The End of Room Service: Who Really Cares?

Room Service Breakfast, Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay

Room service done right can be an enjoyable luxury even if it seems outrageously expensive. Photo: Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay

Recently, much has been made about the demise of room service after Hilton’s announcement that they were discontinuing the service at New York’s largest hotel, the Hilton Midtown. Last fall, the chain also dropped room service at their Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, and a host of other hotels have reduced, stopped or never offered room service. Considering it represents a slim and falling slice of revenues, this shouldn’t be surprising.

Given that it made quite a splash in industry news, however, we wondered what hotel guests thought of the news. As guests ourselves, we around TravelLatte HQ rarely if ever have used room service, primarily because it is such an outrageously bad value. But our impressions don’t speak for the masses, do they?

Off we go to survey random guests. Keep in mind, we are not market research people so this little survey was anything but scientific. We just struck up conversations with the people we found at some local hotels. First stop: Aloft in Dallas, where there is no room service. Stan, who travels frequently on business and usually by himself, said it was a non-issue. Corporate policy forbids room service so, even if he stayed at a hotel where it was offered, he wouldn’t take advantage. But even when traveling with family or on his own dime, no room service. “I have three kids. For the price we’d pay for room service, the entire family can sit down at a nice restaurant for a proper meal. And we’re not typically coming in so late that room service is the only option.”

“It’s the easiest option…but it’s too expensive.”

Over to the Omni in Dallas, which does offer 24-hour guest room dining. We intercepted Gladys and Heather, also traveling on business. Room service? “No.” Why not? “Too expensive and usually not good at all.” Is that the voice of experience? (Heather) “Yes. It’s just the easiest option sometimes, but it’s too expensive. And usually not very healthy.” (Gladys) “I’ve had room service at some hotels – not this one – that was worse than going for fast food. I mean, a sandwich on a plate in plastic wrap. How long ago was that prepared?” Would you miss it if this hotel didn’t offer room service? (Together) “No. We have a car; this is a big city. There are options.”

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Room service has never really been the purview of the business traveler, though. The main market is luxury which, arguably, the Omni is though its location in downtown Dallas makes it popular among business travelers. The Gaylord Texan offers a healthy dose of luxury amenities including room service, on-site dining and local delivery. Guests there seemed to be on the fence. Nobody we met had ordered room service but several agreed that it was a nice added luxury for special occasions.

“How many times have you seen great hotels get bad reviews for crappy room service? Those customers wanted a great experience and probably got one, except for the room service.”

We’re striking out on room service fans. The major complaints were cost, selection and freshness, in that order. So we asked an acquaintance who works in hospitality finance for his take. “At most hotels, it’s a losing proposition. Customers want the option, customers want quality and a good price, but it really is expensive to do it well. Sometimes it’s better not to do it. Unless you’re a hotel with a restaurant, and even then you should limit the availability. Don’t offer 24 hour room service if you’re not going to offer consistently good room service. How many times have you seen great hotels get bad reviews for crappy room service? Was it worth it? Those customers wanted a great experience and probably got one except for the room service, and that’s what they put in the review.”

Hotels with no room service or restaurants are on the rise. According to Smith Travel Research, there are 2.7 million limited-service hotel rooms (no on-site restaurant or banquet facilities) and 2.2 million full-service rooms in the United States. A fairly slim difference, but what is telling is that the number of full-service rooms has grown 6% over the past decade while the number of limited-service rooms has grown 16% over the same time. Fortunately (or un-), many hotels are stocking “grab and go” self-serve alternatives that often include pre-packaged, microwavable meals.

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Gourmet DefinedMany establishments tout these as “gourmet,” which we take do take issue with. Our definition of gourmet does not include anything that is prepared in a microwave or comes wrapped in cellophane. Call it a market, call it a grocer, just don’t call it gourmet. But we digress…

Back to Stan: “The selection here isn’t bad; there’s more than just candy bars and chips, at least.” What would you like to see? “Maybe something like the express places at the airport, like Chili’s To Go. Maybe hotels could partner with local restaurants and offer some pre-packaged items.” Danger there, of course, might be the same issues of cost and freshness.

Hotels claim that room service contributes only modest revenues, with many saying it’s actually in the red, costing them more than it makes. To be sure, there is a set of travelers who look for this amenity and hotels choosing to end room service may be abandoning these guests. In fact, some outside rating agencies require room service in order to be considered for their top tier ratings. Right or wrong, that influences a good number of travelers.

We’re interested in what you think. We want to hear your experiences and opinions of room service and hotel dining. Would you miss it? Do you even notice it now? Do you think it should be required to be a 5 Star hotel? Let us know with a Comment!

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