Hotel room service has no future -opinion

Room service is a burden for hotels, as it’s financially and logistically challenging. In most cases, hotels just can’t make money with it.

 WOLT FOOD delivery drivers in Tel Aviv.  (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
WOLT FOOD delivery drivers in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Remember the days when you used to check in at your hotel at midnight after a delayed flight dreaming of having a pampering shower and calling room service to order a juicy hamburger to relax? Well, as sung by UK pop group Bucks Fizz back in the 1980s, “Now Those Days Are Gone.” This experience is getting harder and harder to find. Hotels report that providing room service is almost always a loss for them.

After COVID-19 especially, room service is dwindling significantly. 2013 was the year when travelers were shocked to read that the 2,000-room New York Hilton Midtown announced it would discontinue room service, offering hotel guests the gourmet self-service Herb n’ Kitchen outlet. The industry started to follow, and more and more hotels in the US felt it was legitimate to slowly eliminate this pampering service.

Luxury brands are obliged to maintain room service. They are aware that customers are in no shortage of funds, so enormous fees for food, drinks and delivery services are here to stay. For movie lovers, it’s also encouraging news. Motion picture clichés like On Her Majesty’s Secret Room Service, defining the 007 James Bond character, will not disappear so quickly. Nevertheless, the hospitality industry is experiencing a tectonic change.

Room service is a burden for hotels, as it’s financially and logistically challenging. In most cases, hotels just can’t make money with it. Still, numerous hotels continue to offer room service, largely because they fear their prestige and perceived value will deteriorate if they don’t. The consequences of offering room service versus doing away with it seem equally undesirable. The round-the-clock staffing that room service requires is factored in and there are simply not enough guest orders to make up for those costs. The solution is problematic, as well: cutting costs, smaller portions, cold meals only and microwave heating are some remedies.

With on-demand meal-delivery apps now so normalized, room service hardly seems worth the enormous costs. Technology outweighs tradition, and in this case, really fast. In the US, relevant companies are offering a win-win solution for the hospitality industry. With QR-code menu platforms and the guests’ ordering room service from smartphones, efficiency is guaranteed.

 Room service  (credit: FLICKR) Room service (credit: FLICKR)

Third-party food delivery apps believe they can serve better food and cheaper to hotel guests. An increasing number of American hotel visitors wish to order a steak from a local restaurant for less than the cost of a room service club sandwich. Food delivery services are increasingly partnering directly with hotels. All that is needed is a policy of the hotel as to where the delivery driver should leave the guest’s order. Sometimes hotels allow deliveries directly to rooms, while others prefer it be left at the front desk for the guest to come down and pick up. Others ask that hotel guests greet couriers in the lobby and collect their food in person. A tremendous positive change.

How does Israel, the start-up nation, manage these remarkable advantages? Israeli hotels are apparently confused. The digital revolution currently creates disorientation. Hospitality executives and their media consultants are keeping quiet when asked for clarifications – too quiet. A senior retired international brand hotel operation director, who wishes to stay anonymous says, “It’s very rare, if not impossible, for hotels in Israel to produce revenue in terms of room service.”

Wolt replaces room service

IN FACT, financially, it’s a lost case. It requires relatively extensive manpower and the gained value is not worth it. Leading hotels in Israel maintain the service for prestige reasons, but the shortcuts in quality are noticed quickly by guests. The small hotels adapted, especially in Tel Aviv. As they are not bound to prestige codes, they allow food deliveries to the guest rooms with hardly any restrictions for those ordering on Wolt apps, for example. The customers are happy to get the food they prefer at reasonable prices straight to their rooms while they are in pajamas. “The hotels save the hassle to please guests via their own kitchen and at the same time cut costs,” he says.

A spokesperson for the Fattal hotels, the biggest hospitality group in Israel, says that “deliveries are not allowed in their hotels due to kosher limitations and food quality supervision.” Indeed, almost all hotels in Israel seek rabbinical supervision in order to have their food kosher. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel kosher regulations are straightforward: “Food and Beverage products that were not purchased by the hotel itself, whether raw materials or finished products, are not allowed.” Undoubtedly, a major obstacle for app-oriented deliveries to guest rooms.

“Guests ordering non-kosher food and using hotel utensils is surely a hurdle, and in Passover – where kosher requirements are even stricter – it might become a potential crisis,” says Israeli tourism expert, Joseph Fischer, with 40 years of lodging experience working for leading international brands. “Add to that the hotel’s responsibility for food quality. If a food poisoning happens, it can easily be monitored via the samples the hotel is instructed to keep, according to regulatory requirements of the Israeli Health Ministry. Obviously, there is no control over food brought to the hotel via a courier service from any restaurant,” he says.

“Security comes first. If food couriers enter hotels, security loses control over them. No one knows who they really are and what their true intentions are,” says the chief security officer in charge of metropolitan Tel Aviv hotels, Rachel Gamrasni.

“Guests are called to meet a food courier outside the hotel, pick up the delivery, take it straight to their room and not consume it in public areas. This guideline can work only if a security person is stationed by the main entrance. Unfortunately, this is not happening in small hotels and for my money, security is compromised. However, each hotel decides on its own policy,” she says.

“Creating an app for hotel guests with outdoor-approved recommended restaurants open to quality checks by the hotel might be the solution. These orders must be registered and monitored on hotel computers. Will this happen soon? I can hardly believe it. Hoteliers are currently busy looking for staff for their basic operations. No manager has the time to think ahead. All are busy putting out fires,” says Fischer.

Security, food quality, kosher restrictions and ordering food from outside official vendors to guest rooms causing the termination and doom of conservative room service looks in Israel like a long-range daydream.

The writer is the Travel Flash Tips publisher.