Never fear: How to get the most out of your butler service

Butler service sometimes includes a glass of bubbly. PHOTO BY AHMED ZAYAN ON UNSPLASH

Set deep in Amsterdam’s famed labyrinth of canals, The Grand has stood since 1411. Built as a convent (the halls are still double-wide, to allow two nuns in broad skirts to walk side-by-side), this icon has been welcoming illustrious guests such as the Stuarts and the Medicis, invited by the Dutch royal family since 1578.

The impressive stone building has served as the headquarters of the Netherlands navy in the 18th century, when Dutch ships sailed the seven seas and Manhattan was part of New Amsterdam. It’s been the city hall, and even hosted the wedding of Queen Beatrix in 1966.

Now Sofitel’s flagship hotel in Europe, just entering the swish, stylish lobby can feel like a special occasion, but what really sets the place apart, says Luiz dos Santos, is the butler service, which, he says, goes above and beyond. As the hotel’s head butler, buttoned down, in tails, tie perfectly knotted, he escorts me to my room and, smiling, returns a moment later with a glass of bubbling champagne. We chat about his services—and the fact that many guests are too sheepish (or too private) to request them.

“I analyze the guests, from the start,” he says. “And I figure out how they can use my abilities.” Using input from dos Santos, and a couple of his compatriots from around the world, I’ve compiled the following—how to get the most out of your butler service, now increasingly common not just at city hotels, but also on cruise ships, and even all-inclusive resorts.

The Basics

While many picture an old-school English butler—like Mr. Belvedere—modern butlers are rarely stodgy or snobbish. “Some people see this service as pretentious or only for the wealthiest people,” says Clarence McLeod, a ‘gilded butler’ trained to serve the Queen of England, who served as a top butler and concierge for Fairmont in hotels around the world, as well as a director in their corporate office.

He adds that while many people picture Downton Abbey (or Geoffrey, from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air), you’re better to think of a butler as your temporary personal assistant.

He (or she) is, in short, a one-stop shop for hotel (or cruise) services, saving you the hassle of calling different people for a variety of needs. They’re your bell staff, concierge, reception, housekeeping and more, all rolled into one—it’s one, single number to call, for extra pillows, minibar requests, late check-outs, arranging a car to take you out on the town or to the airport and also finding perfect restaurant reservations and hard-to-buy concert tickets. “It’s all about communication,” says dos Santos. “Just tell us what you need.”

The Extra and Unexpected

Bottle of champagne
Butlers and champagne often go together. ALEX HOLYOAKE / UNSPLASH

At the St. Regis, a brand-new, five-star hotel in Amman, Jordan, all rooms include butler service. There, butler Ahmad Al. Hwamdeh says the range of standard requests include shoeshines, ironing and pressing, drawing a bath in the bathtub, as well as packing and unpacking your bags. They’ll even walk your dog.

The hotel also offers the opportunity to liaise with the butler before check-in to have the room prepared exactly to guests’ specifications (having specific pillows on the bed, or soaps in the bathroom, or a hot meal ready, or a favourite bottle of whisky waiting, on ice), as well as the ability to contact them, 24/7, by email, text or WhatsApp. And he can even serve the guest their dinner in the restaurant, rather than the wait staff. Why would someone want that? “Because they feel special, not like other people,” he says. “Having a butler is almost like having a friend for the day.”

And on board a ship, butler services are sometimes location specific, says Andrew Santos, a butler on the Silversea cruise line ship, Silver Spirit, where all suites include butler service. There, staff are aware when a guest has booked a shore excursion, and will pack them a “tour caddy,” a bag that includes helpful items like information, maps and bottles of water. “We pay attention to detail, and anticipate people’s needs,” says Santos. “That’s our secret.”

 The Above and Beyond

Goldfish bowl
One butler bought a goldfish to keep a guest company. AHMED ZAYAN / UNSPLASH

And McLeod notes that guest requests can often transcend the usual. He recalls a few examples, including working with the chef to deliver milk and cookies—a different type, every night, for a guest who requested it. Another couple staying at one of his hotels asked for champagne and strawberries every evening, and it became a routine—and when they had to leave the hotel early, in a rush, McLeod arranged to have the strawberries and champagne delivered to them on the plane.

And back in Amsterdam, at The Grand, dos Santos was challenged to find a pal, for a lonely guest. He bought the man a goldfish, and placed the pet in his room. “It gave him something to take care of,” he says, smiling at the memory. “It worked.”


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