It’s a chilly Wednesday morning as my team and I make our way to Hemingways Nairobi for this interview. Located at the heart of Karen, Nairobi, the hotel’s serene ambience is complemented by the trees that surround it. As we walk towards the reception area, the spacious hallway with different designs of furniture reek of class and luxury. From a distance, I could see Sheila Tonui waiting on us with a warm smile
As the head butler at the Hemingways, Sheila’s job entails ensuring that the guests’ expectations are met and exceeded from the moment they check in to the moment they check out. Hemingways is one of the very few hotels in Kenya that offer butler services to its guests.
“A hotel butler looks after the needs of guests within and without their room. Inside the room, a butler offers the guest an orientation of the guest room and facilitate garment pressing, shoe shine service, in-room dining, complimentary coffee or tea with wake up call, as well as packing and unpacking service and sometimes iron their clothes. Services are discreet and personalised. It is thus a very critical component of a hotel,” Sheila says.
Sheila also trains the butlers to ensure they are familiar with all the hotel services. Being the head butler, leading a team of 15, she works closely with other departments to make certain that the Hemingways butler service is a cut above the rest and an unforgettable experience.
“Once I check in for work, I check with my team of butlers about the previous evening’s arrivals as well as check-ins and check-outs for the day. We also update ourselves on the events scheduled in the hotel. I get informed of the guests we are expecting and their time of arrival. I also seek to know of any special occasions such as birthday/ anniversary/ honeymoon celebrations and so on. I then plan with my team on how best to make their stay at the hotel comfortable,” she explains.
She then works with the different departments within the hotel to ensure they meet their clients’ needs. For Sheila, teamwork is important. She works closely with the kitchen department to ensure the guests’ dietary needs are well taken care of. She is also keen on working hand-in-hand with the house keeping department, who ensure that the rooms are ready before the guests arrive. “I usually supervise and make sure that the rooms are up to standard,” says the 28-year-old who has worked at Hemingways for five years.
“After completing my college studies in hospitality, I interned at the Nairobi Serena Hotel as a management trainee for a period of six months. I thereafter applied for the butler position at Hemingway’s,” she expounds.
Sheila joined the hotel as a butler after undertaking a butler service course at the Novusluxus R Hospitality Ltd in the UK and has since worked her way to the top.
“As the head of butler department, the comfort of our guests lies squarely on my shoulders. I have gotten a lot of exposure courtesy of the position as I get to meet new people daily. My leadership skills have also been molded and I am a more effective leader. Being a leader also means I have to train people a lot, therefore I have to do a lot of research in order to equip those in my department with the current trends in the industry,” Sheila explains.
Like any other profession, Sheila experiences challenges as well. “Different clients have different needs. Some may exceed what was expected but I have learnt to ensure that they are met regardless by going out of my way to execute – no request is too much,” she elaborates.
Sheila desires to keep growing. “In the next five years, I see myself as a general manager or in a senior position in the hospitality industry,” she says.
Her advice to people who would like to join the industry is: “The hospitality industry is very dynamic and rewarding. Many people narrow it down only to food and beverage but there is the accommodation, entertainment and recreational side as well. So, with the right training, attitude commitment and passion, there is room for everyone.”