Room service: Old school or new school?

In advance of my appearance on the “Rudy Maxa’s World” travel radio show this morning, I posed the above question to my oh-so-opinionated friends on Facebook. Here’s why: The Marriott chain is experimenting with a streamlined room service approach at its brand new flagship hotel – the Marriott Marquis Washington D.C. – plus a couple of others.

The San Diego Marriott Marquis was the first Marriott to adopt the system, but the splashy new Washington D.C. hotel was the first one to open with it. A year ago, Hilton made a similar move at its Hilton New York hotel.

Whether you’re a business traveler, a leisure traveler who wants to sleep in or a hotel industry insider, you too will likely have opinions about this development. After all, who doesn’t cherish having a lovely meal – hot, and beautifully presented – delivered to their room?

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But you have to know that this will be a big issue going forward. And as the room service revolution plays out, don’t expect consistency. Some hotels will change their model and others won’t. Some will charge you $5 for delivery under the new system, but let you pick it up at the restaurant for free (San Diego Marriott Marquis); others won’t charge you any fee (Marriott Marquis Washington D.C.). Some will require you to spend a certain amount when you order a room delivery to avoid a delivery charge (Hilton New York).

The room service revolution comes at a time when hotels are trying to make sense of this era of evolving consumer tastes and economics. The delivery of room service meals – whether a burger or a Caesars salad – is typically a money loser for a hotel despite high prices and delivery charges, but it’s offered because many guests demand it. It’s also a tradition. But in a world of Chipotle, Panera Bread and apps that let hotel guests order food from local restaurants, some hotel chains think they can tweak the formula without alienating guests – and possibly pleasing them even more.

I posed the “old school or new school” question on Facebook the other day; below is a sampling of what this opinionated group of road warriors and travel industry experts said. (I hope you will add your two cents right here on this blog post in the comments section at the bottom of this post!)

For some people – such as frequent traveler David Michael Rich of Boston – old-fashioned room service is so important that they won’t book hotels without it.

“The old system is much better,” Rich said. “I check this ahead of time and don’t book into hotels with this bad food option.”

Loyal Marriott hotel customer and cruise travel agent Meg Ryan doesn’t want “what amounts to the local Panera or Corner Bakery type thing being tossed my way.” She’s seen the “casual” food trend affect offerings at Marriott’s less-expensive Courtyard chain and doesn’t really like it.

“I still prefer old school,” she said.

‘Variety is key’

“I feel like there should be an option,” said hotel industry manager Kerry Boatright. “Some people may want to use room service on the go, while others want to use it to treat themselves. Variety is key to cover a range of traveler needs.”

He suggested hotels create a menu of items that can be delivered via traditional room service, and another for items delivered in “to-go” packaging.

Road warriors have different needs

The style of room service that road warrior Doug Levy needs simply depends on his schedule.

“If I’m on a crazy, intense business trip, when I am writing around the clock with fast-approaching deadlines, that hot, professionally served room service breakfast helps keep my sanity,” Levy said. “But hotels that can’t do it well would be better off ditching it completely.”

Bottom line for Jeff Higley, industry publication Hotel News Now’s top editor (disclosure: I’m contributing a social media series to HNN), that as a frequent traveler, as long as the hotel offers delivery 24/7 “I’m ok with the streamlined service.”

Leisure travelers: Old school’s ‘classier’

“Old school is so much classier,” said New York-based leisure traveler Cindy Weiner Breitman. “(It) makes you feel special rather than making you feel like the hotel is skimping and just trying to save money.”

Frequent business traveler Kim Musheno prefers traditional room service when she’s in hotels as a leisure traveler. “I feel pampered!” she said.

Readers: Old school or new school?

Photos taken by Dublin-based frequent traveler and Twitter buddy @starflyergold. The photo up top shows a room-service meal ordered at the Sofitel Brussels Europe on July 25, 2013. The photo below shows a room-service meal ordered at the Hilton Bonn on Feb. 17, 2014 after the cart had been rolled away.