Room ser­vice gets lift from deals

Ho­tels col­lab­o­rate with eater­ies to de­liver food to guests

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - SA­MAN­THA BOMKAMP

CHICAGO — Ho­tel room ser­vice has al­ways been a tough sell.

It’s ex­pen­sive both to or­der and to op­er­ate, looks ex­trav­a­gant on a busi­ness trav­eler’s ex­pense re­port, and for most peo­ple, goes against the very point of travel: to get out and ex­plore new sights and cuisines. Room ser­vice rev­enue in­dus­try­wide is down more than 25 per­cent since be­fore the re­ces­sion, ac­cord­ing to CBRE, a com­mer­cial real es­tate firm.

Still, some mem­bers of the trav­el­ing pub­lic want the op­tion of food de­liv­ered to their rooms, and ho­tels are ea­ger to of­fer so­lu­tions that will dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from com­peti­tors with­out break­ing the bank.

For a few ho­tels in Chicago, that has meant de­liv­er­ing meals to guest rooms through part­ner­ships with a pop­u­lar lo­cal gas­tropub, a cult-fa­vorite burger chain and a home­town ser­vice that de­liv­ers or­ganic, chef-made meals.

“The eco­nom­ics of run­ning a food and bev­er­age op­er­a­tion can be a strain, so [some ho­tel op­er­a­tors] are look­ing for more cre­ative ways to serve guests,” said Scott Ber­man, the U.S. hos­pi­tal­ity and leisure prac­tice leader at PwC.

While ho­tels and food providers gen­er­ally don’t re­veal fi­nan­cial de­tails of th­ese part­ner­ships, the ben­e­fits are clear. It gives the ho­tels a valu­able mar­ket­ing tool in of­fer­ing food de­liv­ery with­out the high cost of pro­duc­ing it them­selves, and pro­vides added ex­po­sure and a broader cus­tomer base for the res­tau­rant or food de­liv­ery com­pany.

The Kinzie Ho­tel in down­town Chicago didn’t have to stray far to find a room ser­vice provider. The ho­tel inked a deal with gas­tropub Pub­lic House, which sits next door. Pub­lic House is now the sole provider of room ser­vice meals to the ho­tel, for lunch, din­ner or a pared down menu for late night.

An­drew Eck, the ho­tel’s gen­eral man­ager, says Pub­lic House works well for the ho­tel be­cause of its var­ied menu and “essen­tial Chicago” feel.

“I thought the chance to part­ner with a trendy gas­tropub and take ad­van­tage of their pop­u­lar­ity with lo­cals was ex­cit­ing for the peo­ple that weren’t able to ex­plore the city as much or wouldn’t get to ex­pe­ri­ence Pub­lic House in per­son,” Eck said. No money changed hands in the part­ner­ship.

An in- room or­der from Pub­lic House comes with an au­to­matic 20 per­cent gra­tu­ity in­cluded and a de­liv­ery fee of $3.50.

Staff from the ho­tel and the res­tau­rant have met fre­quently since start­ing the ser­vice last year to per­fect the of­fer­ing and solve any prob­lems quickly, Eck says. But so far, he said they haven’t had to make ma­jor ad­just­ments to of­fer­ings or ser­vice. The food is served on plates used in the res­tau­rant, in­stead of in take­out con­tain­ers, to im­prove the per­cep­tion by guests, Eck said. He es­ti­mates that about 20 to 30 room ser­vice or­ders are placed on busy nights at the 215-room ho­tel.

Pub­lic House meals are de­liv­ered to the ho­tel by res­tau­rant staff and brought up to a guest’s room by em­ploy­ees of the ho­tel. Eck said guests or­der from other de­liv­ery ser­vices very rarely, in part be­cause the Pub­lic House menus are fea­tured so promi­nently in guest rooms.

