So How Was Your Butler? Ratings Keep Hotels Honest & Validates Serious Players

By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | March 06, 2010

Where butler departments are established properly, they enjoy varying degrees of success based on their adherence to the basic purpose of butling: the providing of a discreet service that anticipates guest needs.

Failed butler departments are caused by violating a few basics: not selecting proven service professionals for butlers; not training them on the persona, mindset, communication skills, and service skills of the butler in a hospitality setting; launching the butler program without bringing the rest of the employees aboard, so it appears as a threat to their income stream; and trying to cut costs by cutting service, resulting in harried butlers providing an irreducible minimum of service to too many guests.

What drives these shortcuts? In my experience, it has been one or more of three distinct impulses:

  1. Money motivation, where the goal is solely to increase revenue by riding
    on the coattails of the butler profession, with little patience for or
    interest in the financial outlay, sweat equity, and intelligent thinking
    necessary to deliver the actual service.

  2. A manager either not understanding or taking a personal dislike to the
    idea of butlers. In one instance, an inexperienced and unethical GM was busy
    accepting personal favors, protecting his incompetent prot'eg'es, and
    creating a culture that put loyalty to his own agenda ahead of servicing
    guests. He resented being shown up by the service expectations of the
    popular Head Butler and the butler team. So the GM did everything possible,
    both covert and brazen, to undermine and end the butler service so desired
    by the hotel owner and guests. As the Head Butler at this establishment
    noted with typical understatement, "GMs unfamiliar with the service would do
    well to respect the advice of their Head Butler. If one has not worked with
    butlers before and does not understand the concept fully, it will be very
    difficult to provide the support/level of understanding required to make the
    program a success. Instituting a butler department is a project that
    requires dedication and support on all fronts-ownership, management, and
    operations-in order to succeed." This story is still playing out, but the
    Head Butler is standing firm while taking over increasingly the functions of
    other departments being mismanaged by the GM that had been cutting across
    the ability of the butlers and the hotel to service the guests.

  3. A manager focused on slashing costs. In one instance, an owner had
    invested heavily in establishing a butler department (on one floor of a
    brand new facility) that proved very popular with guests and media (almost
    always the case). Yet when the revenue began to flag facility wide after the
    grand opening (as a result of inadequate sales and marketing), he thought
    one solution lay in the savings that could be accomplished by firing all the
    butlers, and proceeded to do so. The hotel continues to flounder to this
    day, having lost its signature service and earned itself a poor reputation
    in the local community upon which it depended for its personnel, all on top
    of the original inadequate sales and marketing efforts which were not
    remedied by these firings.

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Hotel Spa: Oasis Unplugged

The driving force in current hotel spa trends is the effort to manage unprecedented levels of stress experienced by their clients. Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by demanding careers and technology overload, people are craving places where they can go to momentarily escape the rigors of their daily lives. As a result, spas are positioning themselves as oases of unplugged human connection, where mindfulness and contemplation activities are becoming increasingly important. One leading hotel spa offers their clients the option to experience their treatments in total silence - no music, no talking, and no advice from the therapist - just pure unadulterated silence. Another leading hotel spa is working with a reputable medical clinic to develop a “digital detox” initiative, in which clients will be encouraged to unplug from their devices and engage in mindfulness activities to alleviate the stresses of excessive technology use. Similarly, other spas are counseling clients to resist allowing technology to monopolize their lives, and to engage in meditation and gratitude exercises in its place. The goal is to provide clients with a warm, inviting and tranquil sanctuary from the outside world, in addition to also providing genuine solutions for better sleep, proper nutrition, stress management and natural self-care. To accomplish this, some spas are incorporating a variety of new approaches - cryotherapy, Himalayan salt therapy and ayurveda treatments are becoming increasingly popular. Other spas are growing their own herbs and performing their treatments in lush outdoor gardens. Some spa therapists are being trained to assess a client's individual movement patterns to determine the most beneficial treatment specifically for them. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will report on these trends and developments and examine how some hotel spas are integrating them into their operations.