Mar
09
2011

Top End Hotels Offering Butler Service

A growing number of top-end hotels in the Caribbean—like the Sandals Resorts—are offering personalized butler service to guests.

My butler arrives smartly dressed in black trousers and a gold waistcoat, offering an icy cocktail in a gloved hand.

It’s an odd juxtaposition to see on a white-sand Jamaican beach where the dress code leans more toward flip-flops than spit-polished brogues. But, like more hotels around the world, at this Sandals resort, it’s a level of service available to those willing to pay for the privilege.

I’m really not sure what to ask Tamon Allen—the smiling staffer assigned to cater to my every whim—to do after he whisks me from the busy check-in desk, guides me to my suite, outlines the resort’s amenities and hands me a cellphone.

“Just press the green button to reach me anytime,” he says. “Anything you need, anything at all, just call.”

The Best Job at the All-inclusive Resort

Like most people living in the 21st century, my only knowledge of butlers comes from the world of fiction—TV’s caustic Geoffrey of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air comes to mind.

This level of personal service may take a little getting used to, especially for someone like me who ascribes to a more egalitarian model.

But Tamon’s cool with it. In fact, the butlers here tell me they have the best job among the service staff at this all-inclusive resort. They study and work hard to get this gig—a job only a few of the brightest and best can do, and the only job here that earns tips.

So I try not to feel bad when I press the green button.

“Uhmm, Tamon, can you bring me a drink, here on the beach?” I query, running my toes through the white sand and squinting at the menu, against the glare of perfect turquoise water. “Just surprise me.”

Minutes later, I am sipping a tall, pink, fruity concoction delivered with appropriate aplomb.

Even in the Jamaican heat, I can’t help but feel incredibly underdressed with this polished guy in his starched white collar, but Tamon doesn’t even break a sweat, even when I ask him to pose for pictures.

The Butler Program at Sandals Resorts

Sandals has added the butler program to many of its Caribbean resorts. It started in Jamaica and has since spread to Sandals properties in Antigua, St. Lucia and the Bahamas.

The new Sandals Royal Plantation resort on Jamaica’s north coast is the company’s first “all-butler” boutique resort—with a personal butler assigned to each of the 74 suites—and, in the Bahamas, the company recently opened Emerald Bay, another hotel with all-butler service.

Sandals butlers are professionally trained and work in teams of two, so your service is seamless, day and night. My welcoming letter from Tamon and his partner, Omar, says, “We are here to ensure that all your whims and wishes will be met at all times.”

That’s a tall order, but the list is pretty comprehensive. Whether I’d like them to unpack (or repack) my suitcase, draw a bath, arrange for my breakfast in bed or get a book and deliver it to the beach, my wish is their command.

“If you would like your clothes laundered or pressed, we will have it done. Want to receive your afternoon cocktail at 6 p.m. each day—it will be there for you.”

No more waiting in line for a table at that special restaurant or losing the best chair on the beach to an earlier riser. When I wonder what breadfruit tastes like, my butler offers to go home, make up a wood fire and roast one so I can try it. I decline, but, if it’s possible, the butlers say, “we will get it done for you.”

The Butler Suite

It all comes with a premium price tag (starting at US$490 per person, per night), but when the perfect holiday is in order, butler service leaves little to chance, so it’s popular for honeymoons and anniversaries.

There are 32 “butler suites” at Sandals’ sprawling Whitehouse Resort, with its streetscape of restaurants, massive pools and a spa on Jamaica’s south shore.

This fantasy island lifestyle couldn’t be further from life in the community that stretches along the main road outside the resort walls, where little girls in starched school uniforms wait for the bus and women sell bananas, fish, coal and haircuts at roadside shacks.

It's All About the Service

But for Dwayne Johnson, a local kid who studied business administration, being one of the eight butlers at Whitehouse is a privilege. He’s worked security at the resort, tended bar and waited tables, but he enjoys the freedom he has as a personal butler.

“I love service,” he says, with all sincerity. “It gives me a joy to serve—when you smile and say thank you, I know I’ve done something wonderful and made someone happy.”

I’m cynical, but it’s clear this guy really loves his job; the challenge of noting the smallest details, fixing every problem, even before it occurs. It’s a trick to read a guest, figure out just how much formality or familiarity is in order, and to foresee every need.

“It’s the skill of anticipation,” Dwayne says. “We like to wow our guests.”

Assessing Your Every Need

In terms of service staff, the butler’s job is the resort’s most prestigious position. Many of these young people expect this position will put them on the fast track for future management jobs. As we chat, Dwayne’s telephone rings.

“This is Dwayne, your butler, thank you 
for calling,” he chirps into the handset. “Not 
a problem. Cheese and crackers? A hotdog? I’m going to place the order right now.”

He presses a second button and reports to the kitchen. “Dwayne the Butler here. I need a hotdog for 1428. As soon as it’s ready, give me a call.”

It’s a minor request for such a skilled professional, but Dwayne has this couple pegged—they like their umbrella and lounge chairs on the beach each morning; he drinks beer, she likes rum, and Dwayne makes sure their cooler is always full.

Dwayne admits there isn’t really a tradition of this kind of personal service in Jamaica, and some of his friends don’t really understand his enthusiasm for the job.

“Some people feel a butler is like a slave—it does come up,” he admits. “But, for me, work is work. You’re doing a legitimate job, you can meet great people and you can earn a good living. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

These young butlers—both men and women—all get intensive formal training from the Guild of Professional English Butlers, the same organization that trains butlers for five-star hotels, embassies and royalty.

“Every moment with a guest is a moment of assessment,” head butler Alvan Anderson tells his staff, and they seem to have learned the butler’s art of anticipation well.

You Could Get Used to It

I have a 7 p.m. dinner reservation, and at 6:45, Tamon rings to ask if I’d like him to walk me down to the restaurant. Since this is a couple’s resort, and I’m here on my own, it’s a thoughtful gesture. He leaves me at the door of the dining room and when I wander back to my suite after an elegant meal, I actually whisper “wow” when I open the door.

The room is bathed in candlelight, there are rose petals strewn across the bed and a fragrant bubble bath has been drawn in the soaker tub.

This is the kind of service I could get used to.

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