Hilton New York made headlines earlier this summer when it decided to do away with room service and focus instead on a new grab-and-go dining concept that offers "quick, gourmet food options" in a self-service format. For many, the move was seen as a way for the company to skimp on food costs, but a recent visit to the space suggests otherwise.
I stopped by Herb N' Kitchen, as it's officially known, after its grand debut this week , and was impressed by what I found. Piping hot, mouth-watering BBQ pork belly flatbread fresh out of a brick oven? Check. Cozy, intimate dining areas with marble-topped tables? Check. Tiny boxes of chocolate-covered animal crackers? Grass-fed beef jerky locally produced in Brooklyn? Double check.
On my way back to the office, I passed the Sheraton New York, which sits one block away. Though rates for both hotels fall into a similar range (for select dates in November, Sheraton was $355 a night, while Hilton was a little higher at $399 a night), it's clear that each is doing very different things with their dining. So, how does room service at the very comparable Sheraton compare to Hilton's shiny new cafe?
Forgetting aesthetics for a minute (the Herb N' Kitchen space feels more Dean & Deluca than any big-brand chain hotel I've ever been to), it's clear that Hilton is doing one thing really well: breakfast. Though the breakfast buffet itself is a little pricey at $45, the made-to-order breakfast sandwiches known as "Stackers" – a corn arepa with eggs, bacon, and cheddar ($8.75), for example – are a deal, as are the fresh-baked pastries ($2.75-$3.25), yogurt granola parfait ($5.50), and a bagel with smoked salmon ($4.25).
Compare that to Sheraton's in-room dining menu, which, for a higher price, offers the traditional room service experience: breakfast items like eggs, sausage, and potato ($24), yogurt parfait ($14), or a bagel ($8.50) are wheeled up on a trolley with the usual silver tray, cloth napkins, and fresh flowers. For guests who enjoy this attention to detail, and who like being waited on from the comfort of their room, this is a perfectly reasonable option that doesn't require you to get dressed, comb your hair, get out your wallet, or leave your bed. Nice perks, certainly. And that's part of what you're paying for.
But how about lunch and dinner? At Grab N' Go, guests can wander in any time between 11am and 1am, choosing from items like the BBQ pork belly flatbread ($16.50, feeds 2-3 people), fregola salad ($10.75), a cheese plate from the legendary NYC shop, Murray's ($12.75), or even a bottle of wine (from $13.50) to take up to your room. Compare that to Sheraton's Caesar's salad ($18), Club sandwich ($21), and pizza ($24), and once again you are presented with a choice: more expensive food delivered to and eaten in the comfort of your room, or a more curated menu served in a gussied-up lobby cafeteria.
On a final note, consider that anything from Herb N' Kitchen can be delivered up to your room in a brown paper bag. You won't get the royal treatment or fancy presentation – and you'll need to tip the delivery guy – but for many guests just looking to enjoy a square meal, that won't matter in the slightest.