January 31, 2007

Calling room service, and not getting a busy signal

Maybe, the "not-at-home" food preparers are starting to listen...just a little.

The New York Times reports Tuesday the hotel industry is starting to listen to its customers when it comes for room service.
“For many years, room service was looked at as, ‘Gee we have to do it,’ but now I think more hotels are looking at it as, ‘How can we solve our customers’ problems?’ ” said Michael Beam, managing director at HVS/American Hospitality Management, a consulting firm that spent several months last year researching travelers’ room service preferences.

Among the findings: people who travel 10 to 15 days a month order room service the most, and cravings are the No. 1 criteria when they select from the menu — the research found hamburgers to be among the top choices — followed by healthfulness. But the latter category does not mean a preference for bland tofu stir-fry or poached salmon.

“If anything, it’s a move away from traditional ‘healthy’ items to what I’d call balanced,” Mr. Beam said. “It’s reasonable portions of good things that you wouldn’t necessarily call health food.”

I think most business travelers would welcome an appropriately portioned meal (at an appropriate price). When I was traveling, it was rare to find healthy portions on any room service menu. Most of the second-tier hotels and motels, simply have the local pizza place menu in the room. Or worst, the appetizer menu from some fat-laden chain. (What's the worst room service menu you have seen?)

“I’d love to be able to get a chicken breast and vegetables and some light starch that’s prepared nicely, or a selection of healthy soups,” said Gabriel Levy, an executive with a digital music company in New York City, noting that these options are especially scarce on late-night menus. “You can get burgers and sandwiches and that kind of stuff, but that’s exactly what I don’t want to eat when it’s late.”
Why is it, that the most unhealthy foods are always available? And the Hilton or Marriott isn't McDonald's. They don't have any excuses.

It's the mindset of second-rate chefs and cooks throughout America. They think: give them the fattiest, unhealthiest foods possible. And while you're at it, give them a lot of it.

Scott Kraft, the executive vice president for marketing for a San Francisco software company, echoed that desire for well-prepared vegetables and appetizing mixed greens, adding that he would like to see more distinctive dishes. “You’re paying $250 a night minimum in most of these places, and then you’re getting this generic room service experience,” he said.

You might be saying to yourself, well, the hotels serve that food because it's cheap and easy. It may be easy, but the hotels are making little if no money on room service. Despite the outrageous prices sometimes charged for the smallest room service order — and hotels sometimes add a delivery charge on top of a 15 to 20 percent service charge — room service is not a cash cow.
“At best, it’s only marginally profitable and at worst, it’s costly,” said Kirby D. Payne, president of HVS/American Hospitality Management.
Now, hotels have no excuse at all. Serve the RightSize food all the time. Your customers want it. Soon, they will start to demand it.

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