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One does not employ the term “butler” lightly. It’s a vocation loaded with associations, a mixture of old-world civility and imperial elitism. Who, in this era of glorious populism, needs a butler? People who stay at Ritz-Carlton hotels, evidently. The famously five-star chain now features a “technology butler” on-site at all but one of its 36 hotels worldwide (As-Suways, Egypt remains, sadly, unbutlered). Recently, we talked to Michael D‘Anthony, the first American technology butler we know of, and the developer of the companywide program.
Why a technology butler?
Everyone’s on the Internet now, and everyone needs their e-mail. Either they can‘t plug in their computer, or they don’t know how to change the settings on their computer, or they can‘t figure out how to get their e-mail, or whatever.
Why not just “Ritz-Carlton tech support”?
The Ritz-Carlton has a mystique behind it. It’s different from everybody else. It‘s five-star, five-diamond service. The concept of the butler kind of goes hand in hand with that. And “tech support” has a bad name. The concept of the butler is someone who comes to you and does it for you, someone who helps you out, lays out your shoes, lays out your jacket -- or, in this case, someone who comes to you and opens your files, gets your documents printed.
But some people with your degree of specialized training and education might feel uncomfortable being called a “butler.” a
That doesn’t make me uncomfortable. We have a philosophy here: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” That‘s one of our standards within our hotel company, and it’s really true.
You probably deal with some pretty chichi guests at the Ritz, people who are accustomed to having real butlers.
Sometimes, but the more chichi people aren‘t lugging around laptops and in need of that kind of assistance. The people I mostly come in contact with as the technology butler are your typical road warriors. I’ve had people not realize their laptop is hooked up to a network when they‘re in the office. They bring their laptop in and, without even trying to plug it into something, they can’t understand why they can‘t get their e-mail and can’t find their files.
Gimme a story. What‘s the funniest thing that’s happened to you, or the most horrific? What‘s the biggest crisis you ever solved for someone?
Well, it’s funny, usually the crises seem so much bigger to the guest than they are. In fact, today I had a woman who handed me her laptop, and she was, like, “It‘s dead, I don’t know what to do.” So I set her up with another laptop, and I told her that in the meantime I‘d tinker with hers. Basically the battery had just died, and I guess she thought she’d already tried plugging it in, but I took it and plugged it in, turned it on . . . and it came on, no problem. But of course, the problem there is figuring out a diplomatic way of telling them you solved their problem without saying, “You didn‘t plug it in.” You don’t want them to feel like idiots. I mean, I may be laughing to myself, but I don‘t want them to think I’m laughing at them.
Do other hotels have technology butlers?
I think the Intercontinental hotels have what they call a “computer concierge.” We wanted an idea that would stick in people‘s minds. It’s as much a marketing thing as it is a system to help our guests. We want our guests to tell their friends, “I was at the Ritz, and they had a technology butler.”
What if someone‘s not a guest? If I had a tech question, I could call the technology butler and ask you?