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Meet Sheila Tonui, the female head butler at Hemingways

Achieving Woman
 Sheila Tonui is the head butler at Hemingways Nairobi (Photo: Courtesy)

Rarely will you see a female butler as the service is dominated by men. However, Sheila Tonui, the head butler at Hemingways Nairobi has beat the stereotype to venture into this industry.

She shares her story, what her work involves and how it has been working in a male dominated industry.

You don't always see female butlers as the industry is dominated by men. How has it been for you, being one of the few female butlers in the hospitality industry?

My experience as a butler has been marred with few challenges. Some guests especially men won’t let me carry their luggage.

One time a I was called upon to handle a guest complaint and when I introduced myself as the head butler it was evident they had no confidence in me but in the end they were pleased by my level of professionalism.

However, some guests are excited to be served by a female head butler.

What exactly does the job of a head butler entail?

My work involves leading, motivating and continuously developing the butler team in order to maximise on colleagues’ productivity and guest satisfaction.

I also oversee all aspects of the floor operations, including administrative tasks to ensure standards & consistency are maintained to the highest level at all times.

I also lead the daily briefing to keep team informed about the guest programs, itinerary as well as arrival listing.

 Sheila Tonui leads, motivates and continuously develops the butler team (Photo: Courtesy)

Have there been times when you felt your job was too heavy and you wanted to quit?

All careers have challenges and at times it feels heavy, set backs will be there. However, you have to remain focused to achieve your dreams and goals.

I am passionate about butler service and these challenges call for perseverance and resilience. The beauty of my job is that each day presents a new opportunity for growth and interaction with guests from different races and cultures.

Does this job affect your personal life as well?

Work- life balance is a great challenge, our industry is demanding and it takes a lot of sacrifice. Holidays prove most challenging considering it is our peak season, I have to miss out on most family gatherings.  

Would you encourage other young women to join the butler service?

Yes! I would encourage young women to join butler service, it’s about confidence and passion. Our ability to multi-task, attention to details and anticipation of guests needs with diverse cultures truly demands for female butlers.

How long does it take to train to be a butler?

A hospitality professional with a strong background in Food & Beverage and basics in Front office and housekeeping will take 3 months to be a fully-fledged butler. It requires job knowledge, self-management and a passion for serving others.

Lastly, how competitive is the butler industry in Kenya?

Butler service is still a new concept in the Kenyan hospitality industry that is yet to be embraced fully by other hotels. We pride ourselves in being pioneers of this bespoke service.?

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