The Future of Room Service?

The Hilton New York made waves when it announced the elimination of room service.

I’m not talking about the old-line Northeastern practice of ending a feature in order to lay off workers, only to hire back the same workers at a lower price (because it’s impossible just to renegotiate the union contracts).

I’m talking about an ostensibly full service hotel disappearing the concept of room service. They decided to replace it with a “grab ‘n go” offering, which made it possible to lay off 55 staff.

  • 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.
  • Use of room service is apparently on the decline as well.

That’s why we’re starting to see new directions for room service.

There are already some scaled-down room service approaches. Here’s what I got at the Hyatt Regency Fair Lakes.. disposable containers in a brown paper bag.

I’m sure this isn’t news to most, but I saw the disposable model in action in a new way recently at the Hyatt Place Chicago River North.

They offer an outsourced room service, presumably the company serves several hotels in the area.

You dial an extension on the phone in your room, and it forwards you to the third party provider outside the hotel. Given caller ID they know which hotel you are ringing them from.

You place an order, they bring it up to your room and you sign for it — as though it was being delivered by the hotel’s own room service. No cash or credit card required, the bill is simply added to your hotel folio for settlement at checkout.

Here were the menus (click to enlarge):

They’re not going to provide a full in-room dining experience complete with table and metal cutlery. But for a paper napkin and cardboard or plastic alternative, this allows a hotel to offer room service without the cost to them. And it’s an entrepreneurial opportunity for the third party who can sell their delivery food across a range of hotel properties.

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, 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. Hey Gary! I think this is a welcome change! I always thought it was way over the top to have the waiter roll in the table w white table cloth, set the table with china and glass, pull the meal out of the warming box, pour water, sign the check. worry about the tip etc. All of that for a club sandwich and fries! Then they’d be back knocking asking to take the giant table out of the room. I’d much rather do a quick exchange at the door and have a quick and easy meal. This is progress! 🙂 I likey!

  2. While I don’t use room service every time, there are occasions (like a late nite arrival having not eaten) that would be a huge loss without room service. Outside sourcing is usually inconsistent, slow, and cold.

    Will they be adjusting room rates lower to reflect this change?

  3. An alternative would be to have a pared-down 24 brunch menu that works for practically anyone at any hour. This would keep traditional room service but would not require such a large kitchen staff. Breakfast/brunch is a high-profit/low overhead meal and is usually acceptable to most travelers. Definitely better than vending machine fare at midnight.

  4. That makes sense for the HP River North in Chicago b/c Beatrix is basically the hotel restaurant for the Aloft… and the Aloft, HP and Fairfield Inn are almost the same hotel (not only are they in the same building, but each floor is even linked with only unlocked doors in the hallways separating the three)

  5. And with the advent of apps like GrubHub and Seamless, you get greater variety and a more palatable (pardon the reference) hit to the wallet than with room service. Many hotels just don’t want to engage in the extra cost (staff, food, utilities, maintenance, etc.) to maintain a kitchen anymore.

  6. This is really quite sad. Room service is one of the highlights of the hotel experience. I wouldn’t consider booking a property without it.

  7. Good riddance.

    Room service over over-the-top, ridiculously expensive and I refuse to use it for that reason.

  8. There are very few hotels that pull of room service well, and the prices are never good. My experience with the outsource model has been very good, especially if the hotel also has a grab-n-go with the basic salads and wraps that you would see in any Starbucks deli section.

    Let’s face it, most hotel food (let alone room service) isn’t that good unless you’re sticking to a ceasar salad or pizza.

    At a place we frequent in Mexico, several hotels have deals for deliveries that get charged to the room, or you can walk into some restaurants and charge to your room.. and at one the front desk gave the delivery guy hotel plates and utensils which we left in the room for morning clean up! The hotel focuses on liquor and snacks/light items.

  9. @gobluetwo. precisely. i don’t think i’ve used room service in years since seamless/grubhub came on the scene.

