Room Service in 2013: A Bag of Groceries

Complete article originally released by The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch on September 11 featuring quotes from CIRE President Eric Hrubant.

As anyone who’s ever put on a few pounds while traveling knows, it’s hard to find convenient, healthy food when you’re staying in a hotel, as options are typically dining out or ordering room service. But as part of ongoing efforts to scale back traditional money-losing amenities, some hotel chains are working on changing this by providing grocery delivery to their guests.

A growing number of hotel guests are getting food in brown paper bags instead of on silver platters. Affinia Hotels, a collection of boutique hotels in New York City, recently announced that it has partnered with grocery delivery company FreshDirect to offer delivery service to its guests; one of its hotels already offers the service and in the coming months, four more of its New York hotels will add it. The Residence Inn by Marriott, which focuses on guests who stay for a long period of time, offers grocery delivery service in 620 locations across the country. “Hotels offering grocery delivery is a trend that will likely gain momentum as more hotels begin to scale back or curtail amenities like in-room dining altogether,” says Travelzoo Senior Editor Gabe Saglie.

Indeed, the move does come amid some hotels cutting room service. In August, for example, New York’s Hilton Midtown, the largest hotel in the city, stopped providing room service — a move that is not surprising considering that room service doesn’t offer big financial gains for hotels. Data from PKF Hospitality Research showed that U.S. hotels averaged room service revenue of just $3.33 per occupied room in 2012. (Residence Inn by Marriott doesn’t offer room service; Affinia still offers room service in addition to grocery delivery.)

But hotels say that the reasons behind this move are to provide convenience to guests. Grocery delivery “liberates them [guests] from the limitations of room-service, minibar and restaurant fare,” Lisa Zandee, senior vice-president of brand management for Affinia Hotels, said in a statement. Diane Mayer, vice president and global brand manager for Residence Inn by Marriott, says that as an extended-stay brand, “we knew that it was important for guests to maintain their routine, and food is a big part of that. Being able to have your favorite bread or milk in the fridge means a lot when you are on the road for a longer period of time.”

Of course, you can often expect to pay for this convenience. Affinia Hotels offers delivery of a la carte items as well as “grocery kits” that include fruits and vegetables, Greek yogurt, chips and salsa, cookies and microwavable meals. The kits start at $75 and you will pay a small delivery fee (the fee will depend on location but is less than $7). Residence Inn by Marriott offers free delivery of most grocery items like milk, bread and fruit — though it will not deliver alcohol, cigarettes and certain drugs — but you’ll still pay for the groceries themselves, of course.

Will grocery delivery replace room service anytime soon? Probably not, says Michelle Weller, the vice president of sales and customer support for one of travel agency Travel Leaders Houston franchises — especially in high-end hotels where guests expect that kind of service. Not to mention the fact that many hotels aren’t equipped with kitchens that make cooking convenient. (Both Affinia and Residence Inn by Marriott often have a lot of long-term guests and provide kitchens to them.) Plus, not everyone wants to cook while traveling even if they could, says Eric Hrubant, the president of New York-based CIRE Travel. And you can often get groceries cheaper by taking a trip to a nearby store yourself. For example, though FreshDirect does offer competitive pricing to grocery stores in Manhattan, you’ll still pay a delivery fee to have it sent to your room at an Affinia Hotel.

Still, grocery delivery to your room does have some appeal. Among its perks is its convenience and the opportunity for healthier eating. “So many of my clients are on the road a lot, and they want to cook something for themselves even if it’s just microwaving,” says Hrubant. And, of course, it can save money, as room service bills can easily add up to $100 or more. In fact, a TripAdvisor survey showed that ordering a simple club sandwich from room service in New York City would cost you more than $21 and in Honolulu more than $23; plus hotels often tack on a 15-18% gratuity just for carrying that food on the elevator.

Article by Caty Hill. View article on Market Watch here.

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