April 2005


By Steven Ferry

The spa butler is really the architect
of the ultimate spa hospitality experience

Many high-end hotels and resorts offer spa services and are looking for a way to excel even further and so differentiate themselves in the minds of their guests. The same could be said of the butler service offered by many such institutions. Both programs add value and prestige, but is there a way to improve these service offerings? The same question could be asked of medical spas. The short answer to both questions is, “Yes!”

Spa service has one key flaw: it ends the moment a guest leaves the spa to return to his or her suite. The way to make a guest’s experience a complete one, and offer a total immersion in the “get away from it all” relaxation and rejuvenation, is to make the butler service an extension of the spa experience, wherein spa-trained butlers provide their usual high-end service in the hotel, but with the added knowledge and techniques that enable the spa environment to continue in the guest’s own suite.

A guest, for instance, may well undergo a catharsis or detoxification as a result of his or her spa experience – knowing how to deal with this with understanding and empathy can create quite an impact on guests. Moments of drama aside, when a butler knows and understands the spa program of a guest, he can converse about the guest’s experiences with good reality, should the guest so desire, and can also take actions to enhance that program – such as adding a complEmentary (not complImentary!) bath salt to the bath, rather than one that conflicts with the spa program.

The spa butler is really the architect of the ultimate spa hospitality experience, designing and arranging the entire spa guest experience. The spa still delivers the spa services, but the butler acts as the main point of contact before, during and after the guest’s stay. Because he understands and knows what the guest is going through, and the basic spa methodologies, he can be there for the guests and extend the entire stay into a smooth experience for them. That’s the simplicity of the program.

Translated into the real world, this program means the butler asks and cares about the guest’s goal in coming to the spa; he cares about the guest’s room, ensuring that the space reflects the guest’s needs and wants. The butler supports the guest by being a sounding board and conversing with understanding and empathy. He introduces the guest to the people, places and services he or she will be experiencing at the spa, answering all questions and resolving all concerns. He smoothes the preparations for each spa experience and helps the guest through the ramifications of each spa treatment, asking the right questions.

The spa butler understands the mechanism of each spa treatment in order to give accurate and convincing explanations of treatments to the guest. The application of hot or cold therapy to the body may seem odd or even silly to the guest without an understanding of the expected physiological effects and benefits. Earning the guest’s confidence and compliance with intelligent answers to his/her questions is an important part of the spa butler service.

Types of Guests

There are at least four categories of spa guests.

Identifying them is key to serving them successfully.

“Fluff and Buff” guests are delighted with the ultimate in pampering. They are investing time, energy and money in the expectation they will be treated as kings and queens. They are enjoying a mini vacation from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

“ROI” guests are looking for a return on their investment. They are spa savvy, meaning that they have been to spas before and have preconceived notions about what a great spa experience is and should be. They expect their spa experience to deliver on the health enhancement and therapeutic expectations they have formulated.

“Solution seeker” guests want a spa experience to alleviate pain and discomfort from their ongoing medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, osteo-arthritis, etc. and are hoping to find relief and answers that will alleviate some of their suffering.

“Transformer” guests are committed to transforming their own worlds, understanding they play an integral and vital role in optimizing their health and well being. They trust the spa to have highly specialized facilitators who honor the holistic nature of man.

By knowing and understanding each guest’s goal and being there for them in their pursuit of that goal, the butler forms a unique relationship with guests and so brings about the ultimate spa hospitality experience.

The spa butler forms a unique relationship with guests
the skills that spa butlers need there is a move to create a 6-Star rating for hotel spas

Ask Not What The Butler Did, But What He Can Do For Your Hotel

The Hotel Butler - Recognizing the Value Butlers Bring to the Bottom Line

We all know the cliché, but what did the butler do that made him so uncharacteristically the focus of attention? In movies and board games, he generally is the one the police want to question further. In the hotel environment, the butler has turned out to be either a failed and somewhat embarrassing experiment, or the ultimate offering in Guest Services that helps keep high-rack occupancy rates at 100%.

Where the butler concept fails, it is because he (or she) is cast in (frankly) degrading-to-the-profession roles such as “bath butler,” “fireplace butler, “technology butler,” “baby butler” (who provides rocking chairs and watches children), “dog butler,” “ski butler,” and “beach butler.” The idea being, apparently, that anything offering superior service in some small area is called “a butler” in an effort to siphon some of the prestige of the profession. At best, the idea is myopic, at worst, self-defeating.

