Return Of The Hotel Butler

The word "butler" still conjures up visions of a Wodehousean gentleman in coattails effortlessly managing every detail of an English country estate. But thanks to a growing trend at luxury hotels from Tokyo to Las Vegas, manservants are getting a makeover. Instead of the famously stolid butler of Victorian descent, today's version is a warm and affable personal concierge-cum-valet. And all you need to do to get one is make the right reservation.

Relying on individualized service to set them apart, tony boutique hotels have turned to butler services in an effort to lure customers away from large five-star chains. Like the butlers of yesteryear, these major-domos are apt to look upon an unstarched collar with a somewhat jaundiced eye.

But they're also trained to surf the Net, play a sommelier, unobtrusively pack and unpack bags and plan parties. They can even organize hot-air-balloon rides. "Any hotel can provide all the trappings of modern society, but few can make their guests feel secure and welcome," says Liam Ryan, manager at London's 51 Buckingham Gate, which recently added butlers ($597 to $1,460 per night;

The Howard in Edinburgh has service fit quite literally for a queen. Head butler Cory Douglas Campbell was employed by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. To ensure that standards are met at the hotel, Campbell runs an intensive butler-training course that includes field trips to a 700-year-old castle, where participants learn to set a proper dinner table laden with silver and gold. Campbell's butling feats have included having a Domino's pizza delivered to a family on the Edinburgh-to-London train, assisting at a medical emergency when a guest overdosed and bailing out the grandchild of a prominent American from a Bohemian jail. The Howard's guests aren't even required to check in: butlers do so for them while their visitors unwind over drinks in the drawing room. General manager Johanne Falconer says, "We make sure our guests aren't required to lift a finger and are extremely relaxed and pampered" ($198 to $725 a night;

Hotel Seiyo Ginza in Tokyo was the first hotel in Japan to introduce butler services to all its rooms and suites. Its butlers are trained to attend to its guests with customary Japanese hospitality, even taking care of guests who become ill over the course of their stay. Its team of 25 butlers serves 77 rooms and are on call 24 hours a day ($450 to $2,000 per night; At So Paulo's Hotel Emiliano, the staff of male and female butlers goes a step further, decorating the rooms with fresh flowers and candles. They'll even order up your bathrobe of choice ($365 to $660 per night; ).

American hotels have been surprisingly slow to capitalize on the trend. Bellagio in Las Vegas is one of the few that offer 24-hour butler services for its villas ($5,000 to $6,000 per night; Jeffrey Landesberg, the head butler, even shops for his guests' designer clothes and cosmetics. So next time you forget to pack your Armani suit, don't head out on a shopping spree. Just ring for the butler.