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They say a successful hotel butler is an invisible one but what exactly does the job entail?

Tony Sharp is an early riser. His day typically starts at five in the morning when he checks his emails with TV news playing in the background. World news, of course, and as an avid football fan, he keeps himself abreast of the latest Premier League developments. But there’s more to it than just interest—in his line of work, keeping tabs on what’s happening around the world is paramount. It’s often how he starts conversations with his clients and it helps him prepare for the unexpected.

Sharp is head butler of The St. Regis Macao, overseeing a 24-hour service that includes unpacking luggage, pressing garments, delivering morning coffee and picking up last-minute gifts. While it’s impossible for him to anticipate the needs and wants of every single guest, he equips himself with as much information as possible to avoid any surprises. This starts with Sharp’s first ‘hello’ as he walks through the hotel door. He makes it a point to go around and check in with all the different teams around the hotel, especially before the overnight staff change shift, to get a feel of what happened the night before.

‘I’ve got my reports so I know what guests are arriving today, I know roughly what business we’ve done overnight,’ he says. ‘By gauging the mood of the overnight staff, I can see emotionally how the hotel is reacting in the morning and how that’s transposing to what’s going to happen for the day.’

This is also when he finds out about any challenges they faced overnight. Sharp’s expectation on customer satisfaction is realistic—as much as he’d love to make every guest happy, he can’t; at some point, there is bound to be disappointment but what he can do is try to make up for any problems before guests check out. ‘I’ve had situations where guests who were extremely upset wrote me messages to say, ‘Thank you so much, your team did such a great job because we’ve recovered well,’ he says.

Sharp emphasizes a sense of collectiveness about butler service, delivered by the entire hotel team instead of just the butlers: ‘When we look at private service, the butler is the head of the house, and all other staff work together with the butler to deliver service. In essence, a hotel is the same. The general manager is the head of the house, and the butler is a bit more of a face of the hotel than everyone else.’

In both scenarios, the butler is always attending to someone’s emotions. Sharp has worked in private service as the butler to a knighted lady in Australia, and depending on what mode she was in—business, entertainment or family—he could be handling a variety of personas in a single day. In that sense it’s not unlike a hotel butler who services guests traveling for different purposes. But without the benefit of being able to spend an extended amount of time with hotel guests, it becomes trickier to predict their needs. ‘When I first meet a guest, I go in without any expectations so that I can react openly and naturally,’ he explains. ‘If I know a guest is upset and I’m going to see him for service recovery, I stop and compose myself before approaching.’

Throughout the day, Sharp makes his rounds of the floors but most of the time you will find him at the lobby. He interacts with guests as much as he can but with most travelers checking into The St. Regis Macao being Chinese, his study of body language becomes immensely useful. ‘I get nuances of tonal changes when I listen to conversations. I notice their body language when they’re checking in and checking out. I can see or hear if there’s something wrong with the guest even if I don’t speak the language,’ Sharp says. Before it becomes a full-blown problem, he is able to direct a manager to avert the crisis.

If it sounds like Sharp’s job mostly involves making unhappy people happy again, you are half right. When asked about the most important quality of a butler—you would expect something along the lines of discretion or attention to detail—his answer is humility. ‘You have to know what you’re doing, but you still have to be humble enough to put others first, take your ego out and be of service to people,’ he says. ‘Have a passion to make other people smile. If you can make someone smile when they’re having a bad day, you’ve done your job.’

That’s something Sharp picked up throughout his career. Caring for people is a trait that runs deep—generations of his family, albeit not working in hospitality, have engaged in some form of service to people—and something that was ingrained in him at a young age. Born in Newcastle and raised in Sydney, Sharp says he pretty much fell into his career as a hotel butler, or as he puts it, ‘I was led to it by fate.’

Many years ago, working as senior waiter and sommelier in a Sydney hotel, he was asked by an American guest to make lemonade. ‘In Australia that’s a carbonated drink like 7 Up or Sprite, but I knew that person wanted a lemonade that’s made on the street corner, in the summer, by the kids in the States.’ Moments later he reappeared with a pitcher of lemonade, complete with fresh ice, lemon and lime, jiggers of lemon and lime juice, and sugar syrup.

‘That person’s jaw was on the ground,’ Sharp recalls, still amused about his proudest moment. For the next few days, he continued to impress the guest—Sharp would only describe her as a world-famous woman traveling with her manager—so much that she offered him a job as her butler throughout her six-week tour of Australia. With the general manager’s blessings, he embarked on an adventure, one that he’s still on today.

Sharp, now a leading international trainer for the Australian Butler School, also enjoys giving back to the industry he loves. Earlier this year, however, he took some time for himself and flew back to Australia for a three-week motorcycle trip. ‘Living as an expat for nearly 25 years, I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like back home,’ he says. ‘It’s good to see family and friends and revisit the places I grew up in.’

Has a butler gone above and beyond for you? We’d love to hear your butler tales with #momentumtravel.

Photos: Kes Lai

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