,  a new record for the carrier of 71 weekly flights between North America and Portugal.

Sep 19, 2019

Best U.S. Cities for Oktoberfest Celebrations

WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across 24 key metrics to determine the best destinations for an upcoming Oktoberfest celebration. The brand’s study found the estimated cost for an American to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, is $5,000. Munich boasts a $1.43 billion annual economic impact on Munich. During Oktoberfest, nearly 2 million gallons of beer are consumed and more than 510,000 whole roast chickens eaten.

Sep 19, 2019

Qantas Will Start Using a Dreamliner on Santiago–Sydney Route

Qantas will start using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on its Sydney–Santiago route starting in late June 2020.

To New Heights

United Airlines announces a number of new routes.

Sep 19, 2019

Travel Bundles Make it Easy to Attend International NFL Games

On Location Experiences makes it easy for travelers to head to London or Mexico City for upcoming NFL games. Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosts the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders Oct. 6, and the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Oct. 13; Wembley Stadium hosts the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams Oct. 27, and the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars Nov. 3; and Estadio Azteca hosts the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers Nov. 18.

eFlyer News
Sep 18, 2019

LOT Polish Airlines Adds New Route to Delhi

LOT Polish Airlines is offering travellers more options for travel between Asia and Europe.

The Island of the Knights

Welcome to Rhodes, a medieval treasure beautifully preserved throughout the centuries. Rhodes is the capital of the Dodecanese, an island ideal not only for those who want to relax, but also for those looking for an action-packed holiday! With its bright green hills, rich green valleys and uninterrupted line of golden beaches, Rhodes is truly a blessed place. “The sun island” has more sunshiny days and milder temperatures throughout the year than any other location in Greece. It is, after all, one of the country’s easternmost places and among the first to welcome summer on its impressive beaches. Add in the excellent facilities for tourism, the island’s special blend of cosmopolitan and traditional, and numerous cultural and archaeological sites, the most important being the Medieval (Old) Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you’ve got the perfect holiday destination. While on Rhodes, don’t miss a daytrip to nearby Sými. An island of sponge divers and seamen, Sými used to have 30,000 inhabitants before the Second World War and was the richest island in the Dodecanese, despite its small size. Today, Sými attracts many visitors thanks to its beautifully preserved Neo-Classical buildings and the famous Archangel Michael monastery at Panormitis.

eFlyer Lead
Sep 18, 2019

Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney Makes Sustainability Bounds

Hotel brands all over the world have pushed for sustainability. For many, it began with reducing single-use plastics, like straws. InterContinental recently announced the end of in-room miniature toiletries.