Mumbai set to inherit butler traditions of century-old New York hotel chain

Aug 23, 2015, 09:55 IST | Phorum Dalal

Dominik Hengge, chief butler of St Regis Bangkok, readies a team of 35 for the Mumbai property launch

Ten minutes into this interview, 35-year-old Dominik Hengge, politely requests the photographer if he could, instead, take pictures of his left profile — the right one, marked by a zit is currently not his best. And, after all, Hengge as the chief butler at the The St Regis chain of hotel’s Bangkok property, is used to showing his best and most charming side to guests.

Hengge was in the city for a fortnight to train the 35-member staff at The Palladium Hotel, Lower Parel, which will in September turn into The St Regis Mumbai. Along with its name, the Mumbai property will also inherit the butler traditions of the century-old New York hotel chain. Hengge tells us what guests can now expect.

Dominik Hengge
Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Q. What is the legacy of the St Regis Butler Service?
A. John Jacob Astor IV founded the first hotel in New York in 1904 with the idea of offering a home away from home. Having grown up in a house with butlers, he extended this bespoke and anticipatory service at his hotels. Across our 30 properties, today, we have five signature services including unpacking and packing, eButler Service (where you can email your requests), beverage service (coffee and tea on the house) and champagne sobering (Wednesdays and Fridays).

Q. What can a guest expect?
A. When a guest comes to your house, you don’t tell them that your room is up the staircase to your left. You’ll walk them through the room, show them where the towel is, the bathroom amenities etc. To ensure that guests feel at home, we do the same. We unpack their luggage and set it in the closet — this buys them time to go to the pool, have a cup of coffee, or go shop. Usually, guests live out of their suitcases when they travel. They don’t need to do that here. We make notes of habits of long-staying guests, so that we can anticipate their requirements. We are trained to look for clues. Little things count. For instance, if we notice that the guest sleeps on the right side of the bed, we ensure that the room slippers are placed on that side.

Q. What training does a butler undergo?
A. There’s classroom training where we learn about different cultures, how to be polite, and how to look dapper at all times. On the job, we usually assist a senior who shows us the ropes — like packing and unpacking, people interaction and meeting demands. Mostly, we learn by experience, and one can never be prepared enough.

Q. What are some of the weirdest requests you have received?
A. A lady had checked in at our San Franscisco hotel. Her husband was joining her in two hours. While we were unpacking her suitcase, she realised that she’d forgotten his pyjamas. ‘Not again!’ she screamed. Since she had to rush for a meeting, we rushed to a nearby mall, emailed her pictures of what was available. She chose one that was similar to what he owned. I remember, it was grey with white stripes. We placed it on the bed just before he arrived. Another time, we helped a man propose to his girlfriend. We decorated the room with roses and balloons and offered a champagne bottle. Thankfully, she said yes.

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