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In one big hotel, room service is checking out

NEW YORK — It is the perk that comes with expense accounts, the silver tray that wakes lovers in the morning, and even the momentary weakness of a superspy like James Bond.

Room service has become all these things, and more, since it grew popular with the privileged guests of the Waldorf-Astoria in the 1930s and soon emerged as a standard for luxury excursions, and a plot device for tales of suspense and whimsy.

Just ask Eloise, the 6-year-old scamp living it up in the Plaza Hotel, who routinely called for room service to bring her, exactly, one roast-beef bone, one raisin, and seven spoons.


And yet room service will soon be no more at one major New York City hotel.

In August, the New York Hilton Midtown, in the heart of Manhattan, will discontinue food and drink service to all 2,000 of its rooms. In its place will be a new self-service Herb n’ Kitchen stocked with grab-and-go items.

A spokesman for the hotel, which is part of the chain that also operates the Waldorf, cited declining demand for room service as the reason; some hotel industry experts see the elimination of the labor-intensive amenity as a way for the chain to save money.

Initially, travelers bemoaned the loss of a cherished hotel perk — regardless of whether they used it. For even if they never ordered the expensive Three Scrambled Organic Eggs ($22.50) or the reliable Cobb Salad ($24.75) at 1 a.m., it was comforting to know that either could be delivered to the door, its arrival punctuated by a few knocks and exactly two words.

“I think it’s dehumanizing the service,” said Michael Henry, 78, a Jamaican author and publisher who likes to have his coffee waiting when he steps out of the shower in the morning, or while he makes business calls. “It’s what I call catering to the lowest common denominator.” Henry’s wife, Dawn, added disapprovingly that she expected more of a hotel charging $300 a night.


The decision to jettison room service at the New York Hilton, reported by Crain’s New York Business, comes as other large hotels have cut back menus or reduced hours in recent years, and many newer boutique hotels have opened without offering it all. Some hotels have even made arrangements with nearby restaurants to act as surrogate kitchens and deliver food to their hotel rooms.

John Fox, a consultant for the hotel industry, said nearly all hotels lost money on room service, which requires maintaining a staff of waiters and kitchen workers throughout the day, even though orders typically dwindle after breakfast and come in sporadically afterward.

“Everybody’s doing what they can to engineer their properties to make more profit while still supplying the services their guests demand,” he said.

Still, he said he did not expect room service to soon disappear from top-notch hotels. The guests at the Waldorf, for instance, will not be losing room service, and a Hilton spokesman said the company was evaluating its other hotels on a case-by-case basis.