How to Make Room Service Profitable

Depending on the type of hotel you operate, room service is either a valuable amenity or an underused financial burden. To determine whether offering traditional room service is a profitable venture for your hotel, start by evaluating your clientele, menu, and location. Some hotels may increase their revenue by choosing an alternative to room service or forgoing it altogether. If you decide to provide in-room dining, you can cater to modern needs by updating this classic amenity. Keep reading to learn how to make room service profitable.

Use the links below to weigh the pros and cons of room service, restructure your amenities, and upgrade your in-room dining offerings:

What Is Room Service?

Room service is a hotel amenity that allows guests to order food and drink to their rooms. Hotel staff arrange the meal with the appropriate dishware and condiments on a room service tray. It’s an in-room dining best practice to offer guests a rolling room service table in case they don’t want to eat in bed.

Types of Room Service

There are three main types of traditional room service: centralized room service, decentralized room service, and mobile room service. We explain what you need to know about each type of room service below.

  1. Centralized Room Service — Hotels with centralized room service process all their orders in their main kitchen and have a common team of servers who deliver meals to guests’ rooms.
  2. Decentralized Room Service — Some large hotels decentralize their room service by having separate pantries on different floors. Filling guests’ orders from a pantry on or near their floor expedites serving times and improves food quality.
  3. Mobile Room Service — Sprawling resorts may require a mobile room service operation. They use a van to deliver guests’ orders to the cottages and/or suites on their property.

Who Orders Room Service?

Room service waiter sets up a room service cart for a business woman while she works.

Just like bed and breakfasts are popular amongst leisure travelers and honeymooners, room service has its own target audience. Upscale and mid-scale hotels receive the most room service orders, and almost half of the leisure travelers patronizing upmarket properties order room service during their stay. Most notably, 60% of surveyed business travelers said they use in-room dining services.

There are four primary groups who use in-room dining services:

  • Business travelers
  • International guests
  • Guests with disabilities
  • Families with small children
  • Why Do People Order Room Service?

    According to a HubSpot study, ease and convenience motivates two out of every three room service orders. The desire for luxury is the smaller but still noteworthy motivation for ordering room service. Understanding why hotel guests order room service allows you to tailor your in-room dining amenity to their needs.


    Pros and Cons of In-Room Dining

    Room service can play a vital role in your guests’ experience at your hotel. However, in-room dining is often less glamorous than it’s portrayed and less profitable than it’s perceived. We break down the pros and cons of offering room service at your hotel:

    Benefits of Offering Room Service at Your Hotel

    • Room service can help you gain hotel stars, since three-, four-, and five- star hotels must have accessible food options.
    • Provides a non-strenuous dining option for guests with disabilities.
    • Offers meals to guests traveling and working at odd hours.
    • Valuable in remote areas with limited dining options.
    • Room service is an important aspect of recognized full-service hotels.
    • Safe and comfortable dining solution for solo travelers.
    • Appreciated service in case of inclement weather.
    • Allows business guests to nourish themselves without pausing their work.

    Downsides of Offering Room Service at Your Hotel

    • A room service amenity requires staff, heat-holding supplies, meal delivery carts, trays, plates, flatware, and more.
    • If there are cheaper meal options without surcharges nearby, most guests skip room service.
    • Guests may question whether their meal’s quality justified its price, potentially leading to negative Yelp reviews.
    • Food quality deteriorates and can leave food safe temperatures during transport.
    • Many hotel guests avoid room service because they don’t know how to interact with delivery staff and wonder how to tip.
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    How to Increase Room Service Profits

    High-Tech Room Service App

    Hoteliers are in a difficult position; guests still want in-room dining, but traditional room service isn’t profitable. According to a survey, only 23.2% of hotels earned significant revenue from room service, but 67% of travelers are still using in-room dining amenities. Thankfully, there are ways you can upgrade your operation to increase its profitability.

    We explored some modernization options that can save you money and better satisfy your customers’ desires.

    1. Use Menu Engineering

    If you choose to maintain the standard room service structure, strategic menu engineering can create a stronger allure. Guests are more likely to consider room service if it’s advertised in the hotel lobby and their room.

    Once you have their attention, more guests will convert to room service customers if your menu is concise and scannable. A well-designed menu that aligns with aesthetic trends will create a better impression.

