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The Challenges of Butler Service in China
Published by: Hugo Mechelse
Published on: 21-11-2013 7:03 PM
Pageviews: 1934

Often I get the question how to implement butler service in China. Is this country fit for this concept, and if so, how does it work?

For sure it is not a ‘pluck-and-play’ concept. The very reason for this is a cultural aspect related to a major difference between the Christian European countries where the butler service originates from and the Chinese Confucian heritage. I always state that no one should defy his heritage. Having travelled through China and Asia for over 10 years I have grown a fondness for the heritage present, which we in Europe sometimes seem to forget.

Cultural Differences Create Different Attitudes to Service

But where is the basic difference that effects the Butler Service? The key can be found in the concept of ‘hierarchy’.  As the research by Geert Hofstede shows, hierarchy is a key value in Asian countries in that there is a major ‘power distance’ between people. It makes for the basis of the Confucian lifestyle. There are upsides to this but for the Butler certainly major challenges, as the distance we have to our employers should be as small as possible. In European counties it is much easier to approach our employers, to work with them, and to be appreciated for what we do. Although also here there are exceptions, due to the lifestyle and attitude of some employers, generally speaking the butler is accepted to be more equal. This comes from both the Christian culture as well as from the heritage of the concept itself. Service to high ranking families was formerly executed by young offspring from other high ranking families, as part of their education. Only later these young men, it was mostly men doing this job, were replaced by professionals. Their position was further away from the family but still very close, due to the historical development.

Privacy and Butler Service – Can They Co-Exist?

In Asia and in China in particular we have to realise that this concept is in conflict with the hierarchical society. However in my opinion this is partly due to the lack of knowledge of the core value and especially the benefits of a butler within a family or in a hotel.

Privacy and respect is the key here. For, why should you employ a butler in the first place? The main reason is that you want to spend more time as you think is useful for your life, your family and your lifestyle. And surprisingly, this exactly matches the passion a good butler has for his job and the family or guests he works for. His key objective is to ‘bring pleasure to other people’. It should be clear, and especially ‘made clear’ that securing privacy for the Butler is as common as the sun going up every morning. Our trade mark is ‘discretion’. Butlers ‘see but do not see, hear but do not hear’. This notion runs trait through the concept of hierarchy. For sure the guest and the employer have to let go of part of their privacy, but this is in good hands and above all: the return on this ‘investment’ is huge!

The challenge we have is to how to take this next step. I suggest that we start with investing in real butler service. Although I can clearly see a change already, from experience I still have the impression that ‘butler service’ is often used as a kind of ‘window dressing’ to show off. But as long as guests and employers can not feel and experience the real value actual Butler Service has to their life, it works counter productively. It only confirms the already existing notion that it is a violation of privacy. What should be made clear is that it is not a’ violation’! On the contrary, we should make clear and show that it is a huge added value to the comfort and enjoyment of a luxury lifestyle!

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