Road Warrior

'Room Service' No Longer Heard at NYC's Largest Hotel

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Enjoying breakfast in bed or a late-night snack at New York's largest hotel will soon require that you first trek to the lobby for grab-and-go items.

The 2,000-room New York Hilton Midtown has announced that it will discontinue room service in August. Guests who want a bite to eat can find it at the hotel's gourmet self-service outlet, Herb n' Kitchen.

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The move is part of a trend by major chains to expand casual dining options to satisfy guests' changing tastes and offset decreasing demand for in-room dining. More than 50 jobs may be eliminated at hotel, on Sixth Avenue between West 53rd and West 54th streets.

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"We surveyed 22,000 guests, owners and operators, and we learned that the way people eat at home is translating into the way they eat on the road," Beth Scott, vice president of food and beverage concepts for Hilton Worldwide, said in a statement. "As a result, we decided to reinvent the hotel dining model to better serve the needs, wants and lifestyle of our customers."

Other properties have developed casual yet high-end food options. For example, in 2010 the Grand Hyatt New York opened the Market, a spot similar to Herb n' Kitchen—but as an addition to room service rather than as a replacement.

Last year, room service represented 1.2 percent of total hotel revenue, down from 1.3 percent in 2011, reported USA Today, citing data from PKF Hospitality Research.

That appears to be the driver in the decision for Hilton Midtown.

Private Equity Helps Fix Hilton
Private Equity Helps Fix Hilton

"Like most full-service hotels, New York Hilton Midtown has continued to see a decline in traditional room-service requests over the last several years as customer preferences and expectations continue to evolve," said a hotel spokesperson.

"I'm sure room-service demand has declined," said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst for Hudson Crossing. He noted that many hotels—particularly ones in New York—face growing competition from McDonald's and Starbucks, as well as unique food vendors on virtually every block.

"Opening the lobby café is one way for the Hilton to serve its guests as it tries to also win back some of the business it may be losing to outside establishments," he said.

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But Harteveldt warned that such action could also jeopardize a hotel's status.

"It will be tough for the Hilton to call itself 'full service' without room service, even though it offers many other amenities," he said. "If room service is a requirement to earn a four-star rating from independent organizations like AAA, Hilton's move may put [that] rating in jeopardy, unless the hotel can obtain an exemption."

Labor also plays a roll, Harteveldt said. "If the Hilton and its union can find a way to compromise on pay and benefits, it's possible room service may return to the Hilton," Harteveldt said. "If not, we may see other hotels drop room service as well."

Hilton said it would work with its union to offer alternate positions or severance packages at the New York property for employees affected by the upcoming change.