    2. Make the Most of High-Tech Ordering

    Allowing your hotel guests to order digitally can boost room service sales. According to a HubSpot poll, 47% of people are more likely to order room service through an app. Digital ordering eliminates confusion caused by language barriers and/or hearing impairments, which is significant since international travelers and guests with disabilities are some of the most common room service patrons. Across demographics, digital ordering circumnavigates the awkwardness and hold-times associated with phone orders.

    3. Streamline Breakfast

    Both leisure and business travelers want a convenient breakfast option before they start their day, which can create a morning service rush. To avoid long wait times and frustrations, encourage guests to place their in-room breakfast orders the night before so you can prepare them in advance. Business guests and travelers with early flights will appreciate the increased speed. Apps streamline advanced breakfast orders. If you have an on-site restaurant, give breakfast order forms to dinner guests and encourage them to fill them out at the end of their meal.

    Alternately, you could choose to forgo room service and offer a complimentary continental breakfast instead. Spend the money you save on room service staff payroll and operating supplies on a simple, free breakfast all your guests can enjoy. Hotels that offer free breakfasts often attract more customers, receive more positive reviews, and retain their clientele.

    4. Provide a Grab and Go Service

    You may opt for a hotel mini mart over offering room service. This gives guests access to food options at odd hours or when it is not convenient to go out to eat. Another option is to offer a limited grab and go menu that guests can order from and pick up in the lobby.

    5. Partner with Restaurants

    Outsourcing is one of the most popular room service revolutions. Hotels are partnering with delivery services and local restaurants to offer food for their customers. Since sampling regional cuisine is a beloved part of travel, hotels are creating curated menus featuring the bestselling food items from their local restaurants. Hotels that outsource their room service match the restaurants’ pricing and add a small delivery fee.

    With this service, guests can order their food through the hotel staff or an online app and have it delivered to the lobby. A staff member will then transport the food to the guest’s room. This option provides guests with the same conveniences of room service while eliminating the need for an on-site kitchen. It also protects you against the safety concerns associated with third-party delivery personnel roaming your hotel's hallways. While outsourcing room service may not provide your hotel with additional revenue, it won’t drain resources either, and it often increases overall customer loyalty.

    6. Give Your in-Room Dining Service a Luxury Boost

    You can take your room service amenity to the next level by preparing a menu filled with local delicacies and unique options. Some hotels are increasing the extravagance of their room service experience by inviting celebrity chefs and mixologists to prepare meals. Resorts and luxury hotels may turn their food deliveries into theatrical experiences. These decadent boosts help hotels earn social media exposure.

    7. Harness the Power of Rewards Programs

    Offer a hotel rewards program and allows guests to earn points by ordering room service. Not only will this increase the number of in-room dining orders you receive, it allows you to build brand loyalty through your room service amenity. A study by The Centre for Hospitality Research discovered that hotel loyalty program members increase their number of stays at the hotel or its affiliated locations by 49%.

    8. Consider Grocery Delivery at Extended Stay Hotels

    Extended stay hotels are replacing room service with grocery delivery. A research study performed by Hawthorn Suites, Wyndham Hotels’ extended stay brand, found that nearly 90 percent of those surveyed (regardless of age) believe cooking in their hotel makes it feel more like home and 2/3 of Millennials would like to cook in their hotel room.

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    When Should You Offer Room Service?

    We help you determine the most profitable times to operate your room service amenity below.

    • Breakfast Room Service – Luxury hotels can fulfill patrons’ dreams of enjoying a decadent breakfast in bed by offering room service during breakfast hours. If you manage a mid-priced hotel that primarily serves traveling businesspeople, consider offering to-go style breakfasts such as yogurt parfaits, breakfast sandwiches, and egg burritos.
    • Lunch Room Service – In most cases, offering room service during lunch hours isn’t profitable. Typically, vacationers and businesspeople spend their afternoon hours at attractions and conferences and won’t eat lunch in their rooms. If you’re a luxury hotel that offers 24/7 room service, consider offering charcuterie boards.
    • Evening Room Service – Evening hours are profitable for mid-priced hotels that attract a lot of traveling business clientele. Businesspeople often travel solo, making them wary of the compromised safety and awkwardness associated with finding dinner in an unfamiliar city, so they appreciate having their dinner delivered to their room.
    • 24/7 Room Services – Many five-star hotels offer around-the-clock room service to cultivate an atmosphere of luxury for their guests. If you’re a 3 to 4-star hotel operating in a night-life district, you would do well to offer room service throughout the night. Tailor your late-night menu to pub grub bestsellers like pizza, burgers, and loaded fries.
    • Room Service During Your Hotel Restaurant Hours – If your hotel has a restaurant, you can mitigate operational costs by offering room service during restaurant hours. Having restaurant staff prepare room service and in-person orders side-by-side reduces the number of staff required. Offering the entirety of your hotel restaurant’s menu makes in-room dining more appealing for customers who want options. Limited room service menus cause many patrons to turn to third party delivery apps.

