The Butler Does It . . .
Okay, I’ve noticed something that some of the best hotels are doing, and it’s really piqued my curiosity: What’s with all the butlers?
At two hotels on our recent trip to Sri Lanka – and these are not part of the same hotel group, nor are they in any way affiliated – we’ve been given butlers to see to our every need, both great and small. The reaction from this family has been . . . well, mixed, to say the least.
Guess which camp I fall into?
I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t admit that I love being catered to – bring it on! “More ice, please!” “Another towel would be great!” “Can you bring the golf cart around and take all our bags to the pool?” Laundry needs doing? “Call the butler!” Fiji water rather than Evian? “Let the butler get it!” fresh berries rather than pretzels? “It’s my vacation! Ring the butler!” More pillows and blankets, extra soaps, reservations at the chic little place in town? It’s all under the purview of the butler. You get the idea.
Jim has another take – as usual. He does not want a butler “hovering around,” getting in the way and “getting up in my grill.” He’s a man, and can “man-‘splain” as to why – which includes sports metaphors, of course: He likens a hotel to a basketball game, and he prefers that the hotel staff play “zone” rather than “man-to-man.” Say he wants an electrical adapter: He wants to call to the front desk, for the front desk to call housekeeping, and for a nameless housekeeping person to deliver the adaptor, in exchange for a couple of bucks. “Why wake up a butler and make him get out of bed, all resentful, because I want to charge my iPod at 2 a.m.?” he says. “Let him rest, for Pete’s sake! And during the day, what was wrong with the concept of a concierge? Don’t they do the same thing – only in their own zone?”
We stayed at Cape Weligama, a beautiful new property on the South coast of Sri Lanka. Unlike some of the other clients that our butler (let’s call him “Ted”) had, our needs were simple: A few extra towels, less alcohol and more Pellegrino and Diet Coke in the minibar. (Don’t judge me – Diet Coke is coveted in Sri Lanka and almost as hard to find as the reclusive leopard!) We also needed some laundry done and probably a few other things like . . . well, like high tea served on our terrace, for instance. (For the child, of course, who’d never experienced a “proper” high tea. . . . ) Here’s the thing about a butler: He has more of an investment in making his clients happy, so is more willing to go the extra mile, while housekeeping would simply go back to sleep. And he’s probably making a relatively good salary compared to the other hotel staff.
But then there was the night we were heading to dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurants, opened the door to leave the room, and there was Ted, ready to drive us to dinner in his golf cart – we could see the restaurant from our balcony, and it was a nice night for a stroll. But we didn’t want to hurt the butler’s feelings – so we rode.
At first, Yao Yao was uncomfortable with the concept, feeling that the whole butler deal was a little intrusive. Then she started getting used to it. She began to feel kind of annoyed when she wanted something and Ted wasn’t there to fulfill her every whim. Now in all honesty, at home, I’m the butler, and isn’t it odd that I filled the “butler” role of calling the actual butler and making our desires known! So what’s all this about the butler being intrusive?
I am of two minds: On the one hand, we’re on vacation and the rules are laxer, and what’s the harm in her having someone at her beck and call? On the other hand, our kids go on expensive trips and regularly eat in restaurants that were once considered anniversary-worthy. In the final analysis, Yao Yao is aware she has a fortunate life and has never been an entitled kid. In spite of Jim’s zone preference, my feeling is a little pampering is not going to leave an indelible mark. But there will be no butler in her future, at least anytime soon.
I wonder how Jim looks in a uniform?