Hilton New York – Manhattan’s Biggest Hotel – Ends Room Service

This strikes me as a big deal in the hotel industry.

The New York Hilton Midtown is the largest hotel in the city, with nearly 2,000 rooms. In August, it will earn another distinction: It will discontinue room service, becoming the largest property in the Big Apple that does not offer the amenity.

The move will eliminate 55 jobs. It could also ignite an industrywide trend. Other hotels, such as the Hudson in New York and the Public in Chicago, are already nibbling at the concept, offering meals delivered in brown paper bags rather than dome-covered dishes.

The Hilton New York will open a ‘grab ‘n go’ that guests can use, and lay off 55 staff as a result of the change.

Room service is costly to service (high staffing costs, not to mention the trays and hot boxes and dishware that is out for long periods of time and sometimes doesn’t come back). Room service is especially costly in high wage cities and with a unionized workforce. Apparently use of room service is on the decline as well.

I’ve certainly noticed more hotels, even better hotels in New York, no longer offering 24 hour room service. I do think properties that aspire to a level above the Hilton New York do need at least some sort of 24 hour offering — coming back to the room after late nights in the office exhausted, making it to the hotel after a lengthy flight delay, or waking up in the middle of the night because you’re in an unfamiliar time zone — it’s a fairly fundamental element of hospitality when you’re serving business travelers.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village has already eliminated room service, which I learned in the piece and hadn’t realized earlier. That surprised me, as I would have guessed that room service is an in-demand service for resorts and Hilton Hawaiian Village is certainly a flagship property.

From my stay last summer at the Hyatt Regency Fair Lakes, here’s what room service via brown paper bag looks like:

Do you use room service frequently? Will a hotel lose your business if they don’t offer room service?

(HT: Reader S.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Certainly in New York with food delivery services so expansive and reliable (Seamless, for example), room service to me seems pretty obsolete. Of course a first-time tourist to New York may not know about this, but maybe the hotel can just point them in that direction (or partner with a food delivery service itself).

  2. It’s happening in San Francisco as well. I suspect the timing is somewhat to do with increased healthcare costs.

  3. I think the “partnering” concept is a good one, if the execution is sound. There really isn’t a need for every hotel in Manhattan to have 24/7 room service, if it’s a big money loser.

  4. I rarely stay in hotels that offer room service. Our tastes and priorities in travel differ considerably.

    Having said that, however, the few times that I have availed myself of room service, I have been universally disappointed with the quality of the meal and dismayed by the cost associated with receiving the relatively mediocre offering. I won’t miss it if it disappears.

    I think Nick (post above) makes a good speculation. High material and lobor costs already exist, as per Gary’s post, and ever increasing healthcare costs with the Affordable Care Act may accelerate the demise of room service in more properties. There may be fewer employees at properties, in general, and not just those related to food service.

    I don’t see hotels “partnering” with food service delivery outfits, as they won’t want to deal with complaints associated with food quality and/or service from their dissatisfied guests. However, I can see hotels having brochures advertising such services in their rooms, much like you find for pizza delivery services in rooms at budget properties.

  5. Room service is often outrageously expensive, from the base cost of food to the built-in service charges. Plus, I always tip the person who delivers the food; s/he is not responsible for those prices (and not getting the full service charge). Even if I am working long hours in my hotel room, it is not hard to pick up food [or have it delivered] in any major city. I would prefer that hotels provide recommendations of places that quickly and reliably deliver to their hotel. It would be nice to have a variety of choices, including cuisine and price range.

  6. I don’t use room service much in the US, so I won’t miss it. Prices are just HIGH.

    I do use it a bit in Asian countries, where prices aren’t so atrocious.

  7. @Chris – at some large chains, the 20% service charge does go directly to the service team and is not retained by the hotel. It may not always go *directly* to the specific server who brought you the meal – but it’s often split amongst the service team as sometimes the person who brought you the food is different than the person bussing the trays.

