Starting Your Room Service Program
Room service has been a staple of high-end hotels since the 1930s, when the Waldorf Astoria implemented the first such program to afford celebrities and socialites a measure of privacy that couldn't be achieved in a public dining room.1 Since then, room service has expanded to be available in most hotels and is generally required for a hotel to receive a high star rating in travel guides. Putting together a room service program presents several challenges, but it can provide a new source of income and give you an edge over your competitors.
Table of Contents
Developing the Menu
The first step in creating any foodservice program is designing a menu. Even if you already have a restaurant in your hotel, not everything on the menu will transport well, so it is essential to choose your room service items carefully. Avoid delicate foods and those that won't hold up in warmers for more than a few minutes. To help your room service menu appeal to a broader set of customers, try offering a blend of healthy dishes and those that are more indulgent. While seasonal ingredients are popular, consider the difficulties of having to constantly revise the room service menu as items move in and out of season.
Because staffing costs can quickly eclipse profits if you're not careful, you may want to consider having a 'closing time' for room service. Since many customers expect to be able to order room service late into the night, you can instead restrict your late-night menu to only a few easy-to-prepare items that minimal kitchen staff can make without a more expensive chef being present.
Room Service Fees
Because of the extra labor and supplies involved in preparing and delivering room service, most hotels charge additional fees to offset those expenses. While exorbitant charges should be avoided, customers expect to pay a little extra for the convenience of having food delivered to their rooms. There are three types of fees you might consider adding, with most hotels applying two or more of these on every room service order.
- Service Charge: This charge is usually a percentage of the total sale, with the average being around 20 percent.2 If you will give money collected from this charge directly to your servers, be sure to make a note on your menu that this charge includes gratuity.
- Delivery Fee: This is a flat fee for the delivery of the entire order, usually in the range of $3-5.
- Tip or Gratuity: Because of the other charges associated with room service, customers are often confused whether tip is customary in addition to the other costs. To help alleviate this confusion, many hotels state on their menus whether gratuity is included in any of the other fees.
Getting the Order
For your room service to be a success, you need to communicate to your customers that you offer it. Traditionally, menus are placed in prominent locations in the hotel room, but this may not be enough to encourage patrons to give room service a chance. You can also train your front desk agents to let customers know at check-in that room service is available or even occasionally set up a menu sampling station in the lobby.
When a customer decides to place an order, ensure the process is as streamlined as possible. Traditionally, customers call to place their orders with the in-room phone. For this model to be successful, the phone operator must be knowledgeable about the menu and able to answer any questions about menu items. Training is essential and will help eliminate customer frustration by avoiding wait times while they are put on hold for the operator to check on answers. A little training in upselling can also help this employee increase room service profits.3
A couple other options showing up in some high-end hotels are smartphone apps and in-room tablets that allow customers to input their orders and send them directly to the kitchen.4 This can help prevent miscommunications and might prompt orders from customers who prefer automation.
In the Kitchen
Once the order reaches the kitchen, the time crunch has begun. Many hotels guarantee that room service meals will be delivered within a certain time frame, such as 30 minutes or less, but before you make such a promise, be sure that you can keep it. Room service has the potential to add more stress to an already busy hotel restaurant kitchen, so speak with kitchen staff to make sure your expectations on turnaround are realistic. One of the most common complaints about hotel service is tardy delivery of a meal5. If you think your kitchen will struggle to get orders out in a reasonable amount of time, you may also need to consider hiring more help or improving workflows. Kitchen designers, like those here at KaTom, can help streamline your kitchen setup so your staff can be more efficient.
While the kitchen staff should aim to complete each part of the order as close to the same time as possible, it is inevitable that some components will be done before others. Because the food also has to travel to the room, it is important to keep it piping hot until the moment it is transferred to the cart. Heat lamps and warming shelves are options to keep food warm once it's plated.
To the Room
You will have several options when it comes to how you will deliver food to your rooms. There are two main types of room service carts used to transport food.
- Room service tables are lightweight tables on wheels that can fold down to just a few inches wide for storage, and then have one or two leaves that open out to provide enough room for multiple place settings. Once the cart has been wheeled into the hotel room, most of these have more leaves that can be folded out to create a full-size table for larger parties. These are available with a variety of colored, laminated tops and several faux-wood finishes. Some of these tables also have room for insulated storage boxes under the tabletop.
- Insulated room service cabinets provide a way to keep trays of food warm or cold without having to individually cover each plate. These are good for transporting food in bulk and retrieving trays after guests have eaten.
Whichever method of transportation you choose, you should aim for consistency in your presentation. It can be helpful to post photos or diagrams in the kitchen to ensure that each room service tray is set up the same way and includes all the essentials, such as salt and pepper shakers, napkins, and flatware.
When the server arrives at the room with the tray, it is common practice to present each item. The server should remove each dish's cover and name the dish to ensure the order is correct. Ice should be included in an ice bucket so that drinks can be poured in the room. If wine or beer was ordered, a corkscrew or bottle opener should be included on the tray. The server should offer to open any bottles that require either tool.
- 8 Hotels that Changed the Industry. CNN. Accessed September 2016.
- Room Service Menu. Hyatt. Accessed September 2016.
- Increase Your Room Service Revenue. True Guest. Accessed September 2016.
- The Hotel Smartphone App. Skift. Accessed September 2016.
- Assessment of Guest Satisfaction. University of Wisconsin. Accessed September 2016.