Expertly trained butlers create a Bespoke experience for every St. Regis guest.
By Vicki Hogue-Davies
The first known use of the word “butler” was in the 13th century, and throughout the years the profession has typically remained in the exclusive domain of society’s upper echelons. Iconic Gilded Age families—including the Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors—had butlers to organize and oversee their household matters, assisting with everything from managing other staff to greeting their guests and pouring their wines. St. Regis brings a modern interpretation of that golden era to its guests through its signature butler service. Butlers provide a variety of services designed to make guests feel completely at home in the refined elegance of the St. Regis Hotels & Resorts.
“A St. Regis butler does not just serve, we engage our guest,” says Khairunissa Jalal, a butler at The St. Regis Atlanta. “We tailor every aspect of our guest’s stay, and we anticipate our guest’s needs. Before the guest makes a request, I hope to have it complete. We use the phrase ‘allow me’ to offer our services in a proactive way.”
St. Regis butlers have faithfully served their guests for more than 100 years, beginning in 1904, when Col. John Jacob Astor IV opened the flagship St. Regis property in New York with the vision of rivaling the greatest hotels in Europe. The butler service, with five butlers, was introduced to help make guests feel that they were not in a hotel, but in an exclusive private home.
“Lady Astor, the colonel’s mother, helped to create this sense of refinement throughout all aspects of hotel operation—from the daily delivery of fresh flowers and the implementation of the English-style butler service, to afternoon tea services and exclusive social gatherings,” says Chen-Chih Lin, a butler at The St. Regis San Francisco. “In turn, Col. Astor began enhancing this new, seductive style of luxury, using the butler service to deliver bottles of champagne, cognac and hand-rolled cigars.”
When Astor’s butlers served his prominent guests, they did so wearing tuxedo jackets with tails and white gloves, in keeping with a formal English sensibility. The attire of today’s butlers varies. At some properties, such as Aspen and Atlanta, butlers wear elegant, dark gray three-piece suits, while others, like those in New York and Houston, continue to dress with more formality. “In Houston, butlers wear a tuxedo jacket, with the longer tails, pinstripe pants, gray vests and ascots,” says LeRoy Albertini, assistant director of housekeeping at The St. Regis Houston. “Our uniforms are modeled on the uniform butlers wore when the St. Regis opened its doors in 1904.”
The butler service Astor introduced moved to around-the-clock service in 1991, during a renovation of the New York hotel. “Today, The St. Regis New York provides this 24-hour service with 33 butlers who combined speak more than 38 languages,” says Barbara Maly, a butler in New York. Other properties followed this model of unparalleled dedication to providing their guests the ultimate luxury experience and, in 2010, St. Regis took butler service to 21st century heights when it implemented the e-butler, which allows guests to email their personal butlers requests from any location, whether on or off the property. Many butlers even carry wireless handheld devices to receive guests’ wishes.
“One thing that has remained constant throughout these years is that the elegance and tradition of the butlers has not changed,” says butler Marc Rapp of The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort. “The commitment and uncompromising levels of service still continue to enliven the guest experience.”
All in a Day’s Work
Signature services provided by St. Regis butlers include greeting guests and orienting them to their rooms, the property and even the surrounding town or city. Butlers will also unpack and pack luggage, if desired, and take shoes for shining and clothes for pressing. Morning coffee and tea arrive via butlers, who provide white-glove pouring. Arranging wake-up calls, sending faxes, making dinner reservations and undertaking other tasks are all in a day’s work for butlers. Acquiring theater tickets, obtaining last-minute gifts and even arranging for guests’ dogs to be walked are additional ways butlers provide uncompromising service. St. Regis butlers are trained for a variety of tasks from serving formal high tea to coordinating surf, ski or swim lessons.
“Because we are such a small town, I can run to the market or pharmacy for guests,” says Hunter Adams, head butler at The St. Regis Aspen Resort. “We also have some guests who provide lists of items they want in their room when they arrive and we can get those. During ski season, I do run down to the gondola quite a bit to pick up ski passes and lift tickets.”
