They gobble ground cow all night, then order Tylenol and Bloody Marys the next day. Running to events at a frantic pace and socializing nonstop, Austin festival-goers and racing fans sometimes lose track of what meal they’re eating, but they know one thing: They want food.
At Austin’s hotels, room service is in overdrive this time of year, with festivals galore leading up to Formula One weekend next month.
“There’s much more demand than we expected before we opened,” says Nadine Thomas, food and beverage manager at the W Austin. “We figured with all these restaurants, people would want to go out and eat. For F1 last year, we probably did 40 percent more covers than on a normal weekend.”
Any odd requests? Oh, yeah.
“We have a whatever, whenever service culture here,” Thomas says. “We’re willing to do anything they want, whether it’s filling a bathtub with chocolate or putting cheddar cheese on pancakes. We do burgers and wings for breakfast. A lot of times, people are just getting in at 4 in the morning.”
As you might imagine, all this late-night dining leads to people answering their hotel room doors in every sort of dress — and un.
“I don’t really want to comment on that,” Thomas says. “We have a risk department to help if it’s overwhelming for the server.”
It’s easy for room service workers to get overwhelmed by the work, if not by the naked guests, during the fall rush. Thomas and other Austin hotel room service managers say they staff up this time of the year, though it’s hard to know how much to staff up when you don’t know when people are going to get hungry.
“We generally add one person per shift to the kitchen and a couple on service,” Thomas says.
The influx of celebrities has an impact on room service as well. During one visit to the Four Seasons, the Rolling Stones ordered up a bunch of corned beef hash, says assistant room service manager Amy Baker. Corned beef hash was not on the menu, but, like the W, the Four Seasons aims to please. The kitchen staff grumbled less when the name attached to the corned beef hash order was revealed.
When Oprah Winfrey was in town to interview Lance Armstrong, she engaged the server who brought eggs, tea and cappuccino to her room.
“What’s your name?” Winfrey asked. Told the server was Jude, the talk show queen promptly burst into, “Hey Jude.” She also sent back a comment card with all five-star ratings.
Another VIP guest wanted caviar. The hotel had to order the specific type and get it overnighted for the person’s arrival.
Some special requests aren’t from VIPs. On Twitter, the Four Seasons saw a tweet from an upcoming guest who wrote that she was a big “Friday Night Lights” fan and would like Kyle Chandler delivered to her room.
When the woman checked in, her room amenity was waiting. No, it wasn’t Chandler, but it was a chocolate portrait of him, and the guest was thrilled.
Those room amenities — fruit and cheese plates, wine, desserts and other treats that the hotel places gratis in the rooms of VIPs and guests celebrating something — are also handled by hotel room service staffs. There are 19 different kinds of Four Seasons amenities, and, of course, the more important you are, the more fruit you’ll find on your plate.
All of these amenity plates are, like other room service orders, staged in a room about the size of a small bedroom within the kitchen at the Four Seasons. Nearby, tables that have returned from room service are lined up in the kitchen hall like gurneys at a hospital, awaiting a fresh tablecloth and a new meal.
The most popular room service meal at the Four Seasons, Baker says, is the burger.
“When they’re in their rooms, people stick to comforting stuff,” she says, adding that steak is popular with F1 guests. After many requests, the Four Seasons added chips and queso to its room service menu about eight months ago.
Baker notes that the Four Seasons prides itself on delivering room service orders within 30 minutes of a phone call most times, with 40 minutes the standard for dinner. The hotel also has a 15-minute express menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and desserts, and this menu proved popular last year with F1 visitors, who, Baker says, “usually require a little more speed.”
New York’s Waldorf Astoria is credited with introducing the idea of room service in the 1930s. That hotel is now owned by Hilton, and Hilton has started dropping room service from some of its hotels — not at the Waldorf, but at the New York Hilton Midtown and also the Hilton in Honolulu — replacing it with a grab-and-go food service area in the hotel. (Those hotels will deliver a grab-and-go item to your room if you want, but it’s pre-packaged.)
That won’t be happening at Hilton Austin, says Justin Garner, who joined the hotel as director of food and beverage a few months ago from Honolulu. The hotels that have dropped room service, he says, had financial situations that Austin doesn’t face. Among other things, the New York hotel has union contracts to consider along with a different sort of business travel culture, where wining and dining at restaurants is a big part of doing business and fewer people eat in their rooms.
“We still see such a demand from the business traveler here,” Garner says of Austin. “It’s always room service season…especially at 2 a.m.”