Room service

Automating room service

Is traditional hotel room service obsolete?

By | Automation, Hotel management, Room service | No Comments

Room service has always been costly and logistically complicated. Staff spend valuable time ferrying dishes to rooms and orders can be sporadic. Not only that, but the entire process takes longer than restaurant service. The extended transit time between kitchen to room means the food is likely to arrive cold or, if delivered in a heat-retaining dish, overcooked.

If the guest has an issue, resolving it takes even longer than in the hotel restaurant. On multiple course orders, members of staff have to deliver every dish simultaneously or lose valuable time running between kitchen and room. In short, room service is a pain.

As a result, hotels are shifting away from offering the service, but is it really the end of room service altogether?

How to develop an agile hospitality business model

The traditional room service model

Room service has been an established feature in hotels since the early 1930s. When the Waldorf Astoria opened its doors in New York, it promoted itself as a guardian of high society. The hotel wanted to shield its socialites, politicians and other wealthy patrons from the public. 24-hour in-room dining provided privacy and suggested an element of luxury absent from other hotels. The concept was soon picked up by other hotels and, like other ‘luxury’ features, began to filter down into more modestly priced establishments.

Since then, the basic process of room service has changed very little; guests order food and drinks through the in-room phone, kitchen staff prepare the dish and FOH staff deliver it to the room. Additional features like options to request flowers, and even a masseuse, have added strings to the room service bow.

Despite its enduring appeal, the traditional model room service is woefully impractical for a modern hotel. In an industry that relies on streamlining every process, traditional room service is proving too cumbersome for many hotels. 

Automating the in-dining experience

For an industry built on human engagement, automation seems counter to the very foundations of the business model. But it’s not just the hospitality industry that has undergone a seismic shift in the past decade. Guests, too, expect a more streamlined process and are willing to embrace some level of self-service to achieve it.

As technologies like AI, Automation and the IoT infiltrate daily processes, hotels are beginning to move away from features that require additional manpower. With the introduction of voice recognition technology like Amazon’s Alexa into hotel rooms, guests now have more power to order in their own way, with additional potential for personalisation and

For room service to survive, hotels must devise effective ways of automating order and delivery processes. Hotels across the US are experimenting with ‘robot bellhops’, with mixed results. Much better received, however, has been the use of data gathering to build a detailed profile of guests. These profiles can then be used to provide bespoke dishes to regular guests. This AI-fuelled approach to guest personalisation is rapidly finding favour in the industry because it can be implemented with little disruption to service. Additionally, the scalable nature of AI and it’s integration potential with the hotel CRM makes it doubly useful.

Woman using electric device in hotel room

Ordering with mobile

Due, in large part to the proliferation of smartphones, guests now have a world of choice at their fingertips. Even in a new city, guests are more likely to opt for an opportunity to discover local cuisine than they are to shell out for food in their rooms. The changing trends of travellers mean guests are more prone to seek an ‘authentic’ experience, one that’s much more likely to be found beyond the walls of their hotel.

Of course, many hotels are transitioning to a ‘mobile’ first approach. Unfortunately, guests often struggle to find their way to the room service from their own smartphone. Instead, they need a direct line to specific departments. Ordering from room service through legacy hotel phone systems (i.e. the hotel landline) has been in decline for the past decade. Despite this, when hotels introduce new technologies aimed at encouraging in-room dining, they see a boost in orders.

We live in the age of device-driven engagement – people prefer to use technology they are comfortable with, specifically one which already understands their preferences. In this hyper-personalised environment, only hotels

With a Genie device, guests can order directly from room service with options to list additional requests and dietary requirements. Hotels with Genie room service integrated into their CRM can automatically log and collate all orders to the system. This data can then be used to inform future menus and develop a better understanding of guest preferences.

Ordering from outside the hotel

At its core, room service is about maximising RevPAR while showcasing your hotel’s services. So, allowing guests to order food from outside the hotel is surely contrary to a hotelier’s instincts. After all, guests would otherwise spend that money in-house. But more and more hotels are partnering with local delivery services to provide in-room meals.

It’s only when you begin to break down the room service process that the logic behind this move becomes clear. A 100 room hotel where just 2% of guests order room service per night could find the service is less valuable than previously thought. Keeping your kitchen open all hours of the day, paying chefs and sending floor staff on delivery duties will all add up. Instead, hotels that don’t want to deprive guests of the option for food could instead partner with local food establishments. In this way, guests maintain the option for in-room dining, while the hotels take a cut of each order.

It’s not just restaurants that are partnering with hotels to broaden guest horizons; guests of the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham in New York can order an in-room cooking program enabling guests to make meals in their rooms. Meanwhile, the Residence Inn, part of Marriott International, now includes an option for guests to order groceries in their suites. Hotel employees pick up the supplies, with the costs added to the final bill.

These new innovations come in response to a shift toward a more ‘home-familiar’ experience, mirrored in the rise of the sharing economy and ‘authentic-stay’ establishments.

Ordering healthy breakfast through room service

Of course, the hotel industry isn’t one single organisation. Some hotels will cling to traditional room service for some time to come. Simultaneously, this shouldn’t stop other hotels taking advantage of the growing list of technologies on offer. In this hyper-competitive market, hotels should consider any innovations that can further streamline hotel processes without diminishing service. To say room service is an outdated concept would be premature. The means by which it’s ordered, supplied and enjoyed, however, are in dire need of an update.