Butler services, once just reserved for the elite few, are becoming a common staple in some of the best hotels in the US. The Chatwal: The Luxury Collection in New York City and The Spectator in Charleston are at the forefront of US hotels offering butler service to any guest, regardless of their accommodation tier.
“Every one of our guests gets a butler, not just the ones staying in the Penthouse. Although the VIP guests do get more specialized attention, every one of our guests gets the benefit of their own butler,” Brandon Short, Director of Butler Services at the Chatwal, told us.
What is a butler?
Butlers are highly trained service providers – either by the hotel or through an organization like the Guild of Professional English Butlers. Through this exclusive training, they learn how to properly tackle every and all requests – no matter how quirky or peculiar. In addition to everyday tasks — like how to steam a silk dress or the proper way to turn down a bed — they also learn the proper way to address and speak to clients. Most importantly, though, they help ease the clients into their services, which is sometimes a bit more challenging than others.
“When people come to the hotel, they are very inhibited. Some don’t know how to use my services or how much to ask me to do. In addition, many worry about discretion, so I assure the guests that I don’t mention anyone’s names or even really tell what’s going on because that’s between me and the guest I’m there for. And my discretion is very, very important,” Short said.
What exactly do butlers do?
Butlers like Short and David Hood, who runs the butler program at The Spectator, do far more than run errands, unpack suitcases or press shirts – they anticipate the need of every guest and ensure those needs are met even before check in. They are often the ones who are left to handle the strange and downright bizarre requests that come in from some of the property’s quirkiest clientele. For Hood, one of the strangest moments on the job came when he had to rescue a woman from the bathroom.
“I once had to assist a guest whose hair was stuck on the faucet in the jacuzzi. I had to manually untangle it so she could get out. I think she was more embarrassed than I was,” Hood said.
Everyday butler life
Embarrassing stories aside, the everyday life of the butler is actually more routine than you’d think. Short’s days are spent filling out food orders, arranging services for guests, greeting everyone who checks in, handling check outs, arranging fruit trays (which he is immensely proud of) and providing oversight to the younger butlers. The day-to-day can be more challenging than the quirky guests, at least for Short.
“There have been days where I have been running around like crazy, since I have to do all the shopping, make the fruit plates, deal with up to 40 arrivals a day and I have to ensure everyone is taken care of. I have to make sure each request is answered – and I’m sometimes out of breath when I leave since they come in one after another,” Short said.
Like anyone who truly enjoys their job, those crazy days are fleeting, and the good ones far outweigh the bad, at least for Hood and Short.
The weirdest things that happen to butlers
The interesting stories – the ones that leave even the most distinguished of butler’s jaw’s agape – are definitely a perk of their incredibly stressful jobs. Although their discretion prevents them from disclosing any personal information about the client or the guest, the stories are just strange enough that they’re able to discuss them in public.
“I once had a client bring in a service animal to assist them on the stay. When they arrived, I was expecting a dog, but instead, they were carrying a possum. That was pretty strange,” Hood said with a laugh.
Beyond just strange stories or encounters, Short has also gotten some really eccentric requests from some of the Chatwal’s highest paying clientele.
“I once had guest stay that was very privileged, very accustomed to getting whatever she wanted. So, one day, we got a package from her travel agent. It was a giant container of milk. She’d ordered enough milk so that she could take a private milk bath in her hotel room and asked us to draw it for her.”
It doesn’t stop there though. Because of Short’s experience and highly regarded reputation, he is often asked, by name, to serve many VIP clients 24/7.
“I once had a Greek millionaire who came to stay in one of our most exclusive suites. She wanted no one but me and was a girl who worked out nearly all the time. She actually injured herself from working out so much and was admitted to hospital. She asked me to come stay with her and I agreed to extend my service. She would run around the room while hooked up to an IV and I would have to hold the IV behind her as she did laps.”
The most fulfilling parts of the job
Although the unusual requests make every day different, not every guest comes with strange bath requests or possums. In fact, one of Short’s most memorable experiences on the job is about kindness rather than quirkiness.
“We had a royal visit from Saudi Arabia, and I was the dedicated butler to his and her highnesses. That point was the highlight of my career. We had the best relationship – at times it lent toward a personal one (never crossing the line, of course). When the prince told me I was like family to him, it meant more than words can express. His head of security told me that in all the years he had been with him, he'd never had such a relationship with a hotel staff member like he had with me, because he trusted me. I have never been more flattered,” Short said.
For Hood, those stories are what make his job so fulfilling.
“As a butler, the level of service is elevated. It can become very personal. You get to know some of your guests, their families and friends, personally. We become like family. Here in Charleston, our guests' stay is typically two-to-three days. We have a smaller window to connect and make an impression. But it all comes down to the service you provide. Making people happy, comfortable and enjoying their time at your property is my biggest daily accomplishment. The goal is to have them wanting to come back and stay with you again and tell their friends,” Hood said.
Sometimes mistakes do happen
Despite being trained by one of the most renowned hospitality training services in the world, butlers aren’t without fault. Granted they take their jobs extremely seriously, and mistakes are few and far between for head butlers like Short and Hood, but it doesn’t mean some days don’t bring classic mix ups or awkward moments.
“We once had reservation for a honeymooners, which is very common, so I prepared the room for their arrival as part of my normal effort to make their stay special and memorable. The guests checked in and I went to the room to give a personal welcome and acknowledgement of their marriage. I was going on about how fortunate they were to have found each other at such a special time in their lives, as they were seniors, and how it gives hope to us all. They looked at each other puzzled. The wife said, “We found each other years ago, we were high school sweethearts and have been married for 54 years.” As it turned out, the front desk switched rooms and neglected to inform me. We all had a good laugh,” Short said.
Awkward moments, odd requests and uncomfortable experiences aside, being a butler is a very coveted role in today’s society, even if it may not seem like it. More and more hotels across the country are adding butler services to their repertoire.
“The hospitality industry is so competitive, especially luxury brands, so I think many more high-end hotels, especially in a place as booming as Charleston, will start adding butlers. It is a service that the high-end clientele enjoys and deserves,” Hood said.
Dos and don'ts when you're offered butler services
For people new to a butler’s suite of services, hearing these stories can be a little overwhelming. “If I can’t ask for a milk bath, what on earth can I ask for?” All jokes aside, treading the line on what you can and can’t ask for is a tricky one. To help, here are some examples of things you should and shouldn't ask your butler to help with:
- - You can ask for specialty soap for a bath, but you shouldn’t ask them to run it for you
- - You can ask your butler to schedule a massage, but not to be the masseuse
- - You can ask them to book you a dinner and a show, but you can’t ask them along as your date
- - And, according to Short, you can certainly ask for help getting dressed, but please preserve everyone's modesty by keeping nudity to a minimum
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