No More Room Service? Good Riddance — and Here Are the Reasons Why

A recent announcement from the New York Hilton Midtown revealed that room service was being discontinued in order to cut costs and improve profits, replacing it with Herb n’ Kitchen — an on-site cafeteria-style “grab-and-go” sort of restaurant which will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I am taking the potentially unpopular stance of saying good riddance to room service — and here are my reasons why:

Room service is expensive.

Could room service actually become obsolete one day? Photograph ©istockphoto.com by James Steidl.

Rarely do I order room service when I am a guest at a hotel property — but when I do, it usually puts a large dent in my wallet. It is not bad enough that the hotel property is charging $18.00 for a nine-dollar hamburger — but by the time you factor in the tax, delivery fee, tray charge and 18 percent service charge, that hamburger now costs approximately $27.00. The funny thing about that is that — depending on the hotel property — the exact same food on the room service is less expensive if you simply went downstairs to the restaurant on the premises.

For example, room service for four people cost $28.00 at the New York Hilton Midtown hotel property — yes, the same hotel property which is eliminating room service — which actually sounds like a deal…

…until you find out that food was not included.

Do you only want a spoon and a bowl for your own cereal and soy milk which you brought with you? That will be $11.00, please. Want a pot of coffee? Do not percolate when you find out that you will have to shell out $14.50. How about having to pay an extra charge for having complimentary items such as extra pillows and towels delivered to your room?

If you are saying those are not fair examples, consider when FlyerTalk member Tummy — what an appropriate name for this discussion — paid approximately $59.00 in 2000 for what seemed to be a minimal amount of pan-roasted salmon and braised short ribs with a baked potato, a small dinner roll and some butter.

Imagine being charged with a mandatory gratuity as high as 22 percent to a person whom you will most likely never see again after your food is delivered — unlike in a restaurant, where a waitperson is there to supposedly take care of you from when you are seated until after you finish your meal. A good question was raised by FlyerTalk member BadJelly, which is another appropriate name for this discussion: “In the in-room dining situation, the meal is dropped off and that is the end of the server. Why is the expectation that the percentage is going to be as high?” In other words, how much would you tip a waiter or waitress if they simply delivered your meal to your table and then you never saw them again — especially if you place your items from room service out in the hallway when you are finished or call to have those items removed from your room?

I always suspected that that extra line at the bottom of the bill which you sign for room service for an additional tip was a scam of sorts — even if it was not. After all, you have already paid all of the aforementioned charges — and why would you pay an additional tip on top of the expensive mandatory gratuity? Should you be expected to include that extra tip? I certainly do not believe so — unless everything pertaining to the food, presentation and service was so incredibly outstanding, which it usually never is for me.

Come to think of it — does that mandatory gratuity go to the server or to the hotel? What do you think is the answer to that question?

To me, charging a gratuity of 19 percent on the delivery charge is just plain wrong. The gratuity should be on the food only — not any fees or taxes.

What if the service charge was supposedly not disclosed on the room service menu? Should you be expected to pay it when it appears on your bill? Refreshingly, at least one hotel property apparently does not impose a mandatory service charge — but this was back in 2006.

I was being quite conservative with the cost of a hamburger ordered through room service. How much are you willing to spend for a hamburger ordered through room service at a luxury hotel? Would you be willing to pay as much as $75.00 for a basic hamburger? How much extra would you be willing to pay for room service?

Of course, some of the sting of the expense of room service is mitigated somewhat if you can earn frequent guest loyalty program points on as much of the cost of the room service as possible. It is not much — but any little thing helps.

One reason some adults order from the room service menu meant for children is to save money, as meals for children are usually less expensive — but also come in smaller portions. Another reason could be that there is a food item on the menu for children which is not available on the adult menu. I never quite understood that one…

The food is not great.

When was the last time you had a choice of restaurants and decided on one located inside of a hotel? Of course there are exceptions, but more often than not, the quality of the food served by restaurants located on the premises of a hotel property is usually not as good — and typically more expensive — than at competing restaurants not located within hotels. Of course, tastes vary — so I expect disagreement here.