  10. Great concept. Most (not all) room service to slow, expensive and a pain. You know the $14.95 club sandwich with $3 delivery fee and 18% gratuity included plus you feel like a heel if you don’t tip the person another $1 or $2.
    Most hotels are getting out of the minibar business also.

  11. This is no surprise when Hilton catastrophically devalues the HHonors point system + the earning threshold for retaining membership. This is all part of ObamaNomics—wealth redistribution. It is. No need to make profits when all of the Fed printed cash is inside the coffers of a few. Therefore, companies dump “the trash” for stock-buybacks and dividends because they have enough cash. Oh, but where is Hilton’s growth? China, exactly where the West can’t go.

    Won’t last in the end. A SARS-esque collapse is coming (see the recent -2.9% GDP Q1 downgrade by the ObamaCommerce department). Hope everyone can find a way to get an injection of capital just before it.

    The only time I ever needed room-service was at the Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok, when I arrived at 5pm, but then fell asleep on the bed, woke up at 10pm, but there was a 2006 curfew from the coup.

    The other time was at the Hilton Toronto Airport, a hotel I really like, because my CX flights from Hong Kong always arrived late and at 2AM, I’m starving, but the menu is limited to just sandwiches. And who serves the meal? Security! That is just too funny.

    So yeah, good riddance to room service—especially in New York (not as if anyone is remotely kind over there). Now the hallways won’t look nasty.


  12. I will not miss “traditional” room service one bit, particularly when I am on business. Just do not need the fuss.

  13. @easy victor – “Will they be adjusting room rates lower to reflect this change?”

    Is this a serious question?

  14. Wow. People on both sides of the table are unhappy about room service. The customers bitch about the price and don’t want to pay for it, and the hotels seemingly can’t make money offering it either.

    I’m of course a fan of it, but only in situations where I don’t have to pay for it.

  15. Did someone just blame Obama for HHonors devaluation and room service going extinct? Wouldn’t the president have preferred to force the hotels to keep room service so the union workers kept their jobs? You know, being a communist an all.

    I love it when politics is shoehorned into a blog like this.

  16. I love a local delivery place in our area called Oasis. If I was in a hotel and they had menu’s similair. I’d be ordering dinner without question.

  17. My one concern is that I wonder if, once it is prevalent for hotels to contract with outside delivery services, they will start writing exclusive contracts that prevent other vendors from delivering to the room. Sort of how most hotel event contracts require the use of a caterer from the hotel’s list. I know, I know…keep it down and don’t give them any ideas.

  18. Couldn’t give less of a hoop. The few times I used room service have all been awful, overpriced food.

  19. I had the same thought Lexy did. I foresee hotels contracting with vendor restaurants. It’s a win/win to me (though I hate that the workers will lose the jobs). I always want room service and always end up skipping it due to the price. I did finally order b’kfast the last time I was in Philly, at the Ritz, and I think my nice bacon, egg, etc. meal set me back around $45, all told. On the up side, it was quite tasty and beautifully presented. ; )

  20. I don’t understand how people could be so selfish: just because someone thinks that room service is “over the top” he thinks hotels across the board need to eliminate it. Just don’t use it. Don’t deny those of us who enjoy it from having the opportunity. How does its existence affect you if you simply skip it??? Unbelievable.

  21. I just completed a stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, West Des Moines.

    They offer room service from their Great American Grill menu with no delivery charge and an 18% gratuity.

    The teriyaki salmon, grilled vegetables salad and fruit cup were a great value at $19+tip. And 500 HHonors points for using a coupon given at check-in.

    Room Service lives!- different experiences in different places, of course.

  22. @Arun – I love the idea of the hotel giving the delivery guy plates and silverware to bring up with your food. That would be my only quibble with hotels going the disposable option… I like to have a real plate and hate using plasticware. But that’s all I really need.

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