Butlers Bring to the Bottom Line
|by Steven Ferry, February 2004
We all know the cliché, but what was it the butler did? Sometimes in movies or board games, he was the one the police wanted to question further. In the hotel environment, the butler can be a failed experiment or a service facility that keeps high-rack occupancy rates at 100%.
Where he fails, it is because he is caste in (frankly) degrading-to-the-profession roles such as “bath butler,” “fireplace butler, “technology butler,” “baby butler” (who provides rocking chairs and watches children), “dog butler,” “ski butler,” and “beach butler.” The idea being that anything that offers superior service in some small area is called “a butler” in an effort to siphon some of the prestige of the profession.
At least when the term valet was extended to “dumb valet,” that furniture item upon which one lays out clothing for the following day, there was no pretence that this was the real item. Fortunately for the profession, the public were not fooled or taken in by these “dumb butlers” and the practice has faded relatively rapidly — before it could sour the public mind on the concept of butlers. And fortunately so for the butlers working in top hotels around the world, who do justice to the profession, and the hotel managements who have recognized the value butlers bring to the bottom line and the repute of their establishments.
In an industry that is completely premised on the idea of service, and in which service is a key differentiator, it’s a no-brainer to institute butler service. Butlers have always represented the pinnacle in service quality. After the initial required training, the running of a butler service is not much more expensive to provide than regular service, yet it allows rack rates to be raised and creates a loyal following of repeat visitors, as well as enhancing word of mouth and thus new business that make the investment very sound.
Once management has decided to institute butler service, the next question is: how to bring it about.
The first step is to bring on board the most service-minded of your employees to undergo training. The second: Bring in one of the handful of butler trainers who can train hotel butlers (as distinct from butlers in private residence, as the hotel environment is very different and requires fewer and different skills than the traditional butler).
In putting together a training program, it is important to know the four main elements that hotel butler trainees and hotel butler programs need in order to succeed.
First of all, there are the mechanical actions, the skills that butlers need, such as how to clean shoes, how to greet guests, tour them around their suite, how to arrange events for their stay, etc.
Then there is knowing and adopting the psyche or mindset of the butler. It is a truism that in order to do something effectively and with conviction, one has to be able to be the role that one is playing fully. Unless a butler has this as a starting point, he or she will never be able to carry off the role convincingly or handle guests and even fellow staff with the aplomb that makes butlers such quintessential service professionals.
This is why the training has to include the history, rationale, characteristics and communication skills of the traditional butler, and enough drilling-in of these elements so that when the novice butler is faced with a tricky or embarrassing situation, he or she is not left tongue-tied, upsetting guests, or proving that he is not the smooth, low-key character that guests expect in their butlers.
Thirdly, having covered the theory and done copious drills on applying the skills in a classroom environment, the trainer needs to move out with the butlers and expose them gradiently to guests in the actual areas they will be providing butler service. By gradient is meant the trainees using each other and then senior staff as guest guinea pigs, and then servicing known-to-be-easy guests, and then VIPs and known-to-be-difficult guests. The trainer should correct them on an internship or apprenticeship basis until the trainees can confidently do their duties.
Finally, for training to be practical and workable, it needs to tie the general actions of butling into the specific hotel environment in which they are being instituted. This means the trainer has to work with hotel management and butler trainees to adapt existing SOPs (standard operating procedures) and propose new ones that align with existing SOPs. These SOPs would be developed during the training and then drilled and corrected and used during the apprenticeship period and then fine-tuned. The result would be a butler manual that would be referred to regularly, and used to train new staff to be butlers—as the program will probably expand and there will always be some attrition.
The end result of the whole program as outlined above is generally employees with high morale who competently carry out their duties, wowing guests and resulting, as stated before, in 100% occupancy, a very high rate of return visits, and the opportunity to increase rack rates while enjoying stellar word of mouth. Perhaps it would be better to ask then, not what the butler did, but what he could do for you.
Words & Images
A Communications Company
|Also See:||Le Royal Meridien Bahrain Commitment to Service Includes 12 Traditional Style Gentlemen Butlers / Aug 2002|
|Manhattan's Ritz-Carlton Hotel Provides 'Water Sommelier'; Up to 12 Selections / June 2002|