No room service: The straw that breaks the camel’s back?

The kerfuffle over Hilton Midtown New York’s decision to eliminate room service is not dying down. From feedback received here and on various blogs, there appears to be a divide between those who see room service as obsolete versus those who see it as the last bastion of traditional hospitality.

Let’s not get into that argument, but instead examine the issue on a broader basis. In today’s world of hotels, the lines between the number of stars or diamonds achieved are blurred. Hilton Midtown New York’s cancellation of room service makes the lines all but disappear.

What separates a 2-star Manhattan hotel from a 4-star property?

Based on my 30-plus years of experience, I can tell you that on an operational basis, the answer is almost nothing! As a matter of fact, most operators I have spoken to said they would rather operate a 4-star property.Why? Prestige aside, because the budgets you have for staffing and guest service make it much easier to handle. Looking at a direct comparison, the only departments that are significantly different are sales and marketing, and perhaps the addition of facilities such as concierge and parking.

A 4-star hotel is typically maintained in excellent condition. There are sufficient staff resources to respond to almost any guest concern. Looking at operations, really, the biggest headache was room service, which is now disappearing. What remains operationally are layers of staff to make sure the guest is comfortable.

The 2-star hotel never had room service, never had layers of staff and often is in poorer physical condition, as periods between soft or hard goods restoration are extended. Guest complaints are pervasive. Often the constant complaints result in lower employee morale. No operator wants to have to deal with that type of environment because it takes more skill sets, not to mention the ability to deal with higher stress levels. There are several large 2-star hotels in New York, and I give credit to them all.

By now, all hotels should have talented revenue managers whose job it is to fill their hotel, utilizing the latest in technology to assist them. In a 4-star hotel, revenue managers are typically supplemented by their corporate and group sales staff to help drive rate. And of course their marketing department can schedule events and leverage public spaces.

In speaking to recruiting professionals, there is complete mobility between 2- and 4-star hotels for operations professionals, but less so for sales and marketing directors. As the 4-star hotels eliminate room service as their major differentiator and 2-star hotels improve their product, all we may have left to discern the two is hotel size.

One more service chopped, and one less issue for the management to worry about. Full service versus limited service — what is the real difference? And if I buy a hotel, I will be looking for a 2-star operator and 4-star sales and marketing director. After all, I only want the best.

Your thoughts?