How to properly utilise the services of a butler in hotels and resorts

It always feels more Downton Abbey than downtown Manhattan – or uptown anywhere else – but the practice of assigning holidaymakers a personal butler, assistant or aide in expensive hotels or resorts is on the increase.

For most of us Australians, it can be a distinctly uncomfortable experience. Living what we fondly imagine to be more or less egalitarian lives in the land of the fair go, even employing cleaners makes some feel queasily uneasy.

But this is another level entirely. And while Brits, Americans, Russians and some travellers from the Middle East seem to manage, we often don't.

I still remember with horror my first time. When the Park Hyatt Sydney opened on the harbour in 1990, I was dispatched as an undercover journalist to test the much-heralded new butler service. My brief was to be as demanding and rude as I could possibly be, to see how they coped.

I'm happy to report, they took every demand – from running me a bath to finding me a tennis partner (who let me win), from fetching me a meal from McDonald's at midnight to turning up in the morning to raise my blinds and make me tea – in their stride. I, however, died a thousand deaths of embarrassment.

The secret, I've learned over the years since, is to realise they actually have a job to do and, if everyone refused to ask them to do anything, they'd either die of boredom or soon be out of work. But the solution is always to ask nicely, be polite and be grateful.

So when I went back to my villa one day in a fabulous Balinese resort, and thought it had been burgled as none of my stuff was in sight, I bit my tongue and investigated further. Sure enough, my butler had neatly folded every scrap of clothing, even dirty underwear, and carefully put it away.

In Fiji, when I couldn't find my swimmers that I'd left soaking in the sink, I similarly kept quiet. Yes, the next morning they turned up washed and dry and hanging (!) in my wardrobe.

And at a Cambodian resort, when I merely mentioned checking out the gym, a butler turned up in his buggy to give me a lift over the 400 metres, so I couldn't possibly get out of it.

It still feels weird to me to have someone at one's beck and call, and even weirder when, after knowing you for just a day, the best seem to be able to anticipate your every move. I remember wandering around one thickly forested resort in Indonesia, becoming completely lost, until my butler turned up at a fork in the road with a cold drink and cool flannel for my forehead.

But the art lies in relaxing enough to enjoy the attentions of someone professionally trained to help make your trip as enjoyable as possible. And while they insist their reward is in seeing you have a good time, a generous tip always goes a long way too.

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