Hotel F&B Observer Blog

Hotel food and beverage professionals share experience, skills and commentary. These hotelier blogs reflect a variety of unique career perspectives and real-life workplace stories, observations and opinions.

Room Service

In-room dining, room service, personal culinary delivery…whatever you call it, room service needs a major shake up.

I wonder who the first hotelier was to introduce “room service”?

Obviously, room service has been around for a very long time. “Room Service,” the 1938 movie staring the famous Marx Brothers, uses a huge room service bill as part of the main movie plot. According to AH&LA, Westin was the first hotel company to offer 24-hour room service back in 1969.

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed in hotel room service. The folding room service table with pop-out wings, the white tablecloth, and, of course, the mini flower vase, mini ketchup, mini salt & pepper, and if the hotel is going all out…the mini Tabasco bottle. Everything is wrapped in cellophane and the smell of sterno fuel wafting through the guest room.

If you are lucky, the room service waiter takes the time to unwrap everything, removing the hot items from the sterno box and taking the cello off your $20.00 dollar glass of red wine. All this while you uncomfortably sit at the end of your bed, maybe in your robe watching CNN.

Once your in-room dining experience is completed, you of course have to call down to room service to remind them to pick up the tray or cart. You are generally reminded of this via the small tent card on your dinner tray. Since most guests do not like old food hanging around their room and prefer not to again have a stranger enter their room, the tray or room service cart is placed in the hallway outside of the room.

I have seen, okay, I have been this guy, holding the guest room door open with one leg while I push the cart out into the hallway with the other. All the time hoping that the door does not slip and close behind you and lock you out. Your tray then joins the many others littered down the hall, results of forgotten deliveries and obvious unkept promises to “call room service when you are done.”

If you do happen to leave your tray in your room, maybe falling asleep while watching a movie, you trust that housekeeping will remove the tray. And they do…all the way to right outside your doorway, leaving the tray for room service to come retrieve. I have seen many a tray spending more time in the hallway than guests stay in their rooms.

So room service is not my favorite experience. With very few exceptions, my room service experiences have been less than memorable. Underwhelmed an overcharged are my memories of room service.

So to you service experts out there…what can we do? I don’t mean replace the daisy with a rose, and I don’t mean upgrade the linen. I mean what can we do to really change the way room service is offered? How do we shake this up in a big way?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments area below.



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  • Augustus Lee posted: 22 Jul at 7:26 pm

    I worked in room service and your observations are generally accurate for the past. With the advancement of technology (read laptops) more guests are doing work in their rooms. Many hotel are shifting their focus on the way we serve guests in their rooms. Here are some examples:

    1. Instead of the old hot boxes with sternos there are hot plates which the food plates sit on that keep the dish hot. These metal plates are kept in an electric hot box in the room service area. These hot plates are brought back from the room by the server.

    2. A few hotels use a callback system where room service calls the guest back within (20 minutes for dinner, 5 minutes for breakfast) to insure the guests are satisfied with their meal.

    3. There is a room service tracking system for rooms that received food. Servers or room service bussers do floor runs (known as tray runs in the business) where they checked the floors several times during the shift to pickup dirty trays and tables. They also leave a list of rooms not picked up for the next shift.

    4. Servers are trained to engage guests in conversation concerning their stay and address any needs they have during delivery of their food (e.g. if the guest remarks they have been waiting for a refrigerator. The server is trained to own that need and follow up with the appropriate department…. i.e. housekeeping… until the guest’s needs are met). They are also encouraged to follow up with the guest.

    5. Most room service departments have their servers equipped with radios. Any guest request or service need can be instantly communicated to the server while they are on the floors to create more efficient and timely service.

    6. Finally, with today’s technology, room service has the advantage with guest databases to personalize the In-room dining experience for all repeat guests who are in the system.

    I prefer the term In-room dining because I feel this is more descriptive of today’s service to guests in their rooms.

    Having been a room service trainer for The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia, I am FAR from being a service expert since service is constantly evolving.

