The Waldorf Astoria New York is credited with being the first hotel in the United States to offer traditional room service to its guests. Originally opened in 1893 and managed by Hilton since 1949, the Waldorf has often been featured in the media for its luxury dining options and high-touch service, including the invention of such dishes as the Waldorf salad and Eggs Benedict.

Over 100 years later, in 2013, another New York Hilton property made headlines in what some industry experts hailed as the end of an era: Citing a "decline in traditional room service requests," the New York Hilton Midtown announced it was discontinuing traditional room service. Popular with business travelers and with almost 2,000 rooms, the New York Hilton Midtown's decision has contributed to an industry-wide discussion on the needs and wants of in-room dining for today's modern road warrior.

Since 2013, topics such as personalized food and ordering options, technology offerings, and a general dissatisfaction with extraneous service charges have not only prompted conversation, but changes in practice as well.

This is what the changing menu of room service options has to offer:

1. Ordering in like a local.

In 2014, GrubHub, a leading online and mobile food ordering company, released a report stating that their hotel takeout orders increased 125 percent over 3 years, spread out over 8,000 properties. This data isn't all that surprising, as having a wealth of food options, customer reviews, and multiple ways to pay a bill at the tip of your fingers is a great thing, especially if you're in a new city and exhausted after a long day. In addition, being able to experience a bit of local cuisine in the privacy of your room when a snowstorm is raging, like it has been in New York City all winter, is practically priceless.

2. There's an app for that.

It's estimated that roughly 80% of hotel guests travel with mobile devices, and, perhaps coincidentally, more and more hotels are offering free Wi-Fi to their guests. A huge part of this trend is providing opportunities to empower guests to customize the hospitality experience. Many rooms these days come equipped with iPads and tablets pre-set with in-hotel services, including the ability to browse menus and pre-order food at a set time. Beyond that, hotel brands such as Conrad, Radisson and Viceroy now offer customized apps that are available for download on mobile devices. Technically, it is now possible to use your mobile device to check into your room, order food, and have it waiting for you at a particular time before you've even arrived in your destination city!

3. Turning to brown bags and food marts.

While some hotels simply cut service hours or limit their menu items in order to accommodate changing consumer demands, other hotels are going further toward re-designing the look and feel of modern room service. When the New York Hilton Midtown discontinued its traditional room service offering, they began offering a "brown bag" delivery service of a locally-sourced, set menu during particular hours in its stead. With their emphasis on speed and gourmet quality, the PUBLIC Chicago hotel's "Public Express" also offers an in-house brown bag delivery food service. The reduction in cutlery and packaging often corresponds with a drop in charges, and many hotels report their guests enjoy the extra privacy that naturally accompanies a "drop-off" service. Other hotels are expanding both the operating hours and food offerings of mini-marts on their premises, or are introducing services like the one at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco, which has a "Grab N Go" menu during lunch hours that's available to pick up in a lounge area. Choices like these make sense for many people looking for ease and convenience, particularly when you're on a tight schedule.

4. High touch service is timeless.

In the end, services and amenities exist because of customer demand, and it is still thrilling to be able to order everything from a steak to a hot fudge sundae to champagne on ice and have it arrive at 2:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, should the mood strike you. While, for some, room service can be synonymous with mediocre or overpriced food, this is not the case everywhere. In particular, many luxury hotels are known for bringing in fabulous chefs and mixologists, and creating menus centered on local delicacies. For example, The Surrey offers an in-room dining menu crafted from internationally-acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud's Café Boulud restaurant, while, similarly, The London NYC offers an in-room dining menu created specifically for the hotel by noted chef Gordon Ramsey. And, to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco currently offers an in-room-only Dim Sum package. Then again, you could go back to where it all began; after all, being able to have a Waldorf salad in your room at the Waldorf Astoria hotel is an event in itself.

Published on: Mar 11, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.