    Room Service Food

    Luxurious Room Service Fruit Basket

    Delivery menu best practices apply to room service offerings, so make sure your food items travel well while keeping in mind that guests choose room service for its convenience and luxury. Your room service amenity is competing with popular delivery apps, which provide equal convenience, so you must outdo them in speed and luxury.

    Room Service Menu

    Wydham Hotels & Resorts, which owns 20 unique hotel brands, conducted an in-room dining study to determine the top five food and beverage orders across their 3,700 properties. You can use their insights to inform your room service menu.

    Top 5 Food Items Delivered to Hotel Rooms

    1. Burgers
    2. Club Sandwiches
    3. Pasta Dishes
    4. Caesar Salads
    5. Fries

    Top 5 Beverages Delivered to Hotel Rooms

    1. Orange Juice
    2. Coffee
    3. Cola
    4. Water
    5. Beer

    Of course, the order preferences of guests varied by hotel type. City hotels had the most burger and orange juice orders, and design/lifestyle hotels received the greatest number of fry orders. Hotels that host meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE hotels) received the most cola beverage orders. Beer was unpopular in every category except city hotels, and even then, it accounted for less than 1/5 of in-room drink orders.

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    Room Service FAQs

    We answer some of the most common room service questions below.

    How Much to Tip for Room Service

    According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, guests should tip room-service staff 15-20 percent of their bill. Before including a tip, check your bill to see if the hotel included gratuity.

    What Is True about the Cost of Providing Room Service Meals?

    It costs more to provide room service meals than dining room service.

    What to Do with Room Service Tray

    In most cases, you’ll place your room service tray outside your hotel room door after you’ve finished your meal. While you can wait for housekeepers to clear the tray, hotels prefer you call their room service staff and have them clear the tray.

    How Does Room Service Work?

    Specially trained hotel staff members operate room service amenities. Traditionally, customers placed their orders by calling the front desk. However, many modern hotels have an online app customers place their orders through.

    The hotel’s restaurant kitchen fills the room service order. While the kitchen staff prepare the meal, the room service waiter sets up the hotel tray and/or trolley. If the guest didn’t pay for their order through an app, the room service waiter requests a check from the cashier or adds the customer order into their mobile POS system so it's ready when they arrive at the customers' door.

    The room service waiter loads the meal onto the tray and brings it to the appropriate room. The guest dictates where they want their room service tray. According to the guest’s preference, the waiter places the tray on the bed or sets up a room service table.

    Each hotel must decide how they want to handle the clearing of room service dishes. Some instruct guests to telephone when they want their dishes cleared, others allow guests to leave their dishes in the hallway. The latter option offers convenience for the guest who ordered the meal but forces other patrons to walk past discarded food scraps and dirty dishes.

    Do Hotels Have to Offer Room Service?

    While you do not have to offer room service at your hotel, choosing to forgo it may not align with your customers' expectations, leading to disappointment and negative feedback. Hotels with three-, four-, and five- stars must have accessible food options, so make sure you offer dining in another form before slashing room service and your stars with it.

    How Much Is Room Service at a Hotel?

    The average room service tabs in Las Vegas and New York City are $68.

    Room Service History

    New York City’s acclaimed Waldorf Astoria began delivering meals to guests’ rooms in 1931, and room service was born. Other hotels followed in the Waldorf’s footsteps, and room service became a hospitality industry standard. However, when the Hilton New York Midtown hotel announced it was discontinuing its room service in 2013, hotel managers questioned whether in-room dining is still relevant in today’s market. Hoteliers continue to grapple with tradition and practicality as they forge the modern room service experience.

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    Before you make your decision on whether you’ll be offering room service at your hotel, it is important to evaluate your location and demographic. Catering to your customers’ needs and interests will be an essential element to the success of your hotel business.

    Posted in: Management & Operation | By Corrinn McCauley
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