For nearly a decade, hospitality pundits have predicted the end of room service as we know it. The conversation dates back to the financial crisis of 2008, when people and businesses looked for ways to rein in unnecessary travel expenses. Room service was a big fluffy target. An oft-cited survey by PKF Hospitality Research charted sharp downward movement in room service revenue during the years following 2008, and things have since been slow to recover.
As a result, managers are taking a fresh look at room service offerings. In some cases, hotels are doing away with in-house food and beverage, either outsourcing to third parties or installing “grab-and-go” kiosks that minimize or eliminate on-site preparation. In properties where room service is clearly valued, systematic flaws are being identified and addressed. Here are some key considerations for bringing your hotel’s room service up-to-speed.
Do away with awkward phone calls
Is it really so hard for guests to call down and place an order? The answer, in some cases, is yes — the interaction feels awkward, and the guest would rather not make that call. He or she is tired or busy. There may also be a language barrier in play. Here in Australia, for example, the influx of business travelers and tourists from China is on a sharp uptick.
The future of hotel service interactions — at least the way those interactions are initiated — is not voice calls. Digital orders have recently eclipsed voice orders in the restaurant business, and hotels have good reason to embrace this trend. A dedicated app or simple web portal makes it simple and painless for guests to send orders to the kitchen. It may be too much to eliminate that phone in the kitchen, but there’s little doubt that offering a digital alternative is desirable. And imagine if you can have your meals presented online just as well as those photos on the hotel website? (And yes, they need to be accurate.)
Clarify service charges and tipping etiquette
Australia doesn’t have much of a tipping culture, but many foreigners don’t know this. Whatever your country, whatever your policy, questions around tipping for room service should be clarified to improve the quality of the interaction.
When guests feel uncertain about tipping for room service — either compelled to tip when the cost of room service is already high, or made to feel cheap for not tipping — the interaction has negative undertones. As hoteliers, we don’t want this. If you include a service and/or delivery charge on room service, make it clear that tips are not expected or even allowed. And if you are charging a service/cover fee, be clear on what it is for. I stayed in a Melbourne five star hotel last year where the service fee was almost more than the hamburger I wanted and I am sure this did not go to the waiter as a tip. In fact, by the design of the menu and the ultimate presentation, I am pretty sure it was designed to deter me from ordering room service.
A lot has been said about hotel restaurants and how they can break through the wall of mediocrity. Local ingredients and flair have a lot to do with it. If your room service menu looks as sterile and unimaginative as a food counter at an international airport, it could be time to revamp your ingredients and packaging and start telling a different story. Local, free-range, grass-fed, artisan — these are words that should be on the menu and noticeable in the quality of the food itself. And if you are proud of your food, then make the effort and design the menu to ensure that all items can be presented as fresh as if ordered in the restaurant. No one wants soggy chips or a deflated soufflé.
Guests have always loved silver platters, posh napkins, and the luxury of having a food brought to the room. But for many (especially those all-important millennials), the quality of the food itself is more important. Most hotels don’t earn very high marks in terms of quality or overall value. It’s the convenience people like. So, if you need to revisit the packaging and receptacles to ensure food quality remains high, then do so.
Services like MenuLog, UberEats and GrubHub have made home delivery more popular than ever, yet many hotels resist or prohibit outside food delivery. There are three main reasons for this: 1) security risks 2) accumulation of rubbish, and 3) the prospect of lost revenue.
Hotels can address security concerns by escorting drivers to rooms, or accepting deliveries at the desk and having a team member complete the delivery. Guests can be informed what to do with excess rubbish. As for lost revenue, it may not be a serious issue, depending on how profitable your room service amenity is today.
In an age where guests want more options and local flavor, outsourced room service can be a dynamic solution. The Kinzie Hotel in Chicago, for example, has transferred 100% of their room service orders to a nearby gastropub. Certain Hyatt properties, meanwhile, are offering curated food selections through GrubHub, a delivery app similar to MenuLog.
The future of room service
One of the beautiful things about this industry is that problems are always in the process of being defined and solved in creative ways. Room service is an important consideration for any hotel with three or more stars, but in many cases, the numbers tell a dysfunctional story. It’s one of those aspects of running a hotel where change may take up time and resources, but sticking with outdated models is ultimately the costly approach. Sometimes hotel room service menus appear to be placed in rooms begrudgingly – if you don’t want people to order it, then don’t provide it; but if you do provide it, take the opportunity to also provide a great experience and ensure it reflects the rest of the hotel service and quality level expected.
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