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Hilton defends room service axing

Hilton Chris Nassetta EDITED

By James Wilkinson in New York

Hilton Worldwide’s CEO Christopher Nassetta has defended the decision to axe classic room service at the company’s Hilton New York Midtown hotel, Manhattan’s largest property with almost 2000 rooms.

The decision to drop formal room service in favour of a paper bag takeaway-style offering was the talk of this week’s 35th Annual NYU Hotel Investment Conference in New York after the story broke and created a media frenzy with outlets from CNN and NBC to the New York Times giving the issue significant coverage.

Reports surfaced that said a result of axing room service, up to 55 workers would need to be laid off, something the company was quickly forced to defend.

Nassetta (pictured) told reporters at the NYU Conference this wasn’t the case and said the hotel was simply trying something new, given the there had been a significant drop-off in demand of late, with the property only taking a handful of orders on some days.

“This has been a difficult process for us as it has not been accurately reported in the press,” he said.

“What was missed in all the press is guests at the New York Hilton will still be able to get something delivered to your room, it’s just not going to be traditional room service the way you are used to it on trays, but food from a sophisticated grab-and-go.”

Nassetta said a significant drop-off in demand was one of the reasons for the change.

“I could count the number of dinners we were serving at the New York Hilton [each day] on one hand and that’s a 2000-room hotel,” he said.

“Room service in many markets around the US is a dissatisfier… as an owner and operator [Hilton owns and operates the New York Midtown property], we lose significant amounts of money doing it.”

Nassetta said the hotel will introduce a new cafeteria-style restaurant and grab-and-go concept called ‘Herb ‘n’ Kitchen’ in the lobby, an outlet that would also offer a delivery service to guests that did not want to pick up the food themselves.

Should the concept prove successful, expect to see more United States Hilton properties, particularly in cities like New York and San Francisco where there is already a plethora of restaurants and bars, roll-out a similar concept.

“In my opinion, in the full service business, this is where it’s going,” he said. “People aren’t eating in restaurants the way they used to and they are not ordering room service.

“What I care about most is what the customer thinks and [room service] is a dissatisfier because generally, while we do a pretty good job of [room service], it can never be to perfection and the cost to deliver the product is a dissatisfier to consumers.

“So, what we have been trying to do – and while this is a test case we have already done it in places like the Hilton Hawaiian Village – is to turn it upside down and say ‘what does the customer really want and how do we deliver it to them in an efficient way?’

“What the customer is saying more and is more is in full service hotels ‘we want something that’s simpler, and easier and gives us more control over what we’re eating and when we get it’.

“The concept of having very sophisticated grab-and-go’s, which is what the Herb ‘n’ Kitchen is going to be along with a full-service restaurant associated with it, is what we think where the world is going, particularly in urban markets.

“So the reality is everything we are doing is what the customer wants [and] in this case, the customer has been screaming loud and clear they want something different than what the industry has been giving them.”

Herb ‘n’ Kitchen at Hilton New York Midtown is expected to be open within six weeks.

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HM travelled to New York on Qantas, which offers daily flights to the city from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney via Los Angeles or Dallas Fort Worth. Qantas has recently upgraded the Boeing 747s that fly on the Australia-New York route, which feature the new A380-inspired interiors including new, larger economy class seats in a cabin that’s highlighted by an extensive range of entertainment on demand alongside a great selection of Australian wine and meals designed by star chef Neil Perry. For bookings, visit www.qantas.com

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