Some FlyerTalk members claim that it is difficult to maintain a healthy diet when ordering that food via room service. Do you agree?

Other FlyerTalk members who keep Kosher wonder how the hotel property ensures that the food and the items remain Kosher once the food is delivered to your hotel room.

The portions are small.

I am rarely full after eating a room service meal. Unless I order a lot of food — thereby increasing the cost — I usually find myself either still hungry, or I get hungry shortly afterwards.

You could try this trick to receive more food at breakfast time if you happen to be at the right hotel and the verbiage on the menu works in your favor — but I personally would advice against that.

The order is not completed in a timely manner.

Whether it is because the telephone line is busy, the restaurant is slammed with orders or the elevators are slow, the food is usually not delivered expediently — and sometimes these factors can contribute to the food being cold by the time you are ready to eat it.

Even worse, I never liked when I had a flight whose time of departure was too early for me to at least enjoy a quick breakfast. Why do many hotel properties located near airports not offer an early breakfast via room service — or by any other means, for that matter?

I equally do not like arriving late at a hotel property where there are no other options for a meal other than room service — only to find out that the kitchen is closed. This usually happens after I experience a full day of long delays, crowds and mishaps while traveling. It is a good thing that I always carry emergency provisions with me to tide me over until I can eat a decent meal.

One reason why I personally do not particularly care for ordering room service is that I have to be ready for that knock on the door — and the delivery time is rarely accurate. Does the cable guy moonlight by delivering room service? Why do they always seem to know when I am in the bathroom or on the telephone?

Would a guarantee on the delivery of when your room service order will be delivered help?

Will other hotel properties follow suit?

In the event that room service eventually does become extinct — or, at least, becomes extremely rare — there are alternatives to room service if you are tired of eating out while traveling. For example, there is a service in Hawai’i where you can have food delivered to your room from your choice of greater than 75 participating restaurants for a fee ranging anywhere between $5.99 to 11.99 with a minimum order of $15.00 after 12:30 in the afternoon and a minimum order of $30.00 before 12:30 in the afternoon — and that does not include a gratuity for the person delivering your food.

What do you think are the chances that the proposed Herb n’ Kitchen at the New York Hilton Midtown could charge for a “to-go” order which was picked up similar to what a Hilton Garden Inn charged FlyerTalk member lsumegan?

Although some FlyerTalk members believe that room service will be in danger in the luxury hotel segment of the lodging industry, there is also a belief that highly-flexible 24-hour room service is essential for a high-end hotel.

I find it quite surprising that offering room service is not profitable to a hotel property and that it can even lose money — but it does makes sense that it is due to the costs of labor. The New York Hilton Midtown hotel property is expected to have 55 fewer employees once room service has been eliminated. If room service is such a drain on the finances of both the hotel property and the guest — and if the results are not exactly stellar — then why continue to offer it?

Personally, I will not miss room service as there are alternatives — at least, for me. I need nothing more than a continental breakfast in the morning. I can get my own juice and bread or breakfast pastry at the corner store — and for significantly less expense. Even better is the complimentary breakfasts offered at many hotel chains which do not offer full service. I am usually not in a hotel room at lunch time, and I can always bring in my own dinner from a restaurant, fast-food or take-out place, as I do not enjoy dining alone in public. If the room is equipped with a refrigerator and a microwave oven, even better, as more options are available to me.

I can tell you that the proposed Herb n’ Kitchen will most likely not be an option for me. I predict that its offerings will be moderately expensive — at least, when compared to the options I just outlined immediately above.

While the convenience can be nice, I certainly do not enjoy room service. Do you actually enjoy room service? How often do you use room service when dining while traveling for business? Whether you have had a terrific or lousy experience with room service, please share it in the Comments section below.

By the way — if you are reading this article in the comfort of your hotel room a your leisure, do not be surprised if at the time you check out of the hotel, you are assessed a delivery fee and a service charge for having this article brought to you…

Comments (Showing 13 of 13)

  • SkiAdcock at 1:19pm June 07, 2013

    I often order (dinner) room service when on the road, as I don’t like dining by myself whether it be in a hotel or off-site restaurant. I can come back to the room, change into casual clothes or robe, order room service & watch t.v. or read.