  8. yes, and yes, too. I particularly want room service in the morning. I like to have my coffee BEFORE I get ready for the day. I don’t want to have to throw on some clothes and run down to the hotel lobby. And I don’t want it delivered in a paper or plastic cup.

  9. Never once used room service, ever. Every time I am tempted to eat and look at a room-service menu, I can’t believe how exorbitant the prices are.

    I’m sorry if it comes off as judgmental, but I view those who do as bring irresponsible with their finances. If you really need to work and can’t take the time to get out of the hotel room even to get some take-out, then delivery from a nearby restaurant (via Seamless in NYC) is such a vastly better option (both quality and financially) that there really is no excuse for using room service.

  10. Great, the hotel rooms will of course get cheaper now. I doubt room service financed itself..

  11. ABC, don’t count on it. There’s no way a hotel would lower the rate after eliminating an amenity like room service. It might have a small effect on the rate at which room prices increase over time, but even that is probably negligible.

    While NYC is a city where I would rarely use room service on a non-business trip, there are times on business trips when I use room service even in a city like NYC. After a long day at work I may just want to go back to the hotel and relax and be alone, and have dinner delivered to me. That’s when I’m most likely to use room service, regardless of the city I’m in.

    As for the prices, they’re all over the map. There are some hotels I stay in rather often where room service prices aren’t outrageous at all, and in some cases, dinner from room service is probably less than $5 more than what I would have spent for the same meal elsewhere. To me, that’s reasonable. I’ve also seen some hotels where there’s a notation on either the menu or receipt that the full service charge goes to the employee providing the service. I don’t add any extra tip on those bills.

  12. Another target is concierge lounges – look out for a big downgrade here. Pop chips and soda will soon be the standard offerings.

  13. I would miss the idea of room service if it were really something to miss. In most hotels (even very upscale ones) the prices are a rip odd for the quality. But ordering breakfast in bed and reading the paper in a beautiful room has been an incredible experience at a few hotels. The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado for example.

  14. I usually only order room service if I’m travelling for work, and it’s late, and stumble back drunk… but I can make do without it if need be (room service, that is, not booze)

  15. CodeAdam10 has offered up the main reason why I haven’t ordered room service from this particular hotel (that, and the fact that I make ample use of the lounge offerings). That food cart is one of the best in the city IMHO.

  16. It worked years ago but everything is so rush rush if you did request room service over priced and takes so long to arrive anyway and it never looks like the pictured menu anyway LOL But theconcern lies are these hotel lobby food services going to be open 24 /7 AS THERE ARE NOT ALWAYS ANY CLOSE BY PLACES AROUND MOST HOTELS IN NYC WITH ALL NIGHT FOOD SERVICES AVAILABLE MAYBE IN SOME NOT SO NICE AREAS OR YOU MAY HAVE TO WALK FAR FOR THIS A CONCERN ALSO

  17. I order room service a lot and I would not stay at a hotel without it. No road warrior business traveler can subsist on takeout fast food without seriously shortening their lifespan. I make it a priority to eat healthy and if a salad costs $40 it’s just the cost of doing business.

  18. I agree with nearly everyone in this thread except Nick ;). Not long ago, I was traveling a ton for work (mostly international) and tackling very, very long days; I ordered room service exactly twice, and in both cases I was gobsmacked by:
    – the amount of time it actually took to get me my food
    – how horribly crappy it was AT ANY PRICE

    Nick, unless you’re really finding way tastier and healthier food than the norm, I think you’d do seriously better on all fronts heading downstairs to your local McD’s or 7-Eleven and grabbing a salad there.

    Not to mention… sure, you can expense that $40, but it gets passed on. Someone else (your client, perhaps) is (ha!) eating that cost.

    Er, so I guess it’s obvious that I feel Good Riddance to room service. Aside from my two awful trials, the only other thing I ever got from room service was my blood boiling from looking at the menu. $24 cheeseburger? $9 for an oatmeal? Really?!? Only thing that’s more highway robbery’ish at hotels is the embarrassingly ludicrous phone charges.

