Room service evokes images of grandeur. A butler dressed in a tuxedo wheeling in a white linen dressed table. The silver dome set atop that is removed to reveal your meal. But during your next stay at a hotel, you might find that room service is not an option.
In the years following the Great Recession, the hospitality market was confronted with a more cost conscious consumer where full-service restaurants and in-room dining were no longer prized amenities when seeking accommodations. For hotels, room service had long been a money losing proposition, but the convergence of economic factors made it where the operational costs associated with room service were just too high for a service that too few took advantage of. Many hotels responded to the market shift by forgoing formal dining and converting their lobbies into casual cafes and mini markets with fresh, grab-and-go meals at a lower price point that also gave guests more flexibility around when they dined.
"It used to be where food and beverage was a loss-leader, and it was okay, because it was perceived that you needed to have it to attract leisure and business travelers," said Robert Mandelbaum, director of research information services, PKF Hospitality Research. "The success of limited-service hotels has negated that theory."
When Stanford Court, a boutique hotel in San Francisco's historic Nob Hill district, reopened in 2013, shedding its identity as a Renaissance property, it did so without room service, catering and a full-service restaurant. "For us, it makes sense, because our whole positioning is geared toward the modern traveler, said Michael Baier, general manager, Stanford Court. "We chose to invest more heavily in the amenities this traveling group gravitates towards, like offering free Wi-Fi."
Realizing it needed to fill the gap left by the customary food services that it had done away with, Stanford Court installed Pantry, a refrigerated, grab-and-go kiosk, that the hotel could stock with fresh sandwiches, salads, yogurts and beverages. While the kiosk isn't a huge revenue machine for the hotel, it is able to manage quality and costs with the analytics it receives on the backend from Pantry. "At this point with Pantry I am happy with a break-even, which it is achieving. It is not designed to be a profit generator, it is designed to fill the niche of a service that was eliminated," explained Baier.
Limited food service was always in the plan for Hotel Eleven, a 14-room property in Austin that is set to open in early 2016. Situated downtown within walking distance of many of the city's best eateries, like the renowned Franklin Barbecue, hotel owner, Shelly Leibham, wanted to encourage guests to experience the community the hotel is a part of. "We want people out of their rooms, not delivering stuff to keep them in their rooms." Acknowledging the challenges and costs associated with a full-service restaurant, Leibham said the hotel will focus on easy to prepare foods that won't require a highly trained culinary staff. To start, the hotel's bistro will serve pre-made meals like breakfast tacos in the morning and light snacks with beer and wine in the evening.
Stanford Court and Hotel Eleven are part of a growing breed of hotels that are streamlining their food programs. A 2015 report from the hospitality research firm, STR, noted that 85 percent of lodging projects under construction or in final planning stages did not contain a restaurant. And for those guests who still want to enjoy a meal from the comfort of their own room, the rise of food delivery apps like GrubHub, Caviar and DoorDash have made the process seamless. Research from GrubHub found that hotel takeout orders increased in popularity by 125 percent from 2011 to mid-2014.
As the food market continues to evolve, in and out of hotels, consumers will find themselves with more choice. And that will undoubtedly make for a well-fed guest.