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Reinventing Room Service

Traditional room service seems to be making its swan song, but better and potentially profitable ideas are emerging.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Steve Pike
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The New York Hilton Midtown will end its traditional style in-room dining service this month citing declining business. But even so the venerable hotel will still be serving up food for people all hours of the day, it’ll just be a little different.

And ‘different’ seems to be the big trend for in-room dining lately. Hoteliers are looking to turn this nearly guaranteed money losing amenity and customer sore point into both a profit center and consumer satisfier.

So hotels are either upping the ante with more personalized, specialized service or stripping it down to concepts that have been quietly proving themselves at focused service hotels during the past few years.

The super convenient “grab and go” concept of ready-made sandwiches, snacks and soft drink in kiosks near their lobbies is catching on, quickly!

“Grab-and-go is instant gratification,” said Tim Freisen, general manager of The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, “You see exactly what you are getting and can totally relax when you get to your room. It is faster, easier, and more affordable due to lower operation costs.”

At its “ingredients” lobby dining, the Westin Hilton Head offers Starbuck’s coffee, juices, smoothies, soft drinks, beer and wine as well on-the-go breakfast and lunch items.

Grab-and-go, Freisen said, grabs (pardon the pun) business the hotel might not otherwise get.

“Especially with departing guests who find it easier to grab something on their way out verses stopping once they get on the road,” Freisen said. “Kids love our frozen yogurt and smoothies and other treats and bring in their parents.”

The Breakers Palm Beach, meanwhile, is taking the moreluxurious approach.

“We’ve developed our in-room dining over the past couple ofyears,” said Nick Velardo, director of food and beverage for the poshbeachfront resort. “We’re using creative elements that look more like you would find inrestaurants. We don’t buy stock lines – we’re buying fabric and having ourlinens produced because we want to create a surprising ‘pop’ in the room forour guests. We also use mugs – hand blown in Italy – instead of cups andsaucers. And we have a lot of inspiration from the ocean. Our water glasseshave star fish on them, for example, and our coffee mugs have sea turtles.

“It’s a lot more work but we think the impact on our guestsis significant because typically people pay a premium for in room dining. Sowe’ve made it true dining.”

The same is true at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, like The Breakers, one of the country’s more luxurious resort destinations.

“In-room dining is essential to the resort – it is something that’s expected,” said In-Room Dining Manager Kara Roberson. “Our guests expect a certain kind of service and a certain quality of food. With in-room dining, we’re making it memorable and personal, so they don’t have to go downstairs to one of our restaurants. They can get something as simple as a cold sandwich and cup of coffee in the privacy of their own room.”

The idea, said Jim Leiken, executive chef at Café Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel on Palm Beach, is to give guests who order in-room dining a parallel experience to what they would have in the restaurant.

“The same food, the same ingredients and the same level of service, with some simple options, such as hamburger or club sandwich,” Leiken said. “But for the most part it’s the same food cooked by the same cooks in the same kitchen.”

Any way it’s provided, said Ivan Diaz, restaurant manager for the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, in-room dining “is still important, especially for business travelers for the convenience factor.”

“Room service offers a simple, yet complete menu to all our guests,” Diaz said.

In-room dining these days isn’t limited to guestrooms. The Boulders in Carefree, Ariz., has added an interactive feature to its room service menu – a complete “Grill Your Own” meal for guests to prepare themselves on the privacy of their own patios.

The “Grill Your Own” menu is available for guests staying in one of the resort's Villas or Haciendas. The resort delivers a picnic basket – for up to four people - with an array of “Grill Your Own” foods that features appetizers, entrees such as steak, chicken and fish, side dishes and desserts.

While the “Grill Your Own” menu accentuates the Sonoran Desert experience at The Boulders, the Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos delivers an in-room rock and roll experience that feeds the soul.

The Hard Rock delivers a “Sound of Your Stay” experience that includes a Fender guitar. Guests can choose from a menu of 20 Fender guitars – including Stratocasters, Telecasters and even basses to play during their entire stay, complete with Fender amp and Nixon headphones. Guests also receive a code to download a 15-song playlist, as well as get in-room delivery of a Traktor Kontrol S2 mixer, a laptop loaded with digital mixing software and Nixon headphones.

It might only be rock and roll, but it gives new meaning to room service.
Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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