Sean Davoren is head butler at the relaunched Savoy hotel, which reintroduced the traditional service after 50 years. He talks to Janie Stamford about continuing the traditional art of good service.
What makes a good butler?
You need to have a personality and you have to like people. A good butler should also prefer to be behind the scenes. People think a butler is intrusive but it's not. A butler should enhance the guest experience while blending in with the wallpaper.
How did you get into this career?
I started my working life in hotels and decided I wanted to specialise. I did a course at the English School of Butlering. It cost £4,500 for five weeks, which was woefully expensive at the time [more than 25 years ago]. But if I didn't have a hospitality background it would have been useless because you can't make a butler in five weeks.
Why was butler service reintroduced at the Savoy?
We've lost a lot of traditional service skills in this country. Waiters used to know how to carve; to flambé. Now most only know how to carry a plate. It's a sign of the times, but people still like that flair and detail. Accountants probably balk at the cost of introducing a butler service but I think it gives value for money.
Are young people interested in a career as a butler?
I have quite a young team with the youngest being a 23-year-old graduate. They go on a steep learning curve because they learn not just the practical skills but also how to interact with and read guests, and that takes practice. It sounds a cliché but I've learned how to know what someone will say before they say it.
What has been the most unusual request?
I was once asked to provide a guest with wild goats' milk. You sometimes wonder whether they're yanking your chain, but it was genuine. I agreed and said it would take me eight hours. I sent a chauffeur-driven car to Wales to get it. The chauffeur cost £650, the milk cost £3.50. But it's that attention to detail that's important.