In old movies, nobs call the butler by pulling on a silken bell cord. The St. Regis hotel chain, known for its tuxedo-clad butlers, aims to bring that summons into the 21st century by allowing guests to contact them via more-modern devices: a BlackBerry, computer, or cell phone.
"You can be in a meeting and just type a note to your butler," said Scott Geraghty, general manager of the St. Regis hotel in New York, one of 12 worldwide (9 more are currently under construction). "Say, 'This is Ms. Jones and I've forgotten my skirt, which needs to be cleaned before tonight. Could you take care of it for me?'" Besides the added convenience, you have an electronic record of your request and know it will be passed on as you wrote it.
The idea is to position the butlers as personal assistants, available to change a dinner reservation, order room service, print a boarding pass, or replace a forgotten phone charger—all without the hassle of calling the front desk and tracking down the right person to handle your request. Messages from guests are sent to a central email address, then forwarded to the appropriate butler's alphanumeric pager (St. Regis hotels have one butler per floor). Currently, hotel staffers hand guests a card with the contact information upon arrival. Soon, though, guests, particularly first timers, will be able to email preferences and requests to the butler staff in advance of their arrival. The service is included with your room, which can vary from $175 to $1,100 a night.
The hotel isn't distributing BlackBerrys or Treos to its butlers to avoid the faux pas of having a butler whip out a mobile device and type a response. The head butler, who filters requests, takes care of that chore. "Can you imagine if you had a butler and he was with you in the room and his cell phone went off?" Geraghty asks. Simply ghastly, darling. Never mind that it would be tough to type on those little keys while wearing white gloves.
A version of this article appeared in the September 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.