    I don’t like hotels that have a mandatory delivery charge & service charge & then still leave a line for a trip. Some do that, but some will have a delivery or service charge, but will say tip already included. I used to tip similar to what I would do at restaurants, but now I don’t tip as much because, as you say, other than bringing the order to the room there’s not much service involved.

  • seanthepilot at 8:04pm June 07, 2013

    I like this editorial. And I must agree.

    When I order room service, I have already accepted the high prices.

    But, what bothers me is that once I order, I am held hostage… while hungry.
    I have no way of knowing when the food will arrive, and unable to leave and find something in a hotel restaurant or outside, because I’ve already ordered.

    Hotels were instrumental in destroying room service by not understanding their consumers’ needs. Instead of innovating and adapting, they went for the fine dining and huge pricetag. If they got it right, business would be booming.

    But this brings up another issue. Hotel star ratings are based on meeting a set list of amenities. I’m pretty sure this includes 24 hour food availability. Will a 3, 4, or 5 star hotel lose their accreditation after dropping customer amenities?

    The Hilton in question surely weighed these questions, and is likely the reason for them replacing it with a 24 hour food option. But, if followers simply eliminate food service once the restaurant closes, what options are left? Or will we have to update the list of amenities required to maintain 4 and 5 star accreditation?

  • ksandness at 8:13pm June 07, 2013

    I don’t get the reluctance to dine by one’s self in public. It can be boring—unless you bring a book. Don’t imagine that everyone is staring at you. They aren’t.

    • Brian Cohen at 10:10pm June 07, 2013

      This might sound strange to you, ksandness — but I simply am uncomfortable being the sole focus of attention when it comes to service. I would rather be with at least one other person at the table, as the attention by the waitperson is not entirely focused on me — and it is usually nice to have someone with whom to dine.

      Although I do have my moments where I do not mind being pampered — rare as they may be — I am more of the type of person who likes to be left alone.

      As I mentioned in this article about tipping when I darn well feel like it, I am an “IGI” — which stands for “I got it” — when it comes to services provided at full-service hotel properties. I do not need someone to hail a taxi cab for me unless I specifically request it. I do not need anyone opening a car door for me. I do not need anyone to carry my bag, which is small enough for me to handle, thank you very much. As I said before, just leave me alone and let me go about my business.

      This is the source of my reluctance of dining by myself in public. I prefer to dine alone in private rather than in public. If a fellow diner stares at me, that person will probably be rather bored…

  • magendim at 3:29am June 08, 2013

    I travel very frequently for business both domestically and internationally and 24 hour room service is an amenity higher end hotels should offer. For me, it’s all about convenience. Sometimes I get in late after a long flight, or just have a very long work day and I just want to relax or catch up on things and have something to eat w/o leaving the room. I also sometimes will have room service for breakfast so I may have coffee and a bite to eat while I pack and get ready to check out rather than take the time to get all ready and go downstairs to the restaurant which usually means I have to then get up even earlier or go to the airport hungry. I have no problem eating alone at a restaurant and do it occasionally when I’m travelling solo, but a lot of times I’ll eat at the bar (if they have one). And while I might bring something to read, I don’t mind meeting new folks sitting next to me or chatting it up with the bartender/waiter, especially at hotel restaurants where there are frequently lone diners/drinkers. I guess whatever works for you…

  • 747FC at 4:15am June 08, 2013

    I’m a big fan of room service. When Mrs 747FC and I are tired, we like to have a bite in our own room. When we are travelling and sick, room service is a godsend! Nothing worse than being ill while traveling and then having no option for food delivery. Room service in convention hotels are a great way to isolate oneself from the maddening crowds. Of course, all of this comes at a cost, one which does not have to be borne by those uninterested in the convenience.

  • sdsearch at 6:35am June 08, 2013

    You talk about a third-party room service in Hawaii. Actually, there’s a card for third-party room service in just about EVERY limited service chain hotel/motel I stay in in the US (in programs like Choice, Best Western, etc). That’s how low-end hotels that are not set up for room service make it seem like they have it. It’s basically “centralized” take out ordering/delivery. (It’s not specific to one hotel; the same card will be found in a variety of lower-end hotels in the same area, since the same third party covers a bunch of different hotels in the same area.)

