One does not employ the term ‘butler’ lightly. It’s a vocation loaded with associations, a mixture of old-world civility and imperial elitism. Who, in this era of glorious populism, needs a butler? People who stay at Ritz-Carlton hotels, evidently. The famously five-star chain now features a ‘technology butler’ on site at all but one of its 35 hotels worldwide (Dubai remains, sadly, un-butlered). Recently, the Voice talked to the protobutler, Michael D’Anthony, the first American technology butler that we know of, and the developer of the companywide program.
Why a technology butler? Our guests have technology issues. Everyone’s on the Internet now, and everyone needs their e-mail. When they travel they run into problems. Either they can’t plug in their computer, or they don’t know how to change the settings on their computer, or they can’t figure out how to get their e-mail, or whatever.
Are you yourself the technology butler? Well, it’s a 24-hour service, and like Santa Claus and his elves, there has to be more than one. I can really only be here 22 hours a day. And sometimes I am, like this week, for instance.
Do you have to wear a butler’s uniform? We actually experimented with that for a little while, the concept behind that. It was a nice idea, but it wasn’t really practical for that situation. Working in white gloves and tails isn’t necessarily the most conducive thing to hanging stage lighting, for instance.
Why a butler—why not just “Ritz-Carlton tech support”? The Ritz-Carlton has a mystique behind it. There’s something behind the name Ritz. It’s different from everybody else. It’s five-star, five-diamond service. And the concept of the butler kind of goes hand in hand with that. And tech support has a bad name to it. The concept of the butler is someone who comes to you and does it for you. Someone who helps you out, lays out your shoes, lays out your jacket, or, in this case, someone who comes to you and opens your files, gets your documents printed.
But some people with your degree of specialized training and education might feel uncomfortable being called a butler. That doesn’t make me uncomfortable. There’s a mind-set when you’re working in the hospitality industry. We have a philosophy here: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” That’s one of our standards within our hotel company, and it’s really true.
Has anyone called you Jeeves? Oh, I’ve been called Jeeves. Jeeves has come up before. I’ve had people ask me where my white gloves were, that sort of thing.
But you probably deal with some pretty chichi guests at the Ritz, people who are accustomed to having real butlers. Sometimes, but the more chichi people aren’t lugging around laptops and in need of that kind of assistance. The people I mostly come in contact with as the technology butler are your typical road warriors. It’s more a Dilbert kind of thing. I’ve had people not realize their laptop is hooked up to a network when they’re in the office. They bring their laptop in and without even trying to plug it into something they can’t understand why they can’t get their e-mail and can’t find their files.
Gimme a story. What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you, or most horrific? What’s the biggest crisis you ever solved for someone? Well, it’s funny, usually the crises [seem] so much bigger to the guest than they are. In fact, today I had a woman who handed me her laptop and she was like, “It’s dead, I don’t know what to do.” So I set her up with another laptop, and I told her that in the meantime I’d tinker with hers. Basically the battery had just died, and I guess she thought she’d already tried plugging it in, but I took it and plugged it in, turned it on, and it came on, no problem. But of course, the problem there is figuring out a diplomatic way of telling them you solved their problem without saying, “You didn’t plug it in.” You want to educate them, but you don’t want them to be offended. You don’t want them to feel like an idiot. I mean, I may be laughing to myself, but I don’t want them to think I’m laughing at them.
What happens when you aren’t saving the day? Do people get angry at you? I have had people get pretty ticked off. I’ve had people get pretty belligerent.
Do other hotels have technology butlers? I think the Intercontinental hotels have what they call a “computer concierge.” We wanted an idea that would stick in people’s minds. It’s as much a marketing thing as it is a system to help our guests. We want the word of mouth. We want our guests to tell their friends, “I was at the Ritz and they had a technology butler.” Maybe they laugh about it, but hopefully we’ve also helped them out.
What if someone’s not a guest? If I had a tech question, I could call the technology butler and ask you? Sure. Absolutely.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 9, 1999