Room ser­vice is an im­por­tant draw for the Kinzie’s busi­ness trav­el­ers, who of­ten don’t have time to go out to restau­rants, or travel to Chicago in the win­ter months, when eat­ing in the warmth and com­fort of a ho­tel room seems more ap­peal­ing than trudg­ing through snow to eat out, ex­pense ac­count or not.

Eck es­ti­mates that about 30 per­cent of the Kinzie’s rooms are filled with busi­ness trav­el­ers in the sum­mer. That fig­ure swells to about 70 per­cent in the win­ter.

A new Shake Shack res­tau­rant on the ground floor of the Chicago Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion Ho­tel in the down­town Loop area meant a new op­tion for guests to or­der from, and marked the first time that the burger and cus­tard chain had ever done room ser­vice.

Shake Shack spokesman Kristyn Clark said the part­ner­ship, which be­gan last Au­gust, is unique to this ho­tel and isn’t ex­pected to be repli­cated at other Shake Shack lo­ca­tions.

Ho­tel Chicago, which opened in April of last year, doesn’t have a built-in res­tau­rant and ini­tially filled the gap by of­fer­ing guests 10 per­cent off at neigh­bor­ing Park Tav­ern and An­gel’s, a Mex­i­can res­tau­rant. But Gen­eral Man­ager Im­ran Ji­vani also wanted a healthy and quick de­liv­ery op­tion for the large num­ber of young peo­ple and med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als who stay at the ho­tel be­cause of its prox­im­ity to the Illi­nois Med­i­cal District and the United Cen­ter sports arena. Ho­tel Chicago and the Kinzie are both owned by West­mont- based Port­fo­lio Ho­tels and Re­sorts.

Chicago-based meal de­liv­ery ser­vice Eat Purely turned out to be a “per­fect fit,” he said. Eat Purely of­fers a hand­ful of chef-made or­ganic meals each day that can be de­liv­ered in 30 min­utes.

He es­ti­mates be­tween 5 and 10 per­cent of guests in the 116-room ho­tel use the ser­vice reg­u­larly, and many or­der mul­ti­ple meals that can be re­frig­er­ated and mi­crowaved in their rooms. As with the Kinzie, no money changes hands in the The Ho­tel Chicago-Eat Purely deal.

“Peo­ple have loved it,” he said. “It works for any dis­cern­ing cus­tomer or some­one who wants all the bells and whis­tles.”

Eat Purely meal de­liv­ery may also be a way of help­ing ho­tel guests break out of their rou­tines.

Chicago vis­i­tors tend to stick to the fa­mil­iar when stay­ing at ho­tels in the city, ac­cord­ing to de­liv­ery com­pany DoorDash. The most pop­u­lar restau­rants for DoorDash ho­tel de­liv­er­ies in Chicago are The Cheese­cake Fac­tory and Buf­falo Wild Wings.

While smaller bou­tique ho­tels have found so­lu­tions to their room ser­vice dilem­mas, large chains have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with part­ner­ships too.

Hy­att Cen­tric, a Hy­att chain aimed at younger trav­el­ers, started a “Res­tau­rant to Go” ser­vice in which guests could or­der from restau­rants or an ex­press menu and have food de­liv­ered to their rooms in 20 min­utes. As part of that pro­gram, the brand formed a pi­lot pro­gram with Grub­hub to pro­vide room ser­vice de­liv­ery from a cu­rated set of restau­rants at its ho­tels in Mi­ami; Park City, Utah; and Long Beach, Calif. Lo­cal ho­tel em­ploy­ees picked seven to 10 restau­rants for each prop­erty, and or­der­ing goes through a cus­tom­ized Web page that’s pro­vided at check-in.

Grub­hub wouldn’t of­fer fi­nan­cial de­tails of its part­ner­ship with Hy­att, but said that ho­tel guests tend to spend more on or­ders over­all.

San­dra Cor­dova Micek, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of global brands at Hy­att, said the col­lab­o­ra­tion has been “re­ceived en­thu­si­as­ti­cally,” and that the ho­tel chain is “look­ing for­ward to evolv­ing the re­la­tion­ship.”

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