Saturday, September 9, 2017

12 Shocking Things I Learned by Working as a Butler at the Plaza Hotel

By Brandon Presser

Old-school service is alive and well at the Plaza: High tea treats are served in brass birdcages, tuxedo-clad bellman whisk away luggage to gilded suites, and chefs bear toques that tower above their heads. But in the age of Amazon Prime—when we all want everything now—what is it really like blending vestigial aristocratic assistance with light-speed wish fulfillment?

In order to properly find out, I accepted an offer from New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel to join its team of butlers, a coterie of 10 servicemen (and one woman!) who trot around the property’s 20 floors day and night, making sure 282 rooms’ worth of guests feel like royalty. For two hot days in July, I raced around with a team that, like the city itself, seemingly never sleeps—hearing tales of the trade from the department’s director, Emma, and serving guests alongside some of her most experienced staffers.

This is an elite crew: It bears a combined 147 years of experience, and many have served as house managers for affluent families all over the world. Me? I got express credentials for my two-day residency—unprecedented for the Plaza. They included a detailed orientation of the property and a uniform fitting for my hotel-issued attire (gold-plated name tag and all).

Over my short tenure, I delivered laundry to Middle Eastern princesses and fetched lobsters out of wishing wells—and listened to colleagues delight in the oddities of their jobs, from fielding requests for Viagra or comforting a weeping woman over spilled blueberries. Serving the world’s rich and famous, it turns out, plumbs the depths of an alternative universe that readily embraces the absurd without even batting an eye. And that was only the beginning of what I learned.

Here, 12 secrets to keep in mind the next time you check into a five-star hotel.

One VIP List You Don’t Want to Be On

Hundreds of butler requests roll in each shift—mostly to fill ice buckets, handle laundry, and shine shoes. Complimentary packing and unpacking requests are also common, though they can turn into day-long affairs. A surprising number of international guests will purchase adjoining suites: one to sleep in and one for their luggage.

By matter of corporate philosophy, every guest should feel like a VIP at the Plaza. But a hierarchy still exists among those who check-in at reception. At the top of the pyramid are kings, queens, and heads of state—or as butlers call them: V1s, and they are ever-present on the property. Then come high-payers, long-stayers, guests booking a large block of rooms, and recognizable celebs. They’re called DVs, or distinguished visitors. On the bottom of the VIP totem pole is the SA group, known complainers or otherwise difficult and demanding guests who require “special assistance.”

Another common request for the butler team is to draw baths with a signature blend of salt, oil, and roses—especially during the colder months of the year. But the butler’s duties aren’t necessarily complete once the tub is full. Bal, the Plaza’s resident bath-time specialist, said that 95 percent of the time, he’s asked to remain within arm’s reach as bathers suds-up. Most of them, he said, want more hot water or scented oil, and are happy to keep him on hand while they relax in the nude. He is often left to pull the plug from the drain, elbow-deep in leftover water.

It gets weirder. One of my butler colleagues at a previous job in London was asked to ship in and set up a guest’s order of fresh oysters in the bathtub. He diligently filled the tub with ice and laid the oysters out, only to discover that the guest wanted the oysters placed in the tub around his soaking body. Eventually, the client seemed satisfied: He purchased the room next door for his butler so he’d always be near.

Read the rest here.

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