The heady scent of roses and exotic fruit tea is intoxicating as I enter the hotel suite. “We are so happy to have you,” says a smiling Indian gentleman in a perfectly pressed suit. His words are impossible not to believe.
Treating guests like royalty is a lofty goal that many hotels—too many—give much lip service to. Most properties, as we know, rarely live up to the promise. At New York City’s iconic Pierre hotel, which also happens to be the U.S. flagship for India-based Taj Hotels, a new butler service takes the challenge quite literally. Its “Royal Attachés” have tended to real-life kings and queens, as well as a who’s who of heads of state.
On a visit to the Pierre, I had the opportunity to taste, if only for a couple hours, the life of a Maharaja. Offered to Grand Suite guests, this level of Indian-style hospitality is the first of its kind in the U.S. For travelers who’ve experienced stilted, uncomfortably formal butler services near and far, the Taj Royal Attachés are a refreshing change. The overall service is, of course, as considered and detailed oriented as one might expect. But what’s unique—and what caught me off-guard—was the genuine warmth of the staff.
Beyond the customary tending, guests can choose additional Royal Attaché experiences, which include infused foot or soaking baths, luggage packing, personalized concierge services, and what’s appropriately named a Royal Culinary Journey, designed by the Pierre’s talented executive chef, Ashfer Biju. On my visit, his parade of cardamom and fenugreek-perfumed dishes was an Indian feast for the senses. I especially loved the wild sea bass with cumin lentil crust and cinnamon jam (pictured below) and his palate-cleansing tamarind sorbet.
Elaborate flower arrangements were placed on the table, condensation-soaked cocktail napkins whisked away, and plates delivered, always with a quiet, encouraging “please enjoy” from the Attachés. I sensed a sincere pride in their home country’s rich cuisine. In a city where luxury amenities abound and cynicism is an art form, it’s easy to see how the honest, welcoming ways of the Attachés stand out.
The tradition of royal Indian hospitality, according to Sireesha Ghiara, Manager of Learning and Development for Taj Hotels in Mumbai, is over a century year old, with roots going back to 1903, when English butlers were employed across the Subcontinent. The more native traditions of palace service go back even further.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the Royal Attaché training, which is comprised of six weeks of intense soft and technical education followed by on-the-job experience, is a body language intensive where Attachés learn to read posture, eye contact, and facial expressions. Some 70 percent of the way people communicate is via body language, so understanding how to “read between the lines” is of the utmost importance, says Ghiara. “Beyond these skills, there also must be an innate desire to please. It takes a special candidate to fit all the criteria and become an Taj Royal Attaché.”
The Taj Boston and Campton Place in San Francisco will debut their Royal Attachés this coming spring. The good news is that you don’t have to be Barack Obama or a member of the Royal Family of Jaipur to experience their charms.
Adrien Glover is the deputy digital editor at Travel + Leisure.