While the numbers of individuals with full-time butlers at home are fairly small, the number of hotels that offer butler services to VIP guests is growing each season. From luxury hotels to cruise lines, having a butler available at a moment’s notice can be extremely helpful to guests when traveling for business, personal, or a combination of both. As always, there are good and bad when it comes to the level of professionalism by the butlers, and many “butler” services are nothing more than a glorified assistant who is shared among multiple guests. However, the team at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi continue to prove that their elite butlers are some of the best in the world. We loved hearing about the butlers from the property’s General Manager, and wanted to share this unique glimpse into the world of butlering.
About The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is an award-winning French colonial-style hotel lying in the heart of Hanoi, near Hoan Kiem Lake and the magnificent Opera House. Boasting a classical white façade, green shutters, original wrought iron detail, wood paneling and a lush courtyard lawn, the hotel is one of the region’s few remaining hotels of its era.
Built in 1901 by two private French investors, the hotel quickly became the ultimate rendezvous point for colonial society in the first half of the century. Following Vietnamese independence in the 1950s, the new national government opted to maintain it as the official hotel for visiting VIP’s. During and after the war years, it became a base for press and diplomats. After a series of renovations between 1991 and 2008, the hotel, as we see it today, was revealed. Since then, the property has proven to be the “must-visit” hotel in Hanoi while hosting the who’s who of the VIP list worldwide.
About General Manager Franck LaFourcade
After serving as general manager of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi from 2000 to 2005, Franck LaFourcade arrived back to the hotel in early 2014 as General Manager. During his nearly nine years away from the hotel, he had been in China, managing Sofitel properties in Shanghai as a general manager and as an area general manager.
A French national, LaFourcade is a 1980 graduate of the prestigious Lausanne Hotel School in Switzerland, who relocated to Asia in 1990 and has never looked back. He assumed his first stint as a general manager in Phnom Penh in 1993, and has moved on through the years to Singapore, Pusan (Korea) and Jakarta before his time in Hanoi and his long run in Shanghai.
The Butler Did It… At The Metropole
LaFourcade will never forget the day that he was walking down a corridor of the Metropole Wing, past the Charlie Chaplin Suite, when he encountered something out of a storybook. One of the hotel butlers was standing outside the door to the suite, not quite at attention, but with a certain rigidity and a formality that reminded him of the archetypal English butler.
“Are you waiting for someone?” he asked.
“I am, sir. We have a spa appointment in…” He looked at his watch, and continued, “…in two hours.”
“And until then?”
“Waiting, sir.” He smiled, and stiffened a bit.
LaFourcade shook his hand, and wished him a good day, and realized that he had never quite encountered one of the Metropole’s 13 butlers looking so very much like… well, a butler. Turns out this guest, an interior designer from the Netherlands, engaged a butler for the duration of his stay, and required the butler to stand outside his door, should there be a need for anything incidental.
Otherwise, this butler was busy with the usual tasks — unpacking and then packing guests’ luggage, booking tickets, confirming flights, ironing clothes, shining shoes, organizing tours, serving meals, and so on. Butlers at the Metropole are some of the most nimble people that LaFourcade has ever encountered, and that partly may be a function of the cultural milieu. All of the hotel’s butlers are Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese are among the most able, resourceful people anywhere. They know how things work, and they know how to get things done.
After their Dutch guest checked out, LaFourcade asked the hotel’s head butler how the stay went, and he was pleased to learn that the hotel had earned high praise. Their butler did, indeed, man that door for days on end, except for when their guest was sleeping, or out and about in town.
“That is unusual, isn’t it?” LaFourcade asked. “Butlers who stand at the ready outside a guest’s door.”
“Unusual, but not so unusual,” Ms. An told him. And then, because he was clearly interested in a few more stories, she told him some more…
For example, her butlering for one guest was all about genealogy. A guest of mixed French and Vietnamese heritage came to Vietnam, looking for her roots. All she had was the name of her late mother’s home city, and her mother’s name, of course. So Ms. An started phoning around Lang Son. One call led to another and another, and finally to a first cousin. Mission accomplished.
Another time, a guest checked out, flew south to Hoi An, and checked into the Nam Hai, but forgot his clothes. At 10pm, the Metropole butlers went to work, and by the time that guest woke up the next morning, there was a man at his door in Hoi An with the missing clothes.
“The butler did it,” LaFourcade said, charmed by the image.
Because Ms. An herself is a butler, and knows all of the catchphrases of her trade, she improved upon his remark. “The butler always does it.”