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When famed crystal company Baccarat decided to lend its name to the hotel business in 2015, it had to ensure that its primary product was the star of the show. And that is why one of the most important positions at the Baccarat Hotel New York is glass attendant.
First, a little history. Baccarat was established in 1764, during the reign of King Louis XV of France. Since that time, artisans have been crafting glassware, decorative objects, and lighting fixtures purchased by many of the world’s most discriminating connoisseurs. Baccarat chandeliers and decorative objects adorn many a palace, and Baccarat crystal stemware graces the tables of royalty and heads of state.
According to Hermann W. Elger, managing director at Baccarat Hotel New York and chief operating officer of Baccarat Hotels and Resorts, when there was “an opportunity to bring [the] 250-year-old brand to life in the form of the hotel, we had to make sure perfection of craftsmanship was incorporated in all aspects of the hotel. It’s brought to life throughout the hotel through decorative items, lighting, and the glassware.” Seventeen custom chandeliers dot the property, while items like caviar sets, candle holders, and decorative pieces are also made of crystal. And there are hundreds of pieces of stemware.
Maintaining a Temple to Glass
That’s a lot of glass. Hence the need for a glass attendant, a person charged full-time with making sure that every piece of crystal, from the barware to the chandeliers, is looking good.
The hotel employs three attendants. Anthony Benitez, a 31-year-old first-generation New Yorker whose family hails from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, has been on the job for two years. Prior to coming to the hotel, he had never worked in hospitality. Instead, for 10 years, he had worked in moving and storage, which, he says, was perfect training for the glass attendant job. “In the moving business, it’s about taking care of things, making sure they get to where they need to go in one piece.”
A few years back, Benitez was poking around the internet looking for “something different, something a bit more grounded,” since he was starting a family. He first applied for a position when the hotel opened, but nothing came through. However, a couple of years later, the food and beverage director called and suggested that the glass attendant role was “a position I would shine in.”
When asked to describe the job, Benitez said, “It’s hard to say. You could compare it to a dishwasher, you could…but you are washing God’s glasses,” along with immense vases, decorative pieces, and small chandeliers. Basically, he notes, “Anything that shines.”
Utmost Respect and Attention
Cleaning the stemware from the bar, restaurant, and rooms is the principal part of Benitez’ mission, since, he says, between 10,000 to 12,000 glasses may get washed on a typical day. “When I arrive at 9 a.m.,” he says, “the first thing I do is look for chipped glasses. I log in the glasses that are chipped and then they are sent to a special place to be resurfaced.” When glasses can’t be salvaged, the hotel has been known to repurpose them by creating broken art pieces sometimes displayed in the lobby.
After chips are noted, Benitez polishes silver and then gets to work on the glassware collected overnight from in-room dining and from breakfast service. Caring for the crystal requires a high-alkaline liquid detergent, and a dishwashing machine set at 138 degrees for washing and 183 degrees for rinsing. After that the attendant has to polish each piece by hand with a 100-percent cotton cloth specially made for Baccarat.
According to Elger, “The glass attendant is one of the most unique jobs there is. It requires patience and a passion for caring for something truly special. The crystal must be respected, as it is the unique identifier of the hotel. It must be cared for, washed by hand, and treated with great respect.”
When Benitez got the gig, he knew that it was one “not to be taken lightly. I did extensive research to understand what I was getting into. After all, I am responsible for the thing that draws everyone here. The crystal is what this place is built on, so the training is extensive. I had to learn every name of every type of glass — there are nearly 40 different types of stemware alone — how it’s made, the colors, and all of the ins and outs.” He spent two intensive days training in Baccarat’s Manhattan store, learning about the art of crystal-making and the care that is required to maintain each piece. Further education was provided by the hotel’s existing glass attendants.
After two years, “Crystal is part of me now,” says Benitez. “I have an intimate relationship with the glass — I appreciate the glasses more.” Not only that, but he feels a certain ownership of the crystal. “The biggest challenge I face here is not having full control of the crystal. I wish I could make the drink, serve the drink to the customer, eat with the person using it, and then take it back to clean.”
In trying to maintain control, he does attempt “to keep everyone in line with the crystal.” That’s why, when a fellow employee brings him a chipped glass, he says (only half-kiddingly), “They get very nervous. They know I will ask who, what, where, and why?”
That’s because he has grown to fully appreciate the craftwork that graces his hands every day. “I knew nothing about Baccarat crystal before I got here,” Benitez says, “and I feel like I’ve learned so much. I learned the history and the work that goes into it and how the crystal ties everything together…literally, the hotel is a crystal palace. There is beauty everywhere you look, and I am responsible for keeping it beautiful. I love that, and makes me feel good every day I come here.”
Elger calls the job “a stepping stone to other positions.” That said, Benitez is “quite comfortable” with his current role. But at some point, he says “I would love to become a Baccarat ambassador of crystal or go somewhere else when they open another hotel and teach new attendants how to care for the glass.”