Business travelers want fast service in their hotels

April 18, 1993|By Chris Barnett | Chris Barnett,Copley News Service

If there were a room service event in the Olympic Games, Hotel Macklowe in New York City would win a gold medal in the bagel-and-blow-dryer race.

On a recent visit, the order was placed -- toasted bagel, pot of coffee, glass of OJ -- and a 40-minute wait was quoted. Thirteen minutes later, a waiter arrived with a smile and a tray.

"That was fast," I said.

"Have to be fast," he replied, placing the tray on the bed and streaking out the door with a "thank you." No waiting for a signature and a tip.

The Macklowe scored again when I ordered a hair dryer from the front desk. Six minutes later, there was a knock at the door. And I was on the 43rd floor of this sleek 52-story hotel near the theater district.

Again, when I couldn't decipher the hot and cold water taps, the engineer arrived in eight minutes. But then it stumbled badly. When the remote control wouldn't "talk" to the TV set, leaving me with a single fuzzy channel, a replacement was promised within 15 minutes. It hadn't shown up by the time I checked out 90 minutes later.

For busy travelers on business, swift, reliable room service can remove the hassle. Hotels, beset with rising costs and thinning staffs, are devising new ways to keep guests -- and their comptrollers -- happy.

Courtyard by Marriott, the budget-priced ($50 a night and up) cousin to Marriott Hotels, doesn't have traditional room service. But it will box a dinner from its restaurant and send it to your room -- no frills, extra fee or delivery charge.

About 50 of the 209 Courtyards are now putting a list of restaurants -- and their menus -- in rooms. You can order lunch or dinner, have it delivered and charge it to your room. In some cases, it's the only way to eat because the Courtyard has shut down its restaurant at night.

Radisson Hotels are starting to put TGIFriday restaurants inside the hotels. At the Radisson Plaza Hotel Savannah, Ga., Friday's does the room service. Other lower-cost lodging units like Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn, HoJos and Ramada Hotel are experimenting with takeout deliveries, hot lines to pizza parlors and other ventures.

Every hotelier, it seems, is redesigning room service. The Mobil 5-star Stouffer Stanford Court in San Francisco will buy you breakfast, lunch or dinner if the meal isn't delivered within the time quoted.

"It's a Stouffer policy to tell the caller how long it will take to deliver the order," says General Manager Christian J. Mari, "and if it's not on time, it's on us."

That's fine, says Phil Favro, a fire safety consultant from Fair Oaks, Calif., who gets "very ticked off" if room service takes more than 15 to 20 minutes, unless he's been forewarned.

"Room service is an eating experience, not a dining experience. You're hungry, you pick up the phone and you want to eat. If it takes 45 minutes, I'll go downstairs to the coffee shop," he says.

And if room service takes a long time, he won't come back. Mr. Favro praises Hyatts and Marriotts for speedy room service.

Women business travelers also want room service to arrive on time.

"If they can't guarantee me delivery at a specific time, I don't order," says Sharon Gamsin, vice president and director of Smith Kline Beecham in London.

"I don't want to worry about someone delivering breakfast to me while I'm in the shower or getting dressed."

Ms. Gamsin says Four Seasons Hotels in Washington and Philadelphia have the most punctual room service.

Elegant room service is an art at some hotels. In Tokyo, at the huge (761-room) Akasaka Prince, "It's a matter of honor" to get your order to you quickly, flawlessly. Only once do you tell the staff you want no salt on your eggs in the morning, says a hotel spokesman.

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