  19. “waking up in the middle of the night because you’re in an unfamiliar time zone”

    Gary, here’s a tip..if you wake up in the middle of the night..go back to sleep..skip the room service meal..I don’t think you’ll be any worse off for wear…

  20. For those of you who don’t travel for business, often times room service may be irrelevant. They’re expensive, hit or miss taste wise, and they’re expensive (I had to list it twice). For those who travel week in week out like myself, room service can sometimes be a life saver. I normally fly into a city at late night, and having something to eat when all the closeby restaurants are closed is almost a necessity. I can expense the room service out anyway so it doesn’t really affect me. I really hope that the convenience of room service don’t get taken away.

  21. @ Adam, either you have a golden tongue or you have not traveled enough. But then also you think McDs and 7-11 are better than hotel food so I am not so sure if you are the first scenario. To me, McDs are close to inedible. And I’ve never tried anything from 7-11 as they never look appetizing. Even at the “miss” in “hit or miss”, I’d still rather eat room service food at a proper restaurant.

    Putting aside your cost consciousness to your client when traveling on business, as most are not very, your focus on the price is pretty much invalid.

    On a side note, it is always a frustrating experience staying at the Hyatt Place hotels where there are just ‘grab n’ go’ stuff. None of which looks appetizing…

  22. Thanh, I’ve traveled to over 30 countries and cried while watching “Up in the Air” in C. I’m not a stranger to hotels or planes. You do raise a good point re: clients themselves sometimes not being very cost conscious; the whole ridiculous-spend thing ends up, then, being a game of hot potato in a way… but I should probably pass on the moralizing against what’s broken in capitalism and stick to travel stuff :p

    At least in some regions (Japan and Taiwan come to mind), 7-Eleven premade food (not talking about hot dogs) can be tastier and likely healthier than what you’d get in your typical Hilton. Same with fast food. Admittedly, it’s possible I’ve just had super-bad luck with room service / hotel food, though :D.

    And I also do see where you’re coming from re: arriving late night when nothing is open nearby. Though personally, if it’s 4am, I’d just opt to take a sleeping pill frankly (eating at odd hours does horrible things to one’s body clock typically), or munch on a protein bar if necessary.

  23. I like room service. Use it for both business and pleaure trips. I really don’t understand the hostility towards the service. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. If you think it is too expensive, not healthy or whatever find an alternative if you want but for some of us it is a pleaure and/or a necessity.

  24. One thing I always pay attention to in most of the rest of the country (outside of NYC) is where the nearest Walmart and McDonalds are. Both have take-away prepared salads that are fresh every day. While I imagine that they are huge loss leaders, they do help me eat better! You DONT have to order crap.

    Yelp is also your friend- you can get the restaurant hours, if they deliver, and reviews in one place, and the monocle feature is amazing.

  25. One of the number one reasons I stay at an upper tier facility is the room service option. I usually stay with handicapped folks who oftentimes are too tired (or are in too much pain) to even go to the hotel restaurant. Room service offers us a hearty meal and an opportunity to rest up so that we have enough energy to sightsee.

  26. Services like Seamless and GrubHub might be viable options in large cities like New York, but not 24/7 unless guests are willing to settle for cheap Chinese, pizza, and the like. During normal meal times, otherwise respectable fare often becomes lukewarm and soggy by the time it’s delivered. What’s more, I prefer real tableware over the disposable plastic utensils and polystyrene trays provided with takeout. Sure, room service is overpriced and the quality can sometimes be mediocre, but there’s no way McD’s or 7-11 (!) are suitable replacements. Hilton New York is a dump anyway, but if dropping room service becomes a trend, I’ll actively book away from properties without it.

  27. re: my mention of McD’s and 7-Eleven… I think my experiences have been colored by the fact that most of my hotel stays over the last few years have been outside the U.S. In Japan, for instance, the local (and many) 7-Eleven’s actually have shockingly tasty and fresh food.

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