GOODBYE, $50 BREAKFASTS IN BED

The New York Hilton is getting rid of room service. Here’s what it should offer instead

By Sam Grobart

ILLUSTRATION BY DAN WOODGER

On June 4, the New York Hilton, New York’s largest hotel, announced it would cease offering food service to its 1,980 rooms in August. “Like most full-service hotels, New York Hilton Midtown has continued to see a decline in traditional room service requests over the last several years as customer preferences and expectations continue to evolve,” says Mark Ricci, director of corporate communications. Citing high labor costs and inconsistent demand, the hotel will instead offer a self-serve cafeteria for guests called the Herb n’ Kitchen.

Hotels often don’t make money from room service, which may be surprising given how staggeringly expensive it is. In April, Trip-Advisor released a survey of in-room dining costs at four-star hotels around the world — a can of Coke runs almost $6 in Honolulu and $7.72 in Oslo. Even at these inflated prices, the cost of running around-the-clock food service is too high to maintain. The Hilton, for its part, is cutting 55 jobs. “If the biggest hotel in New York can’t make room service work financially, who can?” asks William Marks, a senior research analyst at investment bank JMP Securities. “It may signal that the concept of room service at a large hotel is no longer a given.”

A cafeteria-style eatery is a depressing alternative to breakfast in bed. And in New York, in particular, it’s totally unnecessary. Here are four alternatives for the Hilton and other hotel chains to consider:

Let people order in. To some degree, hotels do this already, but the Hilton should expand the practice and really sell it. Guests are within delivery range of ’Wichcraft, the Palm, Bice, and Bricklane Curry House, to mention a few pretty delicious dining options.

Work with Seamless/GrubHub. The two online-ordering companies are merging, so make a deal: Let guests of the hotel order via those services and bill directly to the room. The Hilton gets a unique selling point and Seamless/GrubHub gets exposure to thousands of new users.

Make an app. Arriving guests could load their phones with a Hilton app that would provide all these delivery options. The hotel should add other services, too — housekeeping requests, checkout, etc. Let people download the app via free wireless or lend them an iPod Touch when they check in.

Leave some cutlery in the room. The problem with delivery is that the food doesn’t come as nicely plated as it does via room service. So the Hilton should stock some prepackaged plates and cutlery so guests have what they need for in-room dining. Make those plates bamboo or compostable cornstarch and get some eco-cred.

If room service is something that both loses money and makes guests feel ripped off, then it’s good to get rid of it. No one’s going to miss those $6 cans of Coke, especially while eating delicious takeout and watching A Good Day to Die Hard on demand for $15.

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