It is the perk that comes with expense accounts, the silver tray that wakes lovers in the morning, and even the momentary weakness of a superspy like James Bond.
Room service has become all these things, and more, since it grew popular with the privileged guests of the Waldorf-Astoria in the 1930s and soon emerged as a standard for luxury excursions, and a plot device for tales of suspense and whimsy.
And yet room service will soon be no more at one major New York City hotel.
In August, the New York Hilton Midtown, in the heart of Manhattan, will discontinue food and drink service to all 2,000 of its rooms. In its place will be a new self-service Herb n' Kitchen stocked with grab-and-go items. A spokesman for the hotel, which is part of the chain that also operates the Waldorf, cited declining demand for room service as the reason; some hotel industry experts see the elimination of the labor-intensive amenity as a way for the chain to save money.
Initially, travelers bemoaned the loss of a cherished hotel perk - regardless of whether they used it. The decision to jettison room service at the New York Hilton, reported by Crain's New York Business, comes as other large hotels have cut back menus or reduced hours in recent years, and many newer boutique hotels have opened without offering it all. Some hotels have even made arrangements with nearby restaurants to act as surrogate kitchens and deliver food to their hotel rooms.
John Fox, a consultant for the hotel industry, said nearly all hotels lost money on room service, which requires maintaining a staff of waiters and kitchen workers throughout the day, even though orders typically dwindle after breakfast and come in sporadically afterward. "Everybody's doing what they can to engineer their properties to make more profit while still supplying the services their guests demand," he said.
Still, he said he did not expect room service to soon disappear from top-notch hotels. The guests at the Waldorf, for instance, will not be losing room service, and a Hilton spokesman said the company was evaluating its other hotels on a case-by-case basis.
At the Pierre Hotel, where some room service waiters are on a first-name basis with guests, one man said the offerings included Dover sole, lobster, lamb chops, and chilled Evian in glass bottles. He said he could even buy groceries and have room service personnel collect them to be cooked.