A Hotel Head Butler's Day
Published: May 2011
By Kathryn O'Shea-Evans
What’s a day as a Lanesborough Hotel head butler like? T+L goes behind the scenes to find out.
The snooze button is not an option for Daniel Jordaan, the 35-year-old South African who oversees all 23 butlers at London’s iconic Lanesborough hotel, in Knightsbridge. “I’ve wanted to be in the hospitality industry since I was six years old,” he says. “My parents owned a hunting lodge in the Karoo, so I learned early on the importance of good service.” After completing his training at hotels across South Africa, he landed a job at the Lanesborough, one of the first London hotels to institute private butlers 20 years ago. From the moment Jordaan wakes up, he’s on the job. “I watch BBC News religiously every morning, since I deal with politicians, celebrities, and royals all day,” he says. On his train ride to work, he checks e-mail on his BlackBerrys—he has two—and reviews the arrivals list.
Jordaan inspects the butlers on shift. (Shoes shined? Check. Fresh shave? Check. Suits ironed? Check.) “I hire people who have extreme attention to detail, along with great intuition and manners,” Jordaan says. He personally delivers hot coffee and tea, a newspaper, and the weather report to his guests, and switches on the news or opens the curtains, depending on requests.
“A guest arriving today wants a rare Japanese apple in his room upon check-in,” Jordaan tells the main kitchen’s chef, who places the order. At a hotel where it’s rumored a guest once asked for, and received, zebra milk—no request is too outlandish.
“I’m craving another coffee,” he says, “but I’ve downed two in the last three hours.” Jordaan texts all butlers on their BlackBerrys—it’s time for the morning’s briefing and a crash course in international greetings. “I’m obsessive about making guests feel welcome in their native tongue,” he says, noting that all butlers are taught to say “hello” and “thank you” in most languages, and they tend to speak three. They can also hand-sew missing buttons, troubleshoot iPhones, and cater to your mood—good or bad.
“I have to send a porter out,” Jordaan says. “A pop star has asked for some black Egyptian-cotton towels and 15 fig-scented candles from Jo Malone.” Another request? To arrange an impromptu en suite birthday party that afternoon with cupcakes, decorations, and gifts for the six-year-old daughter of another guest. “Thank goodness for Harrods.”
A woman calls the hotel very concerned, because her boss isn’t answering his phone. Jordaan checks on him and finds he’s merely sleeping off a very eventful night. To rouse him, he sprinkles some water on his face and ensures the CEO is off to the airport.
There’s a crisis in the laundry room: a colored sock has made its way into a load of white underwear, staining everything pea green. He sends an assistant to purchase a set of the same brand. “We won’t enlighten the guest—some things are best left unsaid.”
A FedEx box with a couture wedding dress inside arrives, sent from a bride in New York. “She’s getting married here in two weeks,” Jordaan says, before having the dress steamed and put under lock and key.
The Japanese apples have arrived, but the supplier sent the wrong ones. Jordaan sends a driver to Fortnum & Mason to buy a dozen at five times the original price.
Finally, lunch. On the menu? Smoked salmon, hummus, wild rocket, and beetroot on whole-wheat pita bread (Jordaan’s favorite) served in the staff dining room, with a bowl of Italian almond ice cream from Apsleys, the hotel’s restaurant.
Jordaan greets several repeat visitors and then checks his e-mail. A regular guest in Germany is collecting branded hotel pens and has requested the Lanesborough’s, so Jordaan pops one in an envelope and drops it by the concierge to be mailed out.
Sound the alarm—a guest’s evening gown has been torn by her suitcase zipper, and she’s supposed to wear it to a film premiere tonight. Luckily, seamstress Nina Rayit—who works with everyone from Simon Cowell to the Duchess of York—is on Jordaan’s speed dial and arrives within 15 minutes.
It’s the busiest time for check-ins. Jordaan greets the head of an African state, the CEO of a successful global brand, and a well-known actress who his mother presumed dead long ago. “I must text my mum to tell her that she is still with us,” he says.
In the junior suite, Jordaan and a co-worker inspect the setup for the birthday party. The room’s refined décor has been Mattel-ified, with hot-pink balloons and plastic daisies everywhere. When 10 excited kids arrive at the door, the butlers start to sing “Happy Birthday.”
A Thai couple is arriving on their honeymoon, so Jordaan heads to the kitchen to find rice and sesame seeds to display on a silver tray as a welcome gift. “These symbolize good luck and fertility,” Jordaan says, leaving the gifts next to their bed.
A repeat American guest invites Jordaan to the hotel’s Withdrawing Room bar for a quick drink (fruit juice on the rocks—he’s on duty).
Jordaan does a last-minute floor check, greeting each of the butlers with a personal “Good night; call me if you need anything.” Just as he’s printing tomorrow’s arrivals list, there’s one last demand: the $12,000-a-night Royal Suite would like a formal five-course private dinner for eight, served on the double. High-profile requests typically go through Jordaan, but he quickly assigns in-room dining and the Royal Suite butler with the task.
On his way home, Jordaan swings by Marks & Spencer to pick up ready-made paella for dinner. Exhausted from his day, he drifts off, hoping the Royal Suite dinner is a success.
Doubles from $781, including butler service.