BY Winni Zhou
No more waiters serving midnight meals to guests after long flights; no more in-room snacks to satisfy guests’ cravings before bed. New York City’s largest hotel, the 2,000-room Hilton Midtown, has eliminated room service, said Diana Leon, the assistant front office manager. To compensate, a grab-and-go style cafeteria called Herb N’ Kitchen opened last month in the lobby.
The cafeteria, which is open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., will help fill the gap, said Mohammad Sultan, who works at Herb N’ Kitchen. “We can also deliver food to guest rooms,” Sultan said. “It will take about 20 minutes.”
Herb N’ Kitchen consists of two parts: one is a take-out area where customers can get packaged sandwiches, pastries, coffee, or bottled drinks. The other part is a sit-down area with a kitchen where customers can order food such as made-to-order omelets.
The changes signal the hotel industry’s efforts to meet the needs of a growing customer base: young people who like to explore restaurants outside hotels rather than ordering in-room meals, said Jonathan Jaeger, a vice president at Pinnacle Consulting Group, one of the nation’s leading hospitality consulting firms.
The Hilton Midtown is not the first or only hotel to discontinue room service. Hilton Hawaiian Village got rid of in-room dining in October 2012, and other New York City hotels are reconfiguring the service. The Hudson New York Hotel announced recently that it would cut back its room service hours. The Grand Hyatt in New York City added a 24-hour grab-n-go cafeteria called Market to supplement its reduced room service offerings.
Room service revenue is lower than most people think, and that figure is decreasing. It fell from 1.5 percent of total revenue at full-service hotels in 2007 to only 1.2 percent last year, Jaeger said. Payroll alone accounts for 45 percent to 50 percent of room service costs, said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean and clinical professor of the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management.
“The hotel business is trying to find a balance between revenue and costs,” said Ed Perkins, a contributing writer for smartertravel.com, a travel-advice website.
Moreover, at $25 a burger, room service customers expect a lot, which can lead to complaints. “Shutting down room service might be a win-win decision for both customers and hotels,” Jaeger said.
The classic definition of a full-service hotel includes room service, raising the possibility that hotels without room service will disappoint customers. But Hanson said that the New York Hilton has played a leading role in a broader industry change. “It took a hotel like New York Hilton to make a bold move; it’s enabling other hotels to make changes,” he said. “No one really wants to be the first…I think people in the industry are very grateful to the New York Hilton.”
Recently, a long line at Herb N’ Kitchen indicated that some customers are receptive to the new dinning service. Giovanni Dal Sanco, an Italian tourist, said he liked the cafeteria. “It’s convenient with reasonable prices, and I don’t want to stay alone in the room,” he said.
A hotel industry reform movement may be underway. “The world is changing,” Hanson said. Getting rid of room service is “a refinement to appeal to changing demographics and changing economics.”