City Weekend

Chocolate statues, ice penguins and goat’s milk baths: top British butler Sean Davoren delivers

Service veteran heads a team at London’s The Savoy and is in Hong Kong to impart his professionalism, such as never saying no and creating a home away from home for lucky guests

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 April, 2018, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2018, 2:33pm

From packing 150 suitcases for one guest to colour coordinating wardrobes and hunting down a specific Gucci handbag in stores, Sean Davoren, 59, from Limerick, Ireland, has done it all as one of the world’s top butlers.

But don’t take his servitude for granted. He says: “I choose to serve you, but I am nobody’s servant. It’s a big industry and people need to understand that it is a profession.”

For the head butler at one of Britain’s finest five-star hotels, The Savoy, there are no requests too bizarre. If there’s a will, there’s a way, according to Davoren, who goes to great lengths to ensure guests at the London establishment are satisfied.

“Each one of my guests are individuals and my service to them must match, because we are not all the same. I would do anything for anyone – as long as it is legal.”

Amid booming local demand for butlers and guest managers, Hong Kong’s Vocational Training Council has turned to Davoren to train talent for the city’s hotel, service and tourism sector. For two days in April, he imparted his knowledge to 19 people in an advanced programme for professional butlers.

He says it is important in his job to “never say no”. “That word doesn’t come into my vocabulary and I will always find a solution.

I would do anything for anyone – as long as it is legal
Sean Davoren

“Once I put on this suit, it is my duty to tailor a service for you – to create a home away from home because we all like to be treated well.”

Over his 40-year career, Davoren has been given countless off-the-wall tasks, such as acquiring 9kg of ice for a guest who crafts penguin ice sculptures, getting a life-size chocolate statue for a wedding, or travelling almost 500km out of the city to prepare fresh goat milk for a guest to bathe in.

The milk itself cost £35 (HK$380) and the commute was £600, but the expression on the guest’s face was priceless. Whatever the rich and outrageous can think of, Davoren delivers.

“If you have a party, I can create any room you want. It’s not just about the food – we are creating a stage and props to wow your guests. One time, we did a birthday party for a two-year-old where I had to load 10 farm animals into the ballroom: donkeys, pigs and ducks.”

While he never runs out of stories to regale listeners, he remains tight-lipped on the identity of his guests, some of whom are celebrities.

“Some celebrities like to read the tabloids but the ink isn’t good on such papers. I will iron them so the ink doesn’t come off and make a reader’s hands dirty.”

We did a birthday party for a two-year-old where I had to load 10 farm animals into the ballroom: donkeys, pigs and ducks

Davoren reveals that a number of his guests enjoy baths, but it’s more than just about turning taps.

“A full butler service is about going that extra mile,” he says.

“I will bring oils for you to smell [and choose something to suit] your mood ... Maybe something to drink while you’re in the bath. Could be champagne or water. And I’ll also warm your towels so you don’t catch a cold when you step out of the tub.

“Everyone likes attention. It’s about that engagement. I always tell my staff: by the visitor’s third stay, we should have built a relationship and we should have had their preferences memorised so they feel important.”

Davoren has a team of 23 butlers at the Savoy on standby to serve all manner of high-powered guests, from royalty to heads of state.

Industry members in Hong Kong are hoping that the top butler’s visit to the city will contribute to developing this niche in the sector.

“In Hong Kong, butlers are complimentary at all hotels when you stay at suites, and their services have become popular in recent years,” says Kevin Wong Wai-keung, a lecturer at the Vocational Training Council’s department of hotel, services and tourism studies.

Wong says it is wrong to assume that the service is old-fashioned. “Discretion will never go out of style. People will always be looking for better and more personal services.”

Since 2012, the council has trained 320 people under its certificate programme for professional butlers, including executives from companies that run commercial and private jets, cruise ships and luxury residential properties.