Butler

Table of contents

Butlers equipped with professional knowledge and skills in catering and housekeeping are responsible for providing perfect private experience for primary guests in luxury hotels, resorts, apartments or great houses. The phrase silver service, or silver butler depicts the butler having expertise and professional knowledge in storage, management, use and cleaning of the silverware.

Fun facts

The first impression of a butler is always associated with the uniform and the white gloves. But butlers didn't wear white gloves in early days, at least the days of the early 20th century. The white gloves were only for footmen to wear when they set tables to avoid leaving finger prints on plates. Once a footman was developed to a higher position like butler, he did not need white gloves anymore. Today, however, the opposite is true. The higher the status of a household, the more common is white glove service.

If a butler is going to carry gloves, he or she always carries them in his left hand, with his right hand behind his back.

butler take gloves with left hand

History

The word “butler” is believed to come from Anglo-Norman buteler, variant of “Old Norman *butelier” or “Old French botellier”—means officer in charge of the king's wine bottles. The butler, in old days entrusted with the care and serving of wine and other bottled beverages which usually represented a considerable asset, was traditionally chief steward of a household.

Over time the European butler developed into a middle-ranking servant of a great house. Household butlers are in charge of the buttery—originally a storeroom for “butts” of liquor, although the term later came to mean a general storeroom or pantry. But the butlers serving the Crown were administrative level who almost will not be involved in such affairs.

Throughout the 19th century and specially the Victorian era, butler became a senior position in charge of more advanced wine cellar. In a very grandest household an Estate Steward or other senior steward was sometimes hired to oversee the butler and his duties.

The classic British butler, wore a special uniform to separate him from the junior servants, had the highest status of all the servants and practiced his profession with great pride and honor. 

Starting in the 1920s Britain saw a dramatic decline in domestic service and by the mid-1980s domestic service was at an all-time low. Butler, which was firmly established in the 18th and 19th centuries in the old European and American mansions and in the colonies, deliberately disappeared after the First and the Second World War.

Through the 1980s, more and more multi-millionaire and billionaires emerged, that made demand for the profession of butler increased rapidly. High-end travelers don’t mind spending money on luxury private service, bringing significant change to butlers' duties and responsibilities. Today, a butler is much more a personal assistant to his guest.

The Lanesborough Hotel in London was the first hotel in Europe to introduce a butler service for all its guests, in 1990.  Head Butler Robert Watson was responsible to setup the butler department and develop service standards and procedures. Watson established his own company—The Guild of Professional English Butlers—in 1998 to help hotels, cruise ships, great houses to establish their own butler service.

Butler service

House butler

According to the International Guild of Professional Butlers, Hosting is one of the most important responsibilities—answering calls, greeting guests at the gate, assisting in the planning of events and dinner parties, overseeing table settings, and serving beverage and food. They will also (maybe the most important) manage the wine cellar.

Plus, a butler’s duties will be decided at their employer’s discretion, extending to management and operation responsibilities: hiring, training, appraising staff, scheduling labors, budgeting, handling administrative and security issues. Other duties may include: chauffeuring, housekeeping, cleaning and maintenance, along with the care of artworks, silverware and antiques.

A butler sometimes acts like a valet, a man-servant attending to the personal needs of the head of the household. But mostly they play the role of house manager running day-to-day operation. Though for many households around the world, the title of butler still implies a certain standard of hospitality and etiquette, while a house manager may assume a more informal role.

Household organization chart

Hotel butler

A hotel butler is usually the first and last impression of a hotel to its guests. A good butler is always professional, friendly, and helpful by using the “Five Hospitality Standards”: eye contact, smile, speak first, engage in polite conversation, and use guest's surname.

Professional butlers not only do a lot of homework to study, record guests' preference—that's why they can anticipate guests' need accurately, but also spend tons of time learning dining and housekeeping knowledge and skills, that's the way they sell “experiencing personality”. For instance, a guest ordered flowers for his partner when they returned to the room. The butler team perfected the evening by creating a little more: besides a beautiful bouquet of flowers, the suite was carefully prepared with music, a fire in the fireplace, candlelight and a set table on the terrace under the stars. The butlers delighted the guest with something that they were sure that the guest would like but had not told. That requires guest preferences records, coordination, most importantly creativity and imagination. This is how to create unforgettable stay experience, and memories of "her/his” butler who made it all possible.

Hotel Butler Duties

  • Contact assigned guests and starting the personalized services (pre-booking: reservation and arrangement of spa, dining, and events).
  • Arrange, record, follow, and charge all special requests for arriving guests.
  • Welcome guests upon arrival, escort guests to room, present keys and explain features of their room, promote hotel products when it's convenient; then arrange for valet and bell service.
  • Provide personalized services: clothing pressing, shoe shining, packing/unpacking and organization of guest belongings, arranging room amenities.
  • Acquire comprehensive understanding of all outlets, menus, and amenities of your hotel. Have a thorough understanding of all spirits and specialty foods in stock. Assess and restock wine and spirit collections as necessary.
  • Communicate guests' activities in hotel with all outlets, ensuring proper service and recognition. Anticipate guests' needs by digging their preferences, dislikes, allergies, etc.
  • Inspects all guest rooms before guest arrival to ensure all standards and requests met.
  • Inspect all food and beverage items ordered by guest before they are presented, serve meals and pour drinks for guests
  • Review and clarify any misunderstanding/mistakes on guest folio. Prepare bill, luggage and being ready for guest departure.
  • Assist guest with luggage transport and farewell.
  • Cooperate and operate seamlessly with all departments of a hotel.
  • Interact with guests that have high expectations.
  • Keep confidentiality and privacy.
  • Training new staff
  • Remain well-groomed at all times
  • Keep up-to-date on hotel policies on safety and hygiene
  • Perform all duties with discretion, professionalism and a pleasant demeanor

Reference

The Butler Speaks: A Return to Proper Etiquette, Stylish Entertaining, and the Art of Good Housekeeping Appetite by Random House; Reprint edition (October 18, 2016)

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