At least when the term valet was extended to “dumb valet,” that furniture item upon which one lays out clothing for the following day, there was no pretence that this was the real item. Fortunately for the profession, the public were not fooled or taken in by these “dumb butlers” and the practice has faded relatively rapidly – hopefully before it soured guests on the value of being serviced by (real) butlers in hotels.

And fortunately so for the butlers working in top hotels around the world, who do justice to the profession, and the hotel managements who have recognized the value butlers bring to the bottom line and the repute of word of mouth for their establishments.

In an industry that is completely premised on the idea of service, and in which service is a key differentiator, it’s a no-brainer to institute butler service. Butlers have always represented the pinnacle in service quality. After the initial required training, the running of a butler service is not much more expensive to provide than regular service, yet it allows rack rates to be raised and creates a loyal following of repeat visitors, as well as enhancing word of mouth and thus new business that make the investment most sound.

Instituting butler service can be done gradually, perhaps instituting it on one floor, and at not such a great cost, especially when considering the return on investment. Fifteen rooms can be well serviced by four butlers on three shifts, for instance, with one of them assigned as Head butler. If service is to be 24-hour, then a fifth butler would be needed.

Assuming an owner or manager decides to institute butler service, the next question is, “How?”

The first step is to bring on board the most service-minded of your employees to undergo training. The second: Bring in one of the handful of butler trainers who can train hotel butlers (as distinct from butlers in private residence, as the hotel environment is very different and requires fewer and different skills than the traditional butler).

In putting together a training program, it is important to know the four main elements that hotel butler trainees and hotel butler programs need in order to succeed.

First of all, there are the mechanical actions, the skills that butlers need, such as how to clean shoes, how to greet guests and tour them around their suite, how to arrange events for their stay, how to draw baths, pack suitcases, etc.

Then there is knowing and adopting as second nature the psyche or mindset of the butler. In order to do something effectively and with conviction, one has to be able to be the role that one is playing fully.

This is obvious when watching a great actor in a movie. But it is also true in life, too. Unless a trainee butler has the right demeanor, attitude and approach as a starting point, he or she will never be able to carry off the role convincingly or handle guests and even fellow staff with the aplomb that makes butlers such quintessential service professionals.

This is why the training has to include the history, rationale, characteristics and communication skills of the traditional butler, and enough drilling-in of these elements so that when the novice butler is faced with a tricky or embarrassing situation, he or she is not left tongue-tied, upsetting guests, or proving that he is not the smooth, low-key character that guests expect in their butlers.

When friendly American hospitality employees chatter endlessly and over-familiarly with guests and follow mantras about always greeting the guest by name at least three times within so many minutes, they are presenting ingrained training patterns that do not add up to the butler experience. This is not to say that the butler is not friendly, but there are other ways of expressing it than by well-worn phrases and compulsive chatter.

Thirdly, having covered the theory and done copious drills on applying the skills in a classroom environment, the trainer needs to move out with the butlers and expose them gradually to guests in the actual areas they will be providing butler service.

By this is meant that trainees use each other and then senior staff as guest guinea-pigs, and they then service known-to-be-easy guests, and finally are allowed to service VIPs and known-to-be-difficult guests.

The trainer should correct them on an internship or apprenticeship basis until the trainees can confidently do their duties.

Finally, for training to be practical and workable, it needs to tie the general actions of butling into the specific hotel environment in which they are working.

This means the trainer has to work with hotel management and butler trainees to adapt existing SOPs (standard operating procedures) and propose new ones that align with existing SOPs.

It is workable to develop such SOPs during the early training steps and then drill them and correct them as needed during the apprenticeship period, fine-tuning against the hotel environment until they are smooth and effective.

The result is best compiled into a butler manual that can be referred to as needed by the butlers, and which can also be used to train more butlers.

The program will probably expand based on the successes of the initial pilot.

That has certainly been the experience to date – one owner even building a whole new hotel at $1.5 million per-room-cost just to be able to expand on the butler service pilot he had run.

It is also possible that there will be some attrition or turnover, but to date, hotel butlers that have been trained as above have proven happy enough with their situation to politely decline the inevitable offers from guests to return home with them and run their private households or yachts.

The end result of the whole program as outlined above is generally employees with high morale who competently carry out their duties, wooing guests and resulting, as stated before, in higher-than-usual occupancy, a high rate of return visits, and the opportunity to increase rack rates while enjoying stellar word of mouth.

Which is perhaps why there is a move afoot to create a 6-Star rating for hotels, predicated in great part on butler service. The wave of the future is based in part on the past. How fitting! Perhaps it would be better to ask then, not what the butler did, but what he (or she) could do for you.


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