By Danielle Schalk
These days, operating a thriving in-room dining service doesn’t come easily. There are a number of factors shaping this staple full-service offering, including supply and labour management, as well as competition from local foodservice and third-party delivery offerings. “The new reality is, it’s harder to guarantee 24-hour, seven-days a week room service,” shares Jacky Bruchez, national director of Food and Beverage for Germain Hotels. And, while Germain Hotels doesn’t advertise its in-room dining as a 24-hour service, he notes that its full-service hotels, “are always going to try to be sure there’s an option to accommodate guests upon request.”
“Most people will order [room service] at similar time, so they have a similar hours during the day,” says Buchez. He reports the usual peaks are around 8:30 a.m. and between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. That means the team’s staffing and prep levels can be planned in accordance with this pattern. However, demand isn’t always so neat and predictable.
For the hotels of the Parq Vancouver casino resort, Kunal Dighe, executive chef at JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and the DOUGLAS, an Autograph Collection hotel, highlights breakfast as the busiest time for roomservice, “because everyone wants their breakfast on time.” But, demand for the other key dayparts hinges heavily on factors such as the weather and the events taking place on site.
And, due to these fluctuations, it can be challenging to efficiently manage in-room dining operations. JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and the DOUGLAS place a focus on sustainable operations, so limiting food waste is top-of-mind for chef Dighe. “Everything is very communicative,” he says of his strategy for managing food supplies. “We check our occupancy levels and plan accordingly.” This also includes considering how many of those guests are attending conferences that have meals included. The in-room dining menus are also designed to be complementary to the property’s events menus by making use of many of the same ingredients.
And, when it comes to staffing, Dighe notes that while room-service operations have a set staffing model, if the team has an especially busy period, they can draw extra staff from the property’s events kitchen to supplement the team.
Leveraging technology, such as the Marriott loyalty app, also helps streamline operations.
Dighe explains that through the app, guests are provided with detailed and up-to-date information about menu items and how customization can be facilitated to accommodate tastes and dietary preferences. Because users can browse menus before check-in and order meals ahead of time, use of the app can also help in managing staffing and prep levels.
Acknowledging the efficiency technology can bring to these operations, Bruchez notes the team at Germain Hotels has been looking into introducing more technology to support its in-room dining operations. “Using this technology can bring us another option [for guests to] place an order and [for us] to be more efficient,” he says.
This is especially valuable in this age of increased competition because, during peak hours, if guests can’t get through to place their order right away, “they’re just going to find an alternative,” Bruchez explains. “And, the thing is, there are so many alternatives. So, if you want to capture as much [business] as possible, you have to make sure that it’s easy for [guests].”
“One thing that’s very different, if we compare now to, say, 10 or 20 years ago, is that there’s much more competition,” Bruchez adds. “It’s just so much easier [for guests] to get food from pretty much any restaurant because of DoorDash, UberEats and SkipTheDishes.”
And, because of the prevalence of these services, Buches notes, “You’re competing against [all the local restaurants] in terms of pricing, but also in terms of [menu] diversity.” This means it’s more important than ever to clearly understand what guests are looking for when dining in-room vital to a program’s success.
For Dighe’s luxury-resort guests, “People gravitate towards luxury comfort food these days,” he notes. “One of the biggest top-sellers we have right now is a butter chicken. We [also] have seafood fried rice and a lobster mac and cheese.”
And, as you move beyond dinner hours, Dighe says, “You won’t be surprised [to hear], overnight, our most popular [item] is the chicken fingers and fries.”
Made in-house, the chicken is brined and marinated to create a more elevated take on the late-night comfort food, which Dighe notes usually sells between 200 and 300 orders per month. “Usually, people who are looking at room service want to have an easy night in — they want to relax and have some comfort food,” Bruchez explains, pointing to familiar items such as Caesar salad, burgers and club sandwiches.
“The only exception [to this] is when they’re booking a romantic night, and in that case, they’re usually going [to book it] as a package,” he adds.
However, Dighe notes that health, nutrition and dietary preferences are also key considerations for many of his hotels’ guests. This not only means offering a range of health-conscious menu items, but providing detailed information on the room-service menus.
As he notes, “[Guests] are very aware of what exactly they want. For example, they’re asking for wild salmon or organic vegetables.” As a result, it is important that menus reflect this desire for responsible, sustainable and healthful offerings. This is, perhaps, reflected most in breakfast orders. “Our most popular item on the menu right now is avocado toast,” shares Dighe. “Then, as the second item, we have the egg-white omelette.”
When it comes right down to it, convenience for guests lies at the core of any in-room dining operation’s success. So, Bruchez explains, the most important piece of the puzzle is for guests to be able to easily find and access the room service menu. Menu offerings, ease of ordering and quick turn around all come after.