Hotel room service is one of those rare occasions in life when, in a literal sense at least, something is handed to you on a plate. Ok, you’re paying for it, but what a luxury, an indulgence that allows you for a brief moment to feel what it’s like to be in the chips (again, possibly literally).
Room Service in situ
Naturally travel gives you a break from food preparation. Unless you’re staying in self-catering, most hotel rooms feature nothing that resembles a kitchen, apart from perhaps a kettle or coffee machine. The chore of cooking has been taken away from you. Any dining for the duration of your stay will be prepared and presented to you without any effort on your part. That could take place in the local area, in the hotel restaurant, or, to really show the lavishness of hotel living, brought to your door. There are those moments during a trip that you feel travelled-out and perhaps can’t face the crowds, and the latter option becomes the most appealing.
Room service menus sometimes contain regional dishes, but more often than not the main go-to foods are pasta or pizza, or burgers or club sandwiches with perhaps with a few chips to fill the plate. This is not the time or place to try local specialities. Room service is about comfort and convenience, so naturally the menu should contain comfort foods. It’s also true that, eating in your room in a fluffy bathrobe, while the exciting outside world awaits your exploration, elicits a degree of guilt, albeit a pleasurable one. The food choice symbolises that guilty pleasure.
Making the order
So you peruse the menu, pick up the phone, and a polite person from the restaurant answers your call. You announce your choices, and when you think you’ve completed your order the voice on the other end asks, ‘Is there anything else?’ This is your opportunity to add on that item you had hesitated over. You didn’t really seriously consider the tiramisu, or feel like having any wine, but now, in your guilty pleasure mode, the friendly voice doesn’t have to twist your arm too hard for you to submit to the extra items. After all, why not?
‘Thank you for your order. It will arrive in approximately 45 minutes.’
You put the phone down, and all that’s necessary is to wait. What to do? Shower? Watch television? You enter room service purgatory. Everything is ordered, nothing has yet arrived, you have no control over this interim period. All you can do now is wait for the knock at the door.
That knock is often startling. The restaurant told you 45 minutes, but really they meant 30 minutes – to arrive earlier shows efficiency. But you’ve only just got out the shower, or got off the phone, and are unprepared. Yet excited. You open the door and a friendly server asks to enter the room. Of course you don’t say no. As they come in you subtly tighten the bathrobe belt through fear of accidental exposure. They ask where you would like the trolley/