Hotels will entertain almost any idea to get an edge. Sarah Barrell has the (bedtime) story

In these tough times, hoteliers are going to elaborate extremes to make guests feel they're getting service above and beyond the call of housekeeping.

From pillow menus to in-room spa treatments, there's little you can't demand from within the confines of your room. And it's not just high-end addresses that are reaching into their boutique bags for ideas to pamper and please; even the functional franchises are in on the act.

It hard to believe this isn't an early April Fool, but Holiday Inn (holiday inn.co.uk) is combating the recent cold weather by commissioning an army of human bed warmers. Yes, real people dressed in large white suits with huge mitts, paw-like booties and nightcaps. Apparently, electric blankets and hot-water bottles don't cut it any more; we must have our beds warmed by someone who looks like they're from environmental health.

Only marginally less creepy is the rise of the "reader in residence". London's quirky Andaz Hotel (andaz .com) recently employed someone to read stories to guests. Damian Barr, a journalist and self-styled bibliotherapist, moved into the hotel last year so that guests could order him to their room, in his PJs, complete with a library of bedtime books. The Andaz will continue this story-telling trend tonight with a pre-dinner reading of love stories for Valentine's Day by the artist/writer Evie Salmon.

The idea that hotels must cater to every whim has become standard in this culture of pillow menu mania. Gone are the days when you were grateful for your pillow to be devoid of lumps – or simply present in your room at all. Now a litmus test for a hotel of a certain class is to provide a menu of pillows that come with all manner of Egyptian and organic cotton coverings and stuffing from goosedown to buckwheat and sustainably sourced, hypoallergenic kapok. It's enough to make your head hurt.

Need a spiritual lift? Check in at Nashville's Hotel Preston (hotel preston.com), for a "spiritual menu" of books beyond the ubiquitous Bible. Zen more your thing?

At the Monaco, in San Francisco (monaco-sf.com), you can take a pet goldfish to your room, a sort of executive stress gizmo that gawps back at you. And at Loews in Annapolis (loews hotels.com), Luke the yellow Labrador is available for a stroke or a stroll.

If you want to travel with your own pet, there are plenty of hotels welcoming furry guests with pet-friendly hotel services. At Boston hotel Nine Zero (ninezero.com), your pooch will not only be provided with its own bed and kitchen, but it'll also be walked, kept company in your room while you're out, and offered a range of spa treatments.

Equally, services for kids have flourished to become a breakaway hotel market in itself. But when it comes to mainstream hotels catering to kiddies, Fitzpatrick Hotels (fitzpatrick hotels.com) has distinguished itself with family rooms that have special doll sets: tiny wardrobes and matching canopy beds, slippers and robes for children and their gifted dolls. And hotel staff greet both child and doll by name.

For adult toys, you can't beat the Murano Urban Resort (muranoresort .com) in Paris. The floors are slate black – even the loo paper is black (a curious toilet experience) – and in place of freebie shampoos, there's what's become known in boutique hotel circles as the "shag bag", containing all manner of designer-endorsed love potions, lotions and lubricants. Don't travel there with your mum.

It's not just elaborate accessories that are taking over room-service menus; it's the services themselves. Once the preserve of the presidential suite, on-staff personal butlers, hosts, and even life coaches are now at the beck and call of many more guests. And there is no end to the types of in-room spa treatments available, from hot-stone massages to thumb therapy for over-keen BlackBerry users, offered for a while at Hyatt hotels. A bathtub must now be filled with petals and floating candles, particularly in the Orient (very pretty but pretty annoying if you actually want to have a bath). In Australia's wine country, one guest reportedly took all this a logical step further: on hearing that vinotherapy was available in the spa, he asked for his tub to be filled with shiraz.

But perhaps the surreal pinnacle of this perverse need to please is the turn-down service. At best this used to be a chocolate on the pillow but now you can expect to come back to a room filled with the scent of warm essential oils, an orchid and some Chinese tea if you're staying, as I recently did, at the new Mandarin Oriental, in Las Vegas (mandarinoriental.com). I also found a kaleidoscope on my nightstand at the new Philippe Starck-designed SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills (star woodhotels.com). Los Angeles is a bizarre enough spectacle as it is without looking at it through a hundred fractured mirror pieces – but perhaps I missed the point.

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