Room service: The final call on a luxury that is just not profitable

At the New York Hilton, you will soon have to make do with a 'grab 'n go' cafeteria

Room service is one of life’s few  uncomplicated pleasures. You pay a bit extra – you get to avoid the company of your fellow hotel guests at meal times. At breakfast, when eyes still droop and conversation stutters like an old Ford Escort, it is almost immoral not to call for breakfast in bed. Plus, it makes you feel a bit special.

I remember returning drunk to a European hotel and ticking just about everything on the room service breakfast menu, only to wake up five hours later and find a spread arrayed at the base of my bed which wouldn’t have shamed Lord “Two Dinners” Goodman. It cost a fortune, included fruit with a bit of gold leaf on it, but it made me feel like a Bourbon prince. Until I got the bill.

It is now, however, a luxury under threat. At the New York Hilton, the city’s largest with 1,980 rooms, they are to cease offering room service come August. Instead they will provide a rather less appealing “grab ’n go” cafeteria. No men in white jackets, no trays in bed, nothing.

Why? Well despite the high menu prices, room service just isn’t that profitable. As the Trip Advisor Room Service Index shows,  in-room dining can be breakingly expensive (Fancy a club sandwich in Tokyo? That’ll be £15.85. Peanuts in Moscow? £7.96). But it is also breakingly expensive to offer guests a 24/7 service. You need chefs, you need waiters, you need people taking the order on reception. There is a whole ecosystem of labour (usually of around 12 staff for a large hotel) that swing into action to bring you that eggs Benedict – and they all need paying.

Which is not so easy when business expense accounts are tighter than handcuffs and the economic weather remains frosty. Data from the US shows that while revenue per available room increased from $56.47 in 2011 to $61.05 in 2012, revenue from in-room food was down from 1.3 per cent to 1.2 per cent.

Of course, some hotels do make it work. Historic hotels offering no in-room tea or coffee facilities do claw the room-service outlay back by selling hot and cold beverages at  inflated rates with a tray charge on top, but at “party” hotels (the W hotel group, springs to mind) that doesn’t exactly sit well with the easy-going attitude they attempt to contrive.

Trendier boutique hotels are increasingly attempting to shave cost by offering “brown bag” service. At Public in Chicago they leave a bag with a breakfast on your door and at the Four Seasons Washington DC their “15-minute menu” comes on disposable paper trays.

As Juliet Kinsman, the editor-in-chief of travel guide Mr & Mrs Smith, points out, removing rooms service totally may be a missed trick: “Room service can feel like you have your own romantic private dining room and it can be well worth the surcharge for the client and the operations hassle for the host”. This is one New York trend, fingers crossed, that won’t cross the pond.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain