The life of a hospitality butler

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Serving with a bula smile during sundown. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Sunday Times spoke to the local butler, Manavolau Yabevula, on the occasion of International Butlers Day, commemorated on Friday, May 28.

In Spotlight, he talks about his upbringing, insights into a hospitality butler’s world and shares his unique experiences being a butler on one of Fiji’s most exclusive private islands.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Bula si’a. My name is Mana and I am a Fijian butler. I am from the small village of Nakama in Labasa. I currently work as a butler for Kokomo Private Island.

2. Where were you brought up? I was brought up in both my father’s village as well as my mother’s village of Namoli in Lautoka. My late father was a missionary to Arnhem Land in Australia so my education was spent attending schools in the Northern Territory, Labasa and Lautoka. I attended Natabua High School where I enjoyed some pretty great years.

3. What does the word butler mean in your own words? Let me elaborate on the two main types of butlers. The first is a butler who serves a private service. He or she is the main staff of a household for the principal. A ‘principal’ in this case would be referring to the owner of the house or property. The second kind of butler serves in the hospitality industry and works closely with the management and operational teams of an organisation.

4. Can you talk about hospitality butlers? Because Fiji has a thriving tourism industry (and I remain to state this, even in these unique times) many of the well-known butlers in Fiji are hospitality butlers. You will most likely find us in local resorts that provide service of grandeur and that also bear a global resort brand.

5. So what exactly does a hospitality butler do? As hospitality butlers in Fiji, we are like all-rounder. This includes leading the roles of delivering silver service at fine dining to organising a BBQ for a picnic. We can be making beds during morning service and later attending to guests’ laundry, and we can be sitting at our desk working on opera and then liaising with different departments to ensure that we create an authentic Fiji experience for guests. The list goes on.

6. Do you work as a team? Hospitality butlers work as a team in their respective resorts. One of the amazing and healthy trends is that we identify each butler’s strengths and also identify areas where we need assistance. Using this vital information, we then collaborate with each other to balance the workload. And it is necessary, especially when a resort has a high occupancy rate.

7. What do you like the best about your job? Being a part of the Front Office. They have become my family.

8. How did you become a butler? I believe I can answer this question if I rewind my story back a bit. For over 3 years, I pursued every opportunity to join the hospitality industry. It was an endless phase of receiving no response and letters of rejection. Finally, in 2016, the use of my natural hospitality skills, along with my drive and determination, paid off when I was offered the role of Guest Relations Officer (GRO) at Kokomo Private Island. I did not waste any time and researched every aspect of the role and developed my skills and knowledge each day on the job. I continued to perform to the best of my ability and later seized the opportunity to work as a butler. The rest is now history.

9. What formal education/training did you receive to become a butler? Anyone can become a butler provided they possess the basic skills set. Happily, for us, formal education is now available. There are a few good International Butler Schools that provide online classes. I am currently being trained to become a qualified butler with a butler school in Australia. Our classes involve a lot of reading, zoom classes and homework!

10. How have you been holding up since COVID-19?
Being a butler on a private remote island involves spending weeks away from home. I would spend up to 6 days at home before I headed back to work. During my time away from the island, I have been able to spend more time doing what I love — working in the plantation and garden. I also have time to do online courses to upgrade my skills and knowledge. The best part is spending time with family. Also, on the social media front, I now have the opportunity to expand my network.

11. What are some things you won’t forget about Kokomo? I am glad I am not in front of the camera — I don’t like to be seen crying. Haha. I love Kadavu. The neighbouring islands of Dravuni and Buliya are like my home away from home. The ocean view from my bedroom is priceless. The thick vegetation behind our staff quarters is magnificent. Marine life thrives with colours. We take pride in our surroundings. We work with nearby island villages to do some projects like mangrove planting. We even have a coral plantation! Kokomo is not only world-class. It is also about the people, the environment
and sustainability.

12. Did you have any childhood dreams? I never dreamed of becoming a butler. When I was a child, I admired planes and always wanted to be a pilot.

13. Do you have any advice for youths who would want to become butlers one day?  Training to become a Fijian butler does not begin when you enrol at any hospitality training school. It begins at home, where your parents become your teachers. Your tutors would include your grandparents, your pastor and any other role model that you may uphold.

14. So your family upbringing is important? What you learn about life from these teacher and tutors will become your values and basic skill set to develop you into a great Fijian butler. The butler’s formal training later in your learning pathway will complement your basic skills further. If you can hold on to your values with valour — you can become one of the best.

15. Last words? Friday, May 28 marked International Butlers Day. I extend my belated well wishes to all my fellow Butlers in Fiji and abroad. Thank you for being amazing!

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