We catch up with the head butler at London’s iconic five-star hotel to talk packing tips and keeping pace in the modern world
The word ‘butler’ conjures up mental images of a Jeeves-type character: stoic, senior, slightly world-weary and with the stiffest of upper lips. Indeed, Alfred and co. ostensibly belong to a bygone era of stately homes and servitude. But in the world of five-star service – even an increasingly modern one – there is always a place for the faithful butler.
‘When people think of butlers they think of something very antiquated,’ admits Sean Davoren, head butler at The Savoy hotel, ‘but we’re modern-day butlers. We have to be friendly, we have to be open-minded, we have to understand what you’re looking for. It’s all about detail. Most people wouldn’t notice if the cushions are wrong in the bedroom, but we’re creating a stage, a setting; we have to create the ambience. We strive for exceptional service.’
Davoren first walked through the iconic Art Deco Savoy Courtyard nearly 40 years ago (excluding a hiatus during the hotel’s infamous 3-year, £220 million refurbishment), and in his swift rise to the top he’s seen it all. Like all good butlers, nothing fazes him; even when he casually mentions the 150 suitcases he had to unpack recently (all belonging to the same guest) or the bride who spilled coffee on her dress the morning of her wedding. But no matter what the day (or demanding guest) may throw at him, Davoren remains calm, collected and a consummate professional; always on hand yet never interfering.
‘Dealing with the public is not always easy, but what I’ve learned in life is how you treat somebody, you get that back. I’m not here to judge anybody, I’m here to make sure that I match you as an individual to the service level that you’re expecting.’ These days, he says, you’re just as likely to see a female butler as a male; and The Savoy’s younger, jetsetting clientele are more likely to turn up in high-street jeans than the heavy haute couture favoured by their parents. But regardless of changing times and tastes, the qualities of a butler remain unchanged: ‘I always associate being a butler with going to your local and having a good landlord or lady – they’re funny and humorous and have a bit of banter with you; so you want to come back. It’s exactly the same for us. It is the personalities that bring the business back, not the building itself.’
Still, if any building were to have the kind of architectural and cultural gravitas to attract people from all over the world, it’s The Savoy. As one of London – if not the world’s – most prestigious hotels, it’s seen everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Rihanna step through its iconic doors over the past 130 years. ‘It is the best hotel in London,’ Davoren says emphatically, gesticulating outside of the window towards the picture-postcard view of the Thames and the London Eye. ‘This is my office. I never get tired of it.’
SEAN DAVOREN’S TOP TIPS TO PACK LIKE A PRO
- ‘My golden rule is planning. You need to look at the temperature of where you’re going, what events you’re going to, if you need to get something dry cleaned. Packing is a technique and you should be able to arrive at your destination and be able to take those clothes out and wear them straight away.’
- ‘I guarantee that you won't wear some of the stuff you take. That’s why I tell people to sit and plan; put your clothes on your bed and ask “do I need it, don’t I need it?” Remember that if you spill something, you can always get it dry cleaned. There will always be a laundry service.’
- ‘Before packing, make sure you dust the inside of your suitcase. Never put it on the bedspread. If you have to put it on the bed, put a towel or something underneath it. Take a dry cloth and dust the inside of your case. When I store the suitcase, I generally wrap it in cotton to maintain the quality.’
- ‘Line the bottom of the suitcase with tissue paper. Pack in a square so you have space in the sides. If you lay clothes out flat, they’re going to stay flat. Always think that the top of your case is for your more delicate items.’
- ‘I tend to have a layer of tissue paper between each item of clothing. With men’s jackets, the lapel should never be flat; they’re actually meant to be rolled, so to keep that shape I would roll some tissue paper into a sausage shape and place it under the lapel. I would also put tissue paper into the sleeve to retain the shape and cross the sleeves over. Tissue paper is very important and you can reuse it over and over again.’
- ‘Fill shoes with tights or stockings or more tissue paper, so it keeps the shape of the shoe. Do not put them on the top of the case. Be careful with stiletto heels, so they don’t scratch the case. I definitely recommend shoe bags.’