A workday for a butler at a St. Regis property can vary depending upon the amenities and location of the individual hotel or resort. At Bal Harbour, it might include setting up a special lunch featuring a 60-pound fish caught by a guest on the Atlantico restaurant terrace, says Rapp. “It might also include sabering a bottle of Möet for a birthday party in a guest’s suite, as well as providing the guest with training and allowing him to saber his own bottle.”
Whatever the task at hand, the credo of butlers is that they do it with friendliness, but not familiarity, and discretion is always key.
“What I love most about the job is meeting all of our incredible guests and essentially becoming a part of their family during their stay with us,” says Wilson Pedroza, head butler at The St. Regis Monarch Beach. “My biggest reward is hearing that I have made a lasting impression on a guest during their stay. It is always our aim to anticipate our guest ’s needs and when that is executed flawlessly and with discretion I am reminded why I love this job.
“One must possess a friendly, polite and approachable disposition,” he continues. “The idea of having a butler can be intimidating to the average person. So it is imperative in our position that we use our personalities to make the guests feel comfortable and cared for. Discretion is also an absolute as well as the ability to maintain our guests’ confidentiality.”
Some of the more unusual requests requiring discretion of St. Regis butlers include guests asking for bags of frozen vegetables to be delivered to their room at 30-minute intervals, wanting furniture removed from a room or rearranged to specific configurations and even having the bathtub filled with swimming pool water. This latter task was most daunting because the property in question has no swimming pool, so the butlers had to go with buckets to a nearby pool.
“When more unusual requests occur, we can’t ask why,” says Jennifer Giacche, a butler at The St. Regis New York. “Whatever our guests want, they most of the time receive.”
“Unusual requests often come from our celebrities,” Albertini notes. “Oftentimes, we might have a week, if we are lucky, to prepare— sometimes just a day.” One request that is fairly common among celebrities is to have exercise equipment brought to their suites, “so they can have privacy during their workouts,” he adds.
Becoming a Butler
St. Regis butlers hold a variety of backgrounds, as the exact requirements for the job varies between properties. Prior hospitality experience is often a prerequisite, whether through on-the- job training or a hospitality school. Many of the most prestigious schools, such as Les Roches International School of Hotel Management, are in Switzerland. Giacche, who had been a butler for two years, attended the school, while Maly, who joined the hotel as a butler in 1995, has a bachelor’s degree in the fashion industry and learned on-the- job in Germany before gaining more experience in New York.
Having multi-cultural experience is often important for St. Regis butlers.
“We look for butlers who are multicultural and speak more than one language,” says Lisa Cochran, director of rooms at The St. Regis Houston. “All of our butlers are at least bilingual, some are trilingual. They speak Spanish, French, Thai, Mandarin and other languages. When international guests come in, we try to pair them with butlers who speak their language.”
Niruth Chantarasaka, head butler at The St. Regis Houston, speaks Thai and Laos in addition to English. A St. Regis butler for 14 years, he also speaks a little Arabic, “enough to offer greetings,” he says.
Lin concurs that a global outlook is highly beneficial. “While in Taiwan, I participated in a general butler training program, though on- the-job experience and strong observation skills are both crucial to success in this industry. If a potential candidate has studied abroad or has lived among diverse surroundings, then that individual’s global experiences will serve as an advantage for the butler position,” Lin says.
Once butlers arrive at St. Regis, they undertake the two-day St. Regis Butler Certification Training, which is based on English tradition, according to Jalal. “It educates butlers to provide ever-present, yet unobtrusive service while anticipating needs and customizing each guest’s stay,” she says. Their education continues during two weeks of training on the floor. Butlers work with different areas, such as the concierge, wine sommelier, guest services and others to understand everything about their property. “Guests expect us to know everything, so we do,” Maly says.
“We have guests with very high expectations who can afford to have what they want,” adds Giacche. “The one thing these guests can’t buy is time—the main objective of the butler service is to provide time for our guests. Time is what we are saving for them.”
“I enjoy exceeding expectations and making our guests happy,” Giacche says. Being a St. Regis butler is “never boring, we meet a lot of different people. We are all focused on making our guests happy— and I believe that is a really big accomplishment.”
Rapp concurs that exceeding expectations is one of his greatest on-the-job pleasures. He says, “I enjoy the freedom that we have to provide the highest level of service to our guests without limitations.”