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Is Hotel Room Service Going to Be a Thing of the Past?

by on June 13, 2013 · 6 comments

in Hotel Industry

With news that the New York Hilton Midtown – the largest hotel in the city – will discontinue room service and instead open an all-day cafeteria-style restaurant with grab & go options beginning in August, the travel industry was abuzz with talk of whether this is the beginning of a larger trend and what travelers should expect from hotels moving forward.

Will room service be a thing of the past?

Will room service be a thing of the past?

I have to say that personally, I use room service quite a lot. I know, I know, it’s usually very expensive and there is cheaper food to be had elsewhere (even at a hotel’s own restaurants), but I like having it available for convenience’s sake – especially when I wander into a hotel bleary-eyed after flying all day and just want a good sandwich without having to trek out into the streets. Or if I need to get up early and get some work done in the comfort of my room without having to get dressed and get downstairs to the restaurant where WiFi might or might not be readily available and slog through a meal alone.

I just want to enjoy breakfast in the comfort of my room.

I just want to enjoy breakfast in the comfort of my room.

On the flip side, room service can take forever to arrive, it can come late, or early if you’ve asked for breakfast, waking you up before you need to be – so what I’m saying is it’s not a perfect service, but it’s an amenity that I personally value and I’d think twice about staying at a full-service hotel if they didn’t offer it.

In this case, Hilton is supposed to replace its room service, which the Crain’s article notes is very expensive to maintain and requires a staff of 55 at a hotel of its size (2,000 rooms) with a healthy cafeteria option with grab & go plates and paper bag meals for travelers on the go.

The Hilton Midtown will no longer offer room service starting in August.

The Hilton Midtown will no longer offer room service starting in August.

It would be great if this new outlet were indeed quick, cheap and healthy – especially since eating healthily on the road can be really difficult at times – but I have a nagging suspicion that instead of tons of fresh produce and veggies we’ll see your average array of hotel snack shop goods like old bagel sandwiches, cups of soup and bags of chips and popcorn with maybe a few apples and bananas thrown in for good measure.

In terms of what I think this means for the hotel industry overall…it’s not new for hotels to ditch room service. After all, it’s probably one of the most expensive amenities to maintain and is not usually a moneymaker. Plus, travelers have gotten used to fending for themselves at 3-star and below properties where there might be a buffet breakfast, but that’s it.

What is new is that a hotel at this level is foregoing room service. The New York Hilton Midtown is rated four stars and room rates usually start at $200-300 per night. It’s also an HHonors category 9 (out of 10) property where award nights range between 60,000-80,000 points per night. That puts it at the high end of the Hilton spectrum and makes it a property where guests (rightly) expect some of the finer amenities like room service, which is a more fundamental service than, say, a spa, which the Hilton Midtown does not have either.

I think that we stand at a crossroads at the moment where hotels are looking more and more at their bottom lines and are more willing to sacrifice amenities in order to save some cash at the end of the day, especially in competitive markets. Does that sounds familiar? If it does, that’s because it’s the same thing that airlines have done over the past decade and why we’re living in a time of mounting airline fees for basic services like checking luggage or choosing a seat ahead of time. Come to think of it, hotels have been doing this for a while now with bogus mandatory “resort fees” to help pay for amenities like the pool. As if that couldn’t just be part of the room rate, since you know, people book a resort to use such amenities.

On the bright side, I also think that as the economy continues to gather steam and more and more business and luxury travelers start booking rooms, hotels will refocus their energies on what pleases these bread-and-butter customers and room service is likely to be among them, especially at higher-end hotels.

What are your thoughts on room service:

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  • BH

    I think as soon as I am required to put on anything above the minimum required clothing to greet room service, trek downstairs to review food offerings, and still pay a premium for a “boxed meal” then you will be loosing my business.

    Often, I just don’t want to have to walk very far – or deal with the formal experience of waitstaff when dining. If they can provide an informal space with some decent options (real meals – not just microwave trash) at a price comparable to surrounding eateries – then it will be a win in my book because of the reduced cost compared to room service.

    If however they keep a mark-up on food prices and I can walk 2-3 minutes additionally to another spot that has better options at better prices (albeit maybe I have to deal with a more formal meal) – then they will be on the loosing end. So, I think this is all very dependent on succeeding based on the surrounding options – which is specific to each property.

    Once a hotel gets rid of their room service, might be a good time to start investing in opening a nearby restaurant which will deliver to your lobby (or room if the hotel allows).

  • - -

    It seems I’m in the minority here, but I avoid room service at all costs. I’m not cheap, but I resent being screwed, and I can just tell they’re doing that with the litany of “because we can” fees, as if the 1000% markup on the food itself weren’t enough.

  • WS

    Expensive? Yes. But room service fits my travel style and I will consider staying elsewhere if it’s not available.

    I prefer coffee and breakfast in my robe while reading the news, it helps me feel more at home. So it’s hard to consider a cafeteria as a viable breakfast alternative. If I have to go out, I can just go to the hotel’s full service restaurant.

    For a late dinner or snack, a cafeteria might work, but would only be worth it to me if there is a genuine effort to offer fresh, hot entrees (think beef stew, roast chicken or a selection of hot soups) and a good salad bar. Pre-made sandwiches and bagged snacks will not do at the end of a long travel day. I like to get to my room, shower and get comfortable, but I should not have to sacrifice a hot satisfying meal just because I’m too tired to endure an hour in a restaurant.

    There’s no reason a 4-star hotel should skimp on food quality, no matter what the format, especially if we know they are saving overhead by eliminating room service staff.

  • thepointsguy

    Good point- I think I’d still rather order delivery from sites like Seamless.com than trek to the lobby for sub-par packaged food

  • BH

    In fact, it would seem the better option for hotels in areas with no lack of restaurants would partner with one of these online delivery places.

    They could implement an online ordering portal on their interactive TVs or allow you to call the order in to the front desk (via hard copy menus in the rooms) and have the front desk enter the order online via their “partner” portal.

    These seems like a win-win, and I’ll take the credit (if not share in the profit) when this starts happening.

  • Carrie

    Cannot imagine traveling and not having room service. LOVE it!

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