Overpriced omelettes strike most as a permanent fixture of the hotel experience, just like miniature shampoo bottles and key cards that demagnetize at least once a day. But when the largest hotel in New York City discontinued room service altogether a week and a half ago, the survival of $20 hamburgers and 4am deliveries became a hotly debated question. If the 2,000 room Hilton New York would swap out room service for a basic cafeteria in its lobby, the availability of absurdly expensive food 24 hours a day would seem to be in serious jeopardy.
Even before Hilton announced room service’s replacement with a grab-and-go spot, hotels have been exploring alternatives to room service for some time. Ten days before the Hilton news broke, Bloomberg Businessweek summarized the drawbacks of traditional room services for the hospitality business: It’s been the slowest to recover since the recession, making up an ever-lower percentage of hotel revenues (1.2% in 2012 as opposed to 1.3% in 2011, according to USA Today). In response to these dismal numbers, otherwise high-end spots like the Hilton Honolulu have been trying out less costly alternatives like paper bag deliveries, which have the added benefit of appealing to busier or younger customers who aren’t interested in the white cloth treatment.
Meanwhile, the New York Times suggests that guests are also turning to room service’s most obvious alternatives: delivery, as facilitated by GrubHub, Seamless, and other sites. It seems fairly intuitive, since delivery is just as convenient and considerably less overpriced, but what’s new is partnerships between delivery services and hotels to either replace room service or include the cost of delivered food in the hotel bill.
Although the situation strikes us as a win-win—combining room service’s sheer convenience with plain ol’ regular food’s variety and price—a later Times piece argues that room service is here to stay, at least among higher-end hotels that see it as a luxury amenity rather than an additional perk. Which ultimately might make sense: if you’re a luxe enough hotel to provide quality food that’s actually worth $30 an entree, then by all means, keep cooking. Otherwise, guests can take to the Internet and find the nearest Chinese spot. Just please make sure that WiFi is free.