The End of Room Service

A blog about business and economics.
June 3 2013 9:46 AM

Room Service Is Ending and Good Riddance

The New York Hilton Midtown Manhattan
The New York Hilton Midtown Manhattan

Public domain photo by Jim Henderson.

Ordering room service when you have any other option available for sustenance seems like such an obviously bad idea that I'd assumed it was some kind of ridiculously high-margin business for hotels. But apparently it's actually a cost center in many cases, so the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan is doing away with it entirely as part of a broader trend in the industry toward scaled-back offerings.

To state the obvious, if you're in a major city these days—and certainly if you're in Manhattan!—finding someone who will deliver you food is not particularly difficult. This is what Seamless is for. Rather than offering this as an expensive-but-money-losing service to guests, it would make a lot more sense to train desk staff to offer helpful and unbiased recommendations about locally available food offerings. That would be a win-win for everyone, as the basic structure of room service is just amazingly unpromising for a good culinary experience. You've got a kitchen with a captive audience and low odds for repeat business that's being asked to be all things to all people. There are doubtless specific locations out there where guests who are looking for a hot meal at a weird time can't do better than room service, but New York and other major American city centers are not those places.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.