Having a butler with your room is the ultimate luxury, but knowing the etiquette of using the service is crucial.
You may have heard butler service touted as a perk in some of the world’s best hotels. After all, part of the joy of travel is indulging in luxuries you don’t get at home, like having a daily housekeeping service or quick access to a full-service spa—and when it comes to next-level hotel amenities, few are as decadent as being assigned a personal butler at check-in.
Yet while having someone wait on you is a traditional marker of luxury in the hospitality space, at a time when improving travel equity is a priority it can feel uncomfortable to ask a perfect stranger to take care of tasks on your behalf. Even knowing what to ask for can be a challenge.
Unlike hotel concierges, hotel butlers are dedicated to their specific guests, and go above and beyond to create a personalized experience. Pietro Addis, general manager of the Mandarin Oriental, Canouan in St. Vincent and the Grenadines likens it to the role of a celebrity or CEO’s assistant. “This person is ultimately there to take a weight off their guest’s shoulders and bring a sense of calm,” he says. With a hotel butler, “there’s direct communication in real time, versus a guest having to call down to the front desk for something or dialing restaurant reservations to get that 8p.m. seating.”
Knowing that hotel butlers take great pride in their work, we spoke with those employed by some of the most luxurious hotels around the world to better understand how to make the most of having someone at your service, while ensuring they are treated with respect. Below, we cover everything you need to know about using the butler service at a hotel.
What does butler service include?
This will vary from property to property, but a butler’s role is generally to be the point person overseeing the guest experience. Baseline services can include setting up airport transfers, unpacking luggage, and serving a daily breakfast, as Penthouse guests at the Hotel Arts Barcelona experience.
At the luxury resort Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives, part of the job includes helping guests adjust to being on a remote island, à la ‘Man Friday’ from the story of Robinson Crusoe. “Our Mr. and Ms. Fridays embrace a similar concept and introduce guests to the Gili way of life,” explains a team member overseeing the butler program at the hotel. “Mr./Ms. Fridays become the main contact and are available 24/7 [to] oversee all elements of the guest experience, including arranging reservations for the spa, on-the-water excursions, and dining.”
In Morocco, every riad at Royal Mansour is assigned a single butler to ensure a highly personalized experience. “The butler is a conductor, they coordinate between different services at the hotel according to their guests’ needs,” explains butler service manager Antoine Berche. “They practice many jobs simultaneously: head waiter, sommelier, cook, housekeeper, receptionist, concierge, security guard, personal assistant.”
Most importantly, highly-trained butlers are ready to meet the needs of their guests, creating what Berche calls the “Royal Mansour Magic.” Butlers can be relied upon to address every aspect of a guest’s stay by anticipating their needs with efficiency and discretion. “Before the arrival of the guest, I prepare myself for all types of requests I might receive,” adds butler Mohamed Fadil. “It could be packing suitcases, arranging a romantic dinner, or even a marriage proposal.”
Many of these properties work with guests prior to arrival to be able to predict their needs with the greatest accuracy, but it’s the ability for butlers to take on requests in the moment that makes their service so valuable.
What can guests ask hotel butlers for?
Common requests hotel butlers receive from their guests include adjusting or creating vacation itineraries, like making restaurant reservations, scheduling golf tee times, or arranging special meal setups. What guests specifically ask for will vary from location to location. For example, a typical request of butlers at Mandarin Oriental, Canouan is preparing beach lounge chairs and setting out sunscreen, while in Barcelona, Hotel Arts butlers will arrange private lounge rooms for big events like Formula 1 or Moto Grand Prix races. Whatever a guest needs, “the butler is prepared to arrange all of that, seamlessly,” Addis of Mandarin Oriental, Canouan notes.
But, of course, there are limits to the power of a hotel butler.
What should guests avoid asking for?
“With respect to our destination, we have to also be very realistic,” says Addis of the hotel’s location in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “We are located on a very small island without an over-abundance of shops and venues that someone can find in a huge city or another country.” This means guests may need to be flexible about which brands of sunscreen or snacks are available locally, for example, though of course the hotel always tries its best to satisfy every request.
The Maldives is similarly beholden to mother nature—and it can be a bit shocking to learn what some guests expect of staff, particularly when it comes to wildlife. The Mr. and Ms. Fridays of Gili Lankanfushi will not, for example, remove a stingray from the water as this interferes with the animal’s natural behavior. Meanwhile, Fadil makes it clear that “anything illegal” is similarly off the table, while at Hotel Arts Barcelona, butlers won’t facilitate arrangements with third party vendors the hotel does not consider trustworthy.
The long and short of it: If something feels out of bounds to ask for, it probably is. In terms of how you make requests, keep in mind that every hotel has their own regulations when it comes to the hours that butlers work, so it’s important to respect at what time of day requests are being made. And, if your butler serves several guests, be considerate of the fact that they may not be available at the drop of the hat every time you need something (but you have time—you’re on vacation, after all).
What makes having a butler so special?
The time and energy saved by delegating tasks to butlers is apparent, but many hotel guests also value the personal connection that’s formed, both with the butler themselves and the destination as a whole. “The butler service offers a highly personalized service and creates an emotional experience for our guests,” Berche says. This is an experience echoed at Gili Lankanfushi—and at both hotels, repeat guests frequently request to have the same butler.
Some guests even ask their Mr. Fridays to join their excursions, the team at Gili Lankanfushi adds. When it comes to finding the balance between friendly and over the line, however, just remember to evaluate whether asking a butler to hang out with you is exploitative in any way, or if they might feel like a paid friend who doesn’t actually want to spend the day snorkeling with your family, unless they can be of clear service.
Do I tip my butler?
This is a direct way to show your appreciation and is always encouraged when working with a personal butler. “A tip is a recognition from the guest to any person who works at the hotel,” says Hotel Arts Barcelona Penthouse Manager Frederico Keim. Whether that’s a butler, housekeeper, waiter, supervisor, or manager, guests are encouraged to acknowledge outstanding service with a tip. The staff at the Mandarin Oriental, Canouan shares a similar perspective, encouraging guests to ask themselves a few questions when considering what kind of gratuity to leave for their butler: Did this person help make my vacation experience incredible? Did this person go the extra mile for me, throughout the stay?
When tipping, 5 percent of the nightly room rate, per day where the butler’s services are used, is considered appropriate. So if you call on your butler for seven days at $1000 per night, you would tip $50 per night, or $350 total.
How else can guests show their butler appreciation?
Financial feedback isn’t the only way to show appreciation for a butler’s service. “It’s appreciated when the guest shares their [butler] experience with the management team at Royal Mansour,” Fadil says, especially since a guest’s departure can be an emotional moment. TripAdvisor reviews can also go a long way in appreciating excellent service. “Hospitality is a two-way street,” Addis says. “While we want all of our guests to have the best possible experience while staying on-property with us, we also want our team members to feel valued and proud to represent their place of work.” He believes manners and kindness impact hotel staff a great deal, and that starts with the basics. “There is something to be said about a guest who really gets to know his or her butler’s name.”