Skift Take

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the future of room service delivery methods, menus, and guest room design.

A guestroom at Four Seasons Jackson Hole will soon look a lot more different than it did three years ago. 

Guests will notice, upon the completion of significant upgrades in June, an increased emphasis on in-room dining as well as spaces that suit the needs of business travelers.

“Desk areas today have to be more comfortable than just a workspace — they have to be multipurpose areas that allow for both work and play,” said general manager Ryan Grande. 

“Those areas used to be a place to have a laptop open and take some notes. Now we want to be able to quickly (convert them for) a comfortable evening with a glass of wine.”

Although business at the property’s four restaurants has mostly returned to pre-pandemic levels, in-room dining still remains popular. And the spike in demand for it during the pandemic has launched a renewed focus on the design of guestrooms — and menus.

Four Seasons is not alone in refurbishing the areas where guests enjoy in-room refreshments. Hyatt has made considerable investments in guestrooms to better prepare to accommodate new work styles. Renovations at its Confidante Miami Beach hotel include designated working areas and separate dining spaces in guestrooms and suites, for instance, as does the design of new properties like Thompson Dallas. In addition, coffee tables have been replaced by tea tables at many locations to facilitate in-room dining, said Frank Giacomini, Hyatt’s vice president of restaurants, bars and events.

Such enhancements are essential for the guestroom of today and tomorrow, said interior designer Olga Hanono, whose studio specializes in luxury hotel builds and renovations.

“As we know now, we sleep, play, eat and work in the same space,” Hanono said. “On the design side, we’ve had to change everything, from the lighting to the orientation of everything in the room, to the technology.”

A large component of that is the so-called “Zoom room.” “In the past, guest desks were facing the wall, and the camera was facing the bed,” Hanono said. “But now people take video calls in their rooms and you don’t want people to see where you sleep.”

She added that since those desks can also serve as dining tables, it’s important to create multiple moods for guestrooms. Her hotel clients have noted that guests typically stay longer than they did prior to the pandemic and given the uncertainty of dining in communal spaces, their design strategies have included anticipating a continued demand for room service.

“Much more than in the past, we expect guests to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner in (their) room,” Hanono said. “Maybe not every day, but more often than before.” 

What those meals consist of — and how they’re ordered and delivered — is also evolving.

Grande said he’s seen a recent shift in demand for comfort foods like burgers and wings to menus that also incorporate more wellness components. Meanwhile, Alexei Rudolf, director of operations for Mise, an annual conference for hotel chefs, says the next year in hotel food and beverage will see a reversal of stripped down teams and menus.

“That cart and cloche kind of room service is definitely back,” Rudolf said. “In some places, I’m seeing (an additional) a level of service where the attendant will come and serve you in your room, so you have an entire dining experience.” 

Rudolf believes the next two to three years could see the definition of traditional room service at mid-level hotels change. Although deliveries common during the pandemic weren’t problematic because room service is traditionally not profitable for hoteliers, Rudolf said hotels know they need to do something better than DoorDash.

One step hotel companies can take is remodel their properties to make deliveries easier. Oregon-based Obie Hospitality has incorporated butler’s pantries into the design of each guest room at two of its hotels. The two-way compartments are accessible from the hallway and from inside a room, which eliminated room service interaction while social distancing. It’s also faster and a lot less awkward to get a meal delivered, said Melinda Langston, whose husband is the chef at Richard’s, the restaurant at Obie’s Inn at 500 Capitol in Boise, Idaho. 

“We get the food out quickly and because you can push the dishes back in the pantry, there’s no trail of dirty dishes left over when guests are walking down the hallway,” Langston said.

Companies like Obie may ultimately come out on top thanks to guest service platforms like INTELITY, which can be used on multiple mobile and in-room devices. Steve Brown, CEO of accesso Technology Group, says room service ordering platforms used by hotel giants adopted by Marriott, Accor and Hilton can yield significant upsell opportunities. “Guests may order up to 20 percent more when given the option of mobile ordering,” Brown said.

Mise’s Rudolf is also encouraged by the use of ordering by QR code. He believes it’s made buying objects like cocktails quicker and easier.

“You don’t have to shake it in front of the guests, so you’re not putting on that show, which takes time,” he said. “Plus, alcohol sales are among the best ways to bring in a profit.” 

That’s one impact of the pandemic that hoteliers can toast to, after all. 

UPDATE: This story was updated to include a clarification. Hyatt’s Thompson Dallas is actually a new property, and the designated working areas and separate dining spaces appearing in its guestrooms are not the result of renovations.

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Tags: dining, food and beverage, food and drink, future of lodging, hospitality, hotels

Photo credit: An image from the Thompson Dallas Thompson Dallas