7 things to know about ordering room service during the pandemic

Oct 19, 2021

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Some people love room service. Having your meals delivered to you without having to leave the comfort of your room? Sign me up.

But room service is often knocked for being overpriced, occasionally late and sometimes not very tasty.

And room service really took a hit during the pandemic, though even before COVID-19, some hotels were starting to phase it out. New York City’s Hilton Midtown made waves years ago when it announced it would replace room service with grab-and-go options, and since then we’ve seen more hotels start to follow that trend.

However, it’s still possible to have dinner sent up with a glass of wine in your room at many hotels, even in the time of COVID-19.

Whether you’re new to ordering room service or haven’t considered it lately due to the pandemic, here’s what you need to know about ordering room service right now.

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How do I order room service during the pandemic?

A room service breakfast. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Many hotels with room service have the hotel’s menu conveniently located in your room, typically by your television, bed or desk. You’ll then call the dedicated room service number on your in-room phone and place an order.

Due to the pandemic, however, some physical menus have been swapped out for QR codes you can scan to look at the menu on your phone. Some hotels also now allow guests to place orders online without calling the kitchen staff or front desk. That’s how I ordered room service during a recent Thailand hotel stay.

Hotel guests at Resorts World in Las Vegas order room service via GrubHub, an app-based food delivery service.

What is the best time to order room service?

Free room service breakfast at the Park Hyatt Vienna thanks to Hyatt Globalist status. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

When to order depends on the hotel you’re staying in, availability and staffing. But generally, room service for breakfast is available between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m., before the kitchen switches over to the lunch and dinner service for the rest of the day.

Some hotels offer an all-day dining menu, which is separate from dinner service. You’ll often find staples like sandwiches and salads on these menus.

Note that many hotels don’t offer a 24-hour room service option. I found this out during a stay at a hotel in Phuket over the summer. After more than a day of flying, I went straight to bed thinking I’d order food when I was more rested. I woke up late that night hoping to put in a room service order, only to discover the kitchen was shut down until the following day.

To avoid making the same mistake, I suggest putting your room service order in far in advance. This is especially important right now, as many hotels aren’t fully staffed due to the pandemic and are working with skeleton crews.

As a result, it may also take a long time before you actually receive your food.

So, if you know you want to laze in bed in the morning, you may want to put your order in with the front desk the evening before. If you’re going to eat in your room for dinner, schedule your order as soon as you know what you want.

Finally, if you have a food allergy or plan to place an elaborate order, you should order well in advance to give the kitchen ample time to accommodate your request.

What type of food is served?

Unless you’re staying at a property with dozens of onsite restaurants, you may want to temper your expectations. The menu is often pretty basic. While it isn’t always the case, you’ll usually find a scaled-down menu with room service versus what you might get when dining at the hotel’s restaurant.

You can, however, likely find dishes and drinks local to the area. For instance, when I stayed at a hotel in Mexico City just before the pandemic, I had an extensive room service meal of chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican breakfast staple, churros and Mexican coffee. That means room service can be a good (but expensive) way to try different cuisines, especially if you have a short trip planned or don’t plan to leave the hotel often.

Do I have to wear a mask?

Some hotels have done away with delivering your meal in your room, and instead, will leave your order outside your door. If your meal is being delivered to your room, wear a mask during that time to keep yourself and the hotel staff safe.

Where will I not receive room service?

Generally, you won’t receive room service at limited-service properties or motels. These properties typically only offer a continental, grab-and-go breakfast option — if they offer a meal at all.

How much does room service cost?

Room service isn’t known for being inexpensive. I found that out when I ordered room service for the first time during a work and professional development trip to Minneapolis. If you’re familiar with the city, pretty much everything downtown closes in the evening, so there aren’t many food options.

At the time, the idea of eating in bed was a novel concept, and so I ordered … everything. I ordered burgers, and I ordered pancakes. I ordered juice. I even ordered cake. Unbeknownst to me, the prices on the menu didn’t include fees, so I was presented with a whopping $200 bill at checkout. Don’t make the same mistake as I did, and always remember that service and delivery charges are added separately.

Generally, you can expect to pay around $25 for breakfast (think: eggs, toast and yogurt). American entrees like burgers and fries or a steak can cost as much as $40 each. Even a club sandwich may cost double what you’d pay at a local deli. Beer and wine are often on the menu, and you can expect to pay about $15 for a glass. You can order a single item, such as a soda, at many hotels, though for these options I suggest sticking to the minibar, which may already be stocked in your room (and similarly expensive).

Even with the hefty cost, I consider room service a must when on vacation and will typically splurge for breakfast and a mimosa in bed for one day. There’s nothing more relaxing than eating a frittata while watching Netflix in a bathrobe or sipping a cocktail on the balcony. Some chains even offer complimentary breakfast via room service for their top-tier elite members, which is a fantastic perk.

Should I tip?

Room service tray floor
(Photo by nazdravie/Getty Images.)

During a recent stay at Miami’s The Confidante, I noticed the property added a $9 charge (which was not a tip) to have room service delivered to your door versus picking it up yourself.

That delivery charge you see is typically paid out to cooks, dishwashers and other members of the kitchen staff, as TPG contributor Brooke Porter Katz reported back in 2019.

If a gratuity hasn’t already been added to your bill (which is a possibility, so look at the line items on your receipt), tip between 15% and 20% of your meal just as you normally would. Remember, these are essential workers whose industry has been significantly affected by the pandemic, so tip generously and be patient and kind when ordering room service.

Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

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