|By Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu
Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 21, 2012--Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, the state's largest single hotel property, has ended its in-room table service and replaced it with a new takeout and delivery service that it says is better geared to modern visitors, who have active, casual lifestyles.
The change, which went into effect earlier this month, means that Hilton Hawaiian Village guests can't have high-end room service menu mainstays like orange juice and champagne cocktails with eggs Benedict wheeled into their room on a table laden with linen and fine china. Instead, customers who opt for in-room delivery will be greeted by a Fresh Connection runner, who will hand them a sack filled with locally sourced, albeit plainer, fare like bagels or breakfast bowls and burritos. Those who want to save the delivery fee and gratuity can opt for pickup.
While some might see the change as dramatic, Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii and managing director of Hilton Hawaiian Village, said it makes good business sense. He's also banking on the notion that today's guests will respond positively to what he touts as a cheaper, more convenient alternative.
"We're not getting many guests who want Chateaubriand (steak) and cherries jubilee. That was 15 years ago," Gibson said.
Over the last decade, room-service orders have dropped by about 40 percent at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Grand Wailea and the Hilton Waikoloa Village, he said.
"Our customers have demonstrated, through a dramatic decline in the use of room service, that they want an alternative to the traditional in-room dining experience," Gibson said. "Room service is hundreds of years old; we wanted to perfect and re-energize it."
Here's how Fresh Connection works: Guests order food by phone or visit www.hhvapp.com to order online, or on an iPad, iPhone or Android smartphone. Food pickup is available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Fresh Connection in the Alii Tower. Alcohol is not on the menu; however, Hilton Hawaiian Village has applied for a license to serve beer and wine.
The new concept was created specifically to cater to guests, who are increasingly looking for greater convenience, value and variety, he said. The highest-priced items range from $10 for a breakfast bowl to $13.75 for a lunchtime sausage and pepperoni pizza to $26 for the dinner menu's Kona sea salt-crusted roast beef.
Orders can be delivered to guest rooms for an $8 delivery fee plus a 17 percent gratuity. Delivery hours are 7 to 10 a.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.
Since implementing Fresh Connection, Hilton Hawaiian Village has closed its 27-person room service department. Gibson said nine room-service attendants retired, and most other workers were transferred to different departments. The hotel began Fresh Connection on Oct. 1 with just six runners.
Hilton Hawaiian Village worked with the Local 5 union before implementing the changes, Gibson said.
However, Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer for Unite Here Local 5, which represents hotel workers at Hilton Hawaiian Village and other Hawaii properties, is concerned with the trend.
"We regret Hilton's decision to eliminate this traditional service expected by guests, and we are concerned about the abandonment of high standards for guest service at Hilton and the rest of our hotels," Gill said.
Gibson said he examined room service patterns and customer dining preferences for three years before proposing that Hilton Hawaiian Village become the first Hilton in the chain to roll out Fresh Connection.
"As of now this offering is unique to Hilton Hawaiian Village, and we can't really speculate on any future innovations across the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brands," Gibson said.
Hilton Hawaiian Village is not alone in its quest to stem room-service losses and find new ways to serve a changing customer base. Starting Nov. 1, Sheraton Waikiki also will pilot in-room dining changes for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said Brian Hunnings, Starwood's area director of food and beverage-Hawaii and director of food and beverage for the Sheraton Waikiki.
"I would agree with Hilton. We are in a resort setting where traditional room service is gradually declining. There is definitely that segment that are used to being more value-centered when it comes to how they enjoy Hawaii," Hunnings said. "But I question if you can ever completely do away with room service. Guests from a five-star background might be offended by, 'Here's your food in takeout containers.'"
As such, Sheraton Waikiki will step up its high-end room service by offering course menus from its signature restaurants Rum Fire and Kai Market from 6 to 10:30 a.m. and 5 to 10:30 p.m., he said.
"Before, the food came from a room service menu and not from one of our branded restaurants," Hunnings said. "It was all a la carte, and it could get pretty expensive. New menus will have three- and four-course options that include beverage and wine pairings."
While Hunnings and Gibson see changes to in-room dining as the wave of the future, not all Hawaii hotels are likely to follow suit.
The Halekulani, which offers 24-hour room service, is in the midst of further developing its already extensive gourmet program, said Chief Operating Officer Peter Shaindlin.
"At Halekulani we 'never say no,'" Shaindlin said. "That applies to food and beverage as well: No matter what time it is, day or night, or what your heart desires, we're committed to serving you."
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