This story originally appeared on Foodandwine.com.
Here’s a fun activity: Close your eyes and imagine a hotel room service menu. If the inevitable vision of a $22 chicken Caesar salad isn’t leaving you very appetized, you’re not alone. Increasingly, hotels are looking to reinvent the way they handle room service, not only to better serve the desires of their customers, but to better their own business as well.
The industry trade journal Restaurant Hospitality recently dug into this new era of hotel room service. Interestingly enough, money is a concern for both guests and hoteliers. Needless to say, room service menus have a reputation for being grossly overpriced, but at the same time, running in-house dining is extremely expensive for a hotel as well. “[Hotels are] just not seeing the return on this anymore,” Alex Susskind, associate professor of food-and-beverage management at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, was quoted as saying. “It’s expensive to maintain and the quality is hard to keep up. They are backing off, but not just deserting guests.”
Instead, some hotels have been solving this problem by latching onto another modern dining trend: an appreciation of eating local, especially while traveling. As a result, many of these hotels are turning to what Restaurant Hospitality called “restaurant delivery as amenity”—partnering with local eateries to offer in-room dining menus that are similar to what travelers could order at the restaurant. Likely understanding that guests now have plenty of options to order food themselves just by grabbing their smartphones, these hotels often offer these items at the same price as the restaurant would: It’s less expensive for guests, and barely costs the hotel anything either, so both parties see the benefits. “We don’t get any extra for adding this service,” explained Pere Sanchez Frigola, assistant general manager at NYC’s Roger Smith Hotel, which has partnered with five local restaurants, “but for the guests it’s a huge value.”
Sure, some people may lament the loss of the traditional room service cart being rolled into their room, but another culture change has also taken place: Having restaurant-prepared food delivered to eat in your room is no longer an occasion anymore. The explosion in delivery services around the country now means that we’re constantly having dining experiences of all types brought to our own turf. When viewed through that lens, some of the old-school spectacle of room service is about as relevant as hotels offering movies for sale on the TV. We’ve got plenty of binge-watching to catch up with on our tablet, thank you very much.