  • dko3tgk at 10:14pm June 08, 2013

    Room service is necessary for me as a business traveler. When I fly in late and need to eat before getting to bed for a morning meeting. When you have a deadline and you don’t want to take the extra time to get dressed, go down to the restaurant, and then wait for servers, and to pay bills. You lose extra time needed to get work done. Also alot of hotels serve room service after the restaurants are closed.
    Is it overpriced, yes, but in some cases its almost necessary.
    Location probably plays a big part of the NY Hilton getting rid of room service. There is plenty of late night food within walking distance in Manhattan. However what if you are in some airport hotel with nothing within waking distance?
    Also the quality of room service food depends on what you order. Anything that needs to be eaten right away like steaks don’t work. The covers trap the steam and overcook your steak. While unhealthy, anything fried, or simple like appetizers or burgers usually turn out pretty decent. But again, room service as a necessity is different than just the convenience of just not eating at a restaurant.

  • geminidreams at 4:58am June 09, 2013

    Will need to leave space in the bag for a few bowls of instant noodles,

  • orbitmic at 9:56am June 09, 2013

    So basically, the message is: if currently hotels charge too much for internet connection which should essentially free and provide a connection which is often slow and not very good, then let hotels stop offering internet access altogether?? I’ll admit that this is not my form of logic. Much of what you say about how room service is often delivered is perfectly correct, but the answer provided by the Hilton is not. I suspect that much of the reason why you think it may be is contained in the phrase: “Rarely do I order room service when I am a guest at a hotel property”. I often fly very long haul with connections and by the time I arrive at the hotel, tired and hungry, all I am dreaming of is having a hot bath and then having dinner – in my room. With jetlag, when I arrive in the US, I also often wake up very early – at 3 or 4am – and again, what works best for me in such cases is to start working, showering, and ordering an early room service breakfast at 5am or so. Going down to the restaurant is not nearly the same – first of all they often open later than room service does, and second they force me to stop my work to go down to essentially uninspiring dining halls where more often than not you are stuck with ghastly buffet food as opposed to being able to order something made to order. Very often, when you stay in one of the world’s great food cities like London, Paris, New York, Rome, San Francisco, Nice, or Hong Kong, then going out for dinner is a fabulous experience. However, in many other locations (think airport hotels, hotels in not very nice small towns, etc), the prospect of an exciting dinner out within walking distance is extremely minimal and the main choice that will be left if you can’t have room service will be the hotel restaurant(s). Now, many of the arguments that you rightly articulate against many room service offerings would be just as valid when it comes to hotel restaurants and in such cases, I typically find that at least having that late supper in the comfort of my own room is far less gloomy than going down to a rather ugly and unpleasant pseudo-posh hotel restaurant. There are many hotels or residences now offering very nice rooms or studios with no restaurant or room service and this is a perfectly fine choice. However, when I do choose to go to a full service hotel of a certain standard, then I do expect room service to be an option if I want to use it, and at any rate, while I can see the case for restaurantless AND room-service-less hotels and also the case for hotels offering both, I would find the case for hotels that would have a restaurant but no room service very weak.

  • AS Flyer at 10:30am June 09, 2013

    I’m confused about why you would care one way or another about room service if you don’t use it. You can still go downstairs and get your food and bring it to your room if that’s what you want to do. It’s a service that is provided to those that want it. Is it over priced? Yes. It often is. Do those using the service know this before agreeing to use it? Almost always. If you don’t want to use it… Don’t. Why does it bother you if others do?

  • chx1975 at 9:24pm June 09, 2013

    Really? Room service? Where in the world you are you can’t order delivery from any restaurant for half the price? Cos yes, at the end of long haul, you want delivery and badly so but why would you need to order from inside the hotel?

  • recadna at 12:51pm June 10, 2013

    Because it is someone’s money (company)? If you have to pay from your pocket, I bet most ” business” people would think twice about a $75 sandwich.

Leave Reply

You must be a logged in member to post a comment. Click here to Register.