Luxury lite: Hotels cutting corners on room service ingredients

When I'm traveling, the last thing I want to eat is a room service meal. The food tends to taste warmed-over and uninteresting and I'd much rather eat bad food in the real world, outside of my cookie-cutter hotel room. The offensive high prices of the typical room service will turn your stomach even faster. Many a time, I've managed to procrastinate sating a near-painful hunger for another half hour, long to enough to go find another option, merely by looking at the numbers on the menu next to the turkey club.

You might have assumed that insanely high prices -- I remember my father having to pay $12 for a glass of orange juice at the Waldorf-Astoria, and that was back in the '80s -- meant that the hotels were cleaning up on "in-room dining." In fact, they aren't. They lose money on it, but they have to have it. It's what business travelers expect.
So in recent months, as hotel guests cut back on paying for extras, the hotels have had to follow suit to keep their losses from cutting deeper. As the New York Times reports, portion sizes have been reduced. Expensive cuts of meat have been subbed for not-so-extravagant ones. And instead of fancy ingredients like truffles, they're putting comfort food like chicken on burgers on the menu, because that's what sells these days. They're also cheap.

There is a sort-of-but-not-really bright side to the cutbacks. With the reduction in quality has come a reduction in some prices. The Times cites one Austin, Texas, hotel as having cut the price of its $38 steak to $28. At the same time, it went from 16 ounces to 12 ounces. Still a rip compared to what you could get in a real restaurant, but room service has always been about eating in your bathrobe, and some people gladly pay for such decadence or convenience.

It's not just hotel kitchens that are getting cheap. The daily newspaper has been trimmed, too. Marriott just announced that from June 1, guests won't automatically find a copy of the paper flopped at their door each morning unless they ask for it first. (Betcha you'll still be paying that daily "resort fee" anyway, even if you don't request a paper. Well played, Marriott.)

Marriott likes to say it's saving on carbon emissions this way and that it will save around 50,000 papers a day. The Chicago Daily Herald figured the delivery change is going to cost USA Today as much as 3% of its circulation. Which, in turn, could cost jobs.
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