Do Not Disturb



November 2, 2006 -- I know business travelers pay a lot of attention to room service. But here's an admission from a life-long hotelier: I don't personally ever--well, that's not 100 percent true--use room service.

I swear on a stack of hotel-room-nightstand bibles: I only use room service if I absolutely have to. Room service is overpriced, delivered cold and usually it's the wrong order or something has been left off. The cart won't fit in the room or, if it does, the only chair in the room is the wrong height for the cart. After you've eaten your cold, overpriced, incorrect meal, you have to somehow wheel the cart into the corridor and leave it so it doesn't block the way, all in your skivvies. If you don't, the smell of stale food will permeate your dreams throughout the night.

I try to bring a little humor to this hotel column, but damned if I can come up with anything faintly coming close to funny in the room service department. As much as room service vexes you, it annoys hoteliers even more. It's a lose-lose scenario for guest and hotel and what's so funny about that?

Hotels hate room service because it is a money-loser. Regardless of how much they may overcharge you for an order, it still won't make money for the hotel. Why? The bulk of your orders come during just two time periods: breakfast and dinner. A room service kitchen between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. is like a blitzkrieg. It's chaos. One or two waiters are trying to deliver 150 orders of scrambled eggs in the space of the promised 10 minutes. Delivery carts are fighting to get an elevator, carnations are wilting on the trays and food is curdling under the cloche. Meanwhile, for the rest of the day, when you don't call, there still has to be staff on hand to cook and deliver food. These folks hang around all day, running up the hotel's overhead, waiting for your three-in-the-morning order of a BLT on toast and a Coke.

Some hotels have tried to solve this bizarre imbalance by beefing up their minibars. Many now have an assortment of everything non-perishable, fattening and calorie-laden. All at exorbitant prices, all waiting to fill your rumbling tummy. I recently stayed at a New York hotel that offered a range of minibar items from Dean and DeLuca, the fancy grocer. I can't even afford to buy from their shop under normal circumstances, let alone purchase two ounces of Dean and DeLuca almonds in a fancy aluminum container for $18. And at $5 a bag of M&Ms, hotels are charging more than airport food kiosks.

But I do like hotels that place a coffeemaker in your room. (Consider buying stock in Mr. Coffee because he seems to have the franchise on those coffee pots.) Anyone who has ever ordered a pot of room-service coffee thinks in-room coffee pots are a godsend. After all, have you ever ordered coffee for breakfast from room service? It's guaranteed to arrive cold and when you're in the shower, if it arrives at all before you leave to work. The waiter will be hanging around asking you to sign the check. You'll be holding a wet towel around your waist with one hand and trying to sign with the other.

Not to mention that a pot of room service coffee for one at some hotels will bankrupt you. Try something like $55.00 at the George V in Paris--and that's before service and tax. It does come on a nice tray with a rose, of course. But you don't want to know what it will cost if you add a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice to that order.

Okay, so you have an expense account and to hell with the cost. You want a hamburger and French fries. Well, too bad. It will come cold or, at best, tepid, along with a piece of wilting lettuce and a pickle suffering from dropsy. All this because you wanted to catch a dirty movie or were too lazy to go down to the dining room or a nearby coffee shop. Then you'll blame the poor waiter and suffer palpitations when you see the mandatory room service charge and tip.

The Chairman of a hotel company with which I was once associated had a fixation on room service. He'd rant and rave if his room-service meal wasn't as fresh, crisp and hot as it would be in the main dinning room. Many a general manager admonished his room-service staff to be on full alert when "The Chairman" rang down. But only one General Manger ever successfully solved the problem.

Unbeknown to The Chairman, this general manager set up a mini-kitchen in a vacant room just down the hall from the boss' suite. Room service calls from the boss were diverted there, the chef got to work and the waiter rushed down the corridor, delivering the food hot and in record time. At our annual general mangers meetings, The Chairman would extol the wonders of room service at XYZ hotel, then ask why one hotel could get him scrambled eggs hot and on-time and the others couldn't. He doesn't know the answer to this day.

I said earlier that most room service orders are usually wrong. That's because the order taker rarely has English as his or her first language. And some, it seems, can't speak English at all. I also said that I try to put some humor into these columns. And while I can't find anything funny about room service, the great comedian Shelley Berman could.

A generation ago, he wrote a book called A Hotel Is a Place. It's still available at places like and you should read it, preferably on a plane so you can roll in the aisle with laughter. One of his funniest bits addressed room service. Here's an excerpt. Read it aloud to yourself because it's an appropriate way to end this column.

Morny, rune sore-bees.
Oh, sorry I thought I called room service.
Rune sore-bees. Morny. Jewish to odor sunteen?
Yes, order something. This is room 1305. I want…
Okay, torino-fie, Yes plea?
I'd like some bacon and eggs.
Ow July then?
Ow July then? Pry, boy, pooch…?
Oh, the eggs! How I like them? Sorry. Scrambled, please.
Ow July thee baycome? Crease?
Crisp will be fine.
Okay, An Santos?
Santos. July Santos?
Uh, no, I don't think so.
No? Judo one toes?
Look I feel really bad about this, but I just don't know what judo one toes means.
Toes! Toes! Why Jew Don Juan Toes? Ow bow eenlish mopping we bother?
English muffin? I got it. You were saying toast! Fine. An English muffin will be fine.
I feel terrible about this but…
Copy! Copy, tea, mill…
Coffee! Yes, coffee please. And that's all.
One Minnie. As rune torino-fie, strangle-aches, crease baycome, tossy eenlish moppin and copy. Rye?
Whatever you say.
Okay. Tenjewberrymud.

This column originally appeared at

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