One does not employ the term butler lightly. Its 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 DAnthony, the first American technology butler we know of, and the developer of the companywide program.
Why a technology butler?
Everyones on the Internet now, and everyone needs their e-mail. Either they cant plug in their computer, or they dont know how to change the settings on their computer, or they cant 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. Its different from everybody else. Its 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 doesnt make me uncomfortable. We have a philosophy here: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Thats one of our standards within our hotel company, and its 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 arent 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. Ive had people not realize their laptop is hooked up to a network when theyre in the office. They bring their laptop in and, without even trying to plug it into something, they cant understand why they cant get their e-mail and cant find their files.
Gimme a story. Whats the funniest thing thats happened to you, or the most horrific? Whats the biggest crisis you ever solved for someone?
Well, its 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, Its dead, I dont know what to do. So I set her up with another laptop, and I told her that in the meantime Id tinker with hers. Basically the battery had just died, and I guess she thought shed 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 didnt plug it in. You dont want them to feel like idiots. I mean, I may be laughing to myself, but I dont want them to think Im laughing at them.
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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 peoples minds. Its 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 someones not a guest? If I had a tech question, I could call the technology butler and ask you?