Is Room Service Dead? Replacements Could Be Better, Cheaper

With the advent of delivery apps and smart vending machines, room service may have seen its day.

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Room service can feel convenient after a long day of business trip meetings. It can manifest luxury for vacationers craving breakfast in bed or late-night pizza on a whim.

But few would deny that room service is outrageously expensive. Around $10 is the norm for a bowl of cereal, milk and perhaps a strawberry for garnish (if you’re lucky).

Offering room service is not often cheap for hotel operators, either. It can require additional kitchen space, equipment and permits. Plus, it can be expensive for already short-staffed hotels to hire employees for a portion of the business that has variable demand.

Room service, it seems, is an obligatory offering that might satisfy a sudden Cap’n Crunch craving. According to a 2019 survey by market research company Phocuswright, 67% of travelers used traditional room service in that year.

Even so, the costs involved hardly satisfy anyone — so the ongoing evolution of this service might be a welcome change for all.

Room service alternatives come knocking

Third-party food delivery apps have discovered a niche: They can serve better food — and cheaper — to hotel guests.

Some of this shift happened organically, as increasing numbers of hotel visitors realized they could order dinner to the lobby from a local restaurant for less than the cost of subpar sandwiches from room service.

In light of this shift, food delivery services are increasingly partnering directly with hotels. These partnerships can give hotels the chance to focus on the other aspects of hospitality.

(Photo courtesy of Gopuff)

The ease with which this happens can vary. A spokesperson for DoorDash said in an email that it’s up to the hotel as to where the delivery driver should leave the customer’s order. Sometimes hotels allow deliveries directly to rooms, while others prefer it be left at the front desk for the customer to come down and pick up. Others ask that the customer greet their driver in the lobby and collect their food in person.

DoorDash lets customers add notes as to where they’d like the handoff to be made, and in-app messaging allows both parties to communicate throughout the delivery.

Restaurant meals can still be expensive though, so some hotel guests have turned to grocery delivery services, like Instacart. A company spokesperson said in an email that while Instacart couriers will deliver to hotels, customers should provide clear delivery instructions and be available to chat in real time if need be.

Other ways room service is evolving

Hotel-specific partnerships, like Hyatt’s with Gopuff or Marriott's with Uber Eats

Among the latest in room service alternatives is a partnership between Hyatt Place and prepackaged snack delivery service Gopuff, which delivers to homes in more than 1,000 cities worldwide for a $1.95 delivery fee.

With the Hyatt Place partnership, guests get free delivery to their hotel. And while Gopuff is primarily prepackaged items, a few Hyatt Place locations offer fresh meals, too. Items like pizza, breakfast sandwiches, cafe style coffee and matcha drinks can be found on the menu.

Prices tend to run slightly more than a standard grocery store, but they look like a deal next to room service.

Consider this: Gopuff sells a 12-ounce box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch plus a half gallon of soy milk for about $9 — roughly the same price as room service, but a size that serves roughly eight people instead of one. Champagne starts at $7.99 for 750 milliliters, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find room service wine bottles for less than $30.

Hyatt says it’s seen success. What started as a pilot in 2021 in about a dozen Hyatt Place hotels has expanded to about three dozen now. Emily Wright, vice president and global brand leader at Hyatt, said in an email that plans are to grow the partnership further.

For Marriott Bonvoy members, you can earn bonus points on Uber Eats deliveries to your hotel if you link the two accounts. Thanks to a partnership launched in April 2021, you'll earn six Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent on Uber Eats deliveries of $25 or more to Marriott hotels in the U.S.

More elaborate vending machines

Room service alternatives aren’t limited to just third-party delivery services, and the mechanisms of food on demand are evolving. Look to the vending machine industry, which is now capable of serving hot, fresh meals rather than just prepackaged snacks.

Carlo's Bakery — the bakery featured on “Cake Boss” on TV channel TLC — has cake vending machines around North America, with numerous locations inside Las Vegas Strip hotels such as the Paris and Flamingo. That provides an opportunity to grab a midnight snack while most businesses are closed, or at the very least allows you to receive (and eat) your cake nearly instantly.

Similarly, some San Francisco Bay Area locations of Marriott’s Aloft Hotels host ramen vending machines from a company called Yo-Kai Express, which promises gourmet-quality soup in less than a minute.

A Yo-Kai ramen vending machine. (Photos courtesy of Sally French)

Credit card benefits can help you save even more

Many food delivery companies have partnered with credit card companies to net you additional discounts. Some offer bonus spending rewards, while others offer perks like free delivery.

Now through the end of March, certain Chase credit cards offer qualifying cardholders a complimentary DashPass subscription. The DoorDash membership program gets you free delivery on most restaurant orders over $12.

Meanwhile, some American Express credit cards allow you to pay for Grubhub purchases with points. Terms apply.

The bottom line

Whether it’s food delivery apps or smart vending machines, there may hardly be a reason to opt for room service anymore. And in a time where the pandemic might make you think that room service is better than a crowded hotel bar, there might be something better than room service as well.


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