Butler Service Is Not Just Window-Dressing.
By Hugo R. Mechelse
Saturday, 20th February 2010
My curiosity combined with my passion for service is sometimes received with mixed feeling by the hotels I stay at.

My only objective however, is to enhance their service and awareness to their guests, me being ‘just' one of them. Why are managers so reluctant to discuss their performance? Are they just happy with their current performance?

You would say that good service and a service mindset are on their banners, screaming their pole position. How disappointed it is to come to other conclusions when staying at wonderful and renowned hotels and resorts, and giving constructive feedback to the responsible persons. Even though generally speaking service is good, there is always room for improvement.

My main concern is that by first encountering the staff, and secondly the management you immediately know why the performance of the staff is not up to standard. In most cases it is the management itself that does not give the good example in the first place.

Recently I got this déjà vue again when visiting a 5-star well known and for me very pleasant hotel brand. This happened during a more or less informal discussion on a project with a member of staff. Well, actually with two, one right after the other. We were sitting on the outside terrace. Upon my arrival, around noon, the waiter brought me a coffee cup and a not well polished thermos can with coffee, to serve myself a cup of coffee. Looking around, I noticed that I was the only one with such a thermos can. Sugar, milk let alone a spoon, were obviously not part of the deal when you talk to a member of staff in the public area of the hotel among other guests.

The discussions proceeded for about two and a half hour, minus three quarters of an hour when I was left alone "for only five minutes". These must have been the local cultural ‘5 minutes'. Nobody offered me any other drink, nor a refreshment of the coffee, nor anything to eat. This was not my day as I only had my breakfast at 6 in the morning. Maybe, I will give them the advantage of the doubt, they just didn't like me and this was their way to show me? But even then.

My point is: how can the staff know how to deal with guests as they do not see the good example from their own management? At any point of time, management should ‘lead by example'. Good service is a company policy. I do appreciate that in times of crisis, the balance sheet might have priority, but it can never be an excuse to give in on the service to the guests. Guests usually flock to 5-star hotels, just because they want to be pampered.

A second point, less visible to the average guests, but the more a clear ‘proof of the pudding', in respect to service mindset, is the reaction I sometimes receive on my honest and constructive feedback. As you might guess: sometimes ‘non'. But it can even get worse.

The most striking example I got when some time ago I was staying at yet another well known 5-star hotel, which promote butler service as part of the services enjoyed when staying at their club-level rooms. I did not see them, and only after questioning this, somebody of the club lounge pointed them out to me.

During my stay I could not really identify any added value of these club-lounge employees. Upon questioning the management on this I was told that that particular hotel did not have butlers. Then, how come it is on their website and colleagues can even identify them? I did not hear back from them. Such a pity and a lost opportunity I would say, for both the hotel and the guest.

But, maybe there is another battle to fight here. Travelling the world, supporting and coaching butler- and other staff and hospitality organisations, as well as travelling for research, I do recognise this imbalance. Often the so called ‘butler-service' turns out to be no more than ‘window-dressing'. Butlers who have no clue what they are doing, except taking the guest up to the room in a nice outfit, a task which is most of the time very well, and possibly better, executed by the bellman. Or the butler who wrote a note on the palm of his hand with my pen as he had pen nor paper.

Butler-service is not something you can create by giving staff a nice badge, stating in nice golden letters ‘Butler'. It is a philosophy, a policy, and it requires well trained, dedicated, and passionate staff and managers, especially those who ‘show the way', to make it happen! Only then it is a real added value for the guest staying at these high-end hotels.

Mr Hugo Mechelse, managing director of International Butlers, travels the world enhancing the personalised- and butler services in major 5-star hotels and resorts, private households, private yachts and estates. As part of his passion, in addition, Mr Mechelse works as part time Personal Assistant and Butler himself. International Butlers also offers international business and every-day protocol and etiquette workshops. For further information you can contact him by e-mail: hugo@internationalbutlers.com or visit his website: www.internationalbutlers.com
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