Certain standard items are on almost every room-service menu: a club sandwich, a hamburger, a Cobb salad. But in this more sophisticated and competitive age, some hotel owners have expanded their room-service offerings well beyond the expected. The Vincent, a 60-room boutique hotel in England, a couple of years ago began including a sex kit in its minibars: massage oil, lubricating gel, two condoms and a vibrating ring. A somewhat more elaborate rig — containing a mask, a whip and bondage tape — can be ordered off the Vincent Hotel's room-service menu.
No local accommodations offer these specialty items so far. Not the Hotel Phillips, where the notorious sex-toy scene in Sacha Baron Cohen's Brüno was filmed, and not even the louche Capri Motel on Independence Avenue, where a maid found a dead body stuffed under a mattress in 2003. (The Capri does offer room service, according to a desk clerk who, when I called to inquire, kept asking me, "But what room are you in?")
But let's focus on what room service does best (and what is more valuable than kinky accessories to holed-up lovers): food. Romance plays a role in room service, but not as much as you might think. A former room-service waiter once told me that he thought he would be wheeling in breakfast trays for post-coital, scantily clad couples on weekend mornings. Not so.
"You want to know who the primary room-service guest is?" he asked me. "A fat, middle-aged business executive who just wants to eat his steak dinner alone, watching TV and wearing his underwear under his bathrobe." And that steak needs to be good in order to lure back the executive and earn his recommendation to colleagues.
It used to be that one of the biggest differences between a hotel and a motel was the quality of its food service. Motels often didn't have restaurants at all, and if they did, they might not be very good. (The Howard Johnson chain, in its heyday, was frequently the exception to this rule.) And if hotels have typically enjoyed a better culinary reputation — one that has waned considerably over the past four decades — they still offer nicer dining rooms and, often, 24-hour room service.
This remains the case in Kansas City, where the classic Raphael Hotel, President Hotel and Hotel Phillips offer in-room dining 24 hours a day. "We're required to have it," says the Raphael's executive chef, Jason Wiggins. "It's how we maintain our four-diamond rating. If customers are checking into a premier hotel property, the amenities had better include round-the-clock room service."
Last year, Wiggins left a less sophisticated hotel operation, the Holiday Inn Aladdin at 12th Street and Wyandotte (which offers room service only when the hotel's restaurant is open) to head the kitchen at the Raphael.
"The Aladdin had almost zero room-service business," Wiggins says. "It catered to a lot of business clientele who either had breakfast meetings on the property or went out of the hotel to eat. At the Raphael, room service can make up as much as 25 percent of our food business. Room service is a very big deal here. We have formal seating in our rooms, and if someone wanted to host a Thanksgiving dinner in their room, we could do it."
Eric Carter, the executive chef at the President Hotel, also changed jobs last year, moving from the Sheraton Overland Park, a big, suburban hotel — one that he says does "very little room-service business" — to a smaller boutique property near the Power & Light District. "Room service is only 10 percent of our food sales, but our customers expect a certain level of room service, available any hour of the day," he says.