  • Kurt Bjorkman posted: 22 Jul at 8:10 pm

    YES!

    Someone who gets it. I would say that the RCP has taught you very well.

    Augustus, thanks for responding to my Room Service blog entry. I agree and am familiar with the points you bring up. Not many people have a lot of passion out there when it comes to room service.

    I have stayed in more than 100 rooms over the last year and have to say that unfortunatley not all hotels (and I stay at national branded 3 to 4 star properties) are on point with what should be today’s standards.

    I am looking at a mini-sterno and enjoying it’s lovely aroma as I respond to you from my hotel room.

    Thanks, I look forward to reading more of your ideas and concepts!

    ps– on the radios: earpieces need to be used please!

  • Karl Prohaska posted: 23 Jul at 8:35 am

    From a kitchen perspective I look at how things need to travel; heat retention; and the “does it make sense” factor. I often check myself into a room as far away from the kitchen as I can get to test the three items.

    When I write room service menus, I try to gear them towards maximum enjoyment for the guests. Certain foods, and chef’s know what they are, simply don’t hold heat well so I tend to shy away from them. Certain presentations don’t travel well, so I restructure them. I also like to take into account what I eat from room service when I’m on the road. I simply don’t order the big three course meal while I’m traveling. I am more likely to order bar food, sandwiches, or soup/salad combinations. If I want to full on dazzle, I’ll make my way to the restaurant where I can get the chef’s food without the travel (and service charge for that matter).

    I always include a certain amount of full blown entrees when I write those menus, but it’s not the focus. We’d all be better off using our heads about our offerings and serving items we know “work” for our guests as far as taste and presentation.

  • Menze Heroian posted: 23 Jul at 12:27 pm

    I can truly appreciate the subject matter of this blog as I agree 100% that Room Service is the final frontier in food and beverage. I would add the concept of mini bar to that department and if it were up to me I would combine the two departments as one and get rid of the traditional concept of stocking these small refrigerators with items which simply do not sell and have no value for price paid.
    In my opinion, Room Service needs the following changes to take place:
    1. Room Serrvice kitchens should be designed and built as independent kitchens.
    2. Menus are not based on taking a sectional slicing of items from the three meal a day restaurant which are the same in every hotel and frankly quite boring but are specifically designed and implemented based upon the same philosophy used by specialty restaurants which focus on a specific cuisine ; the cuisine needs to appeal to all markets. The menu should also include regional itmes. . And by all means change the generic name from Room Service and give it a proper name which describes the theme of the menu and serice.
    3. Menu items should have the flexibilty to be changed frequently. This can be done through the electronic menus which are loaded into in room t.v. screens
    4. Service: Change the uniforms which are typically the same boring uniforms the banquet staff is wearing. Implement uniforms which you would find at the trendiest of restaurants and hire staff who can articulate the menu preperation and offer a service experience more likely found in the best restaurants.
    5. Establish service stations on each floor stocked with everything one needs to service the menu.
    6. Create a service experience which is an art form. This is the big challenge, to provide an experience to the guest which in the short period the server is in the room, which leaves an emotional impression which the guest will not likely forget.

    It’s only a matter of time before hotels address the antiquity of Room Service as it exists. I predict the first changes which will take place will be in Las Vegas because they can handle the large expense of making the changes which I have described with the support of the casino.

  • Karl Prohaska posted: 25 Jul at 2:52 pm

    I love the suggestion of having satellite kitchens to run Rm Service stuck on a mid floor. That way I could take my concerns of heat retention and portablility and lay them to rest to a certain extent.

  • Jeffrey Summers posted: 28 Aug at 1:36 pm

    Good article here on the “new world of room service”.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20393013/?CFID=1690475&CFTOKEN=22910464

  • Tamara Quinn posted: 04 Nov at 4:14 am

    Has anyone had an absolutely fabulous In Room Serivce latetly? Innovative? Creative? Service Focussed?

  • Ricardo Figueiredo posted: 28 Jul at 4:36 am

    Menze
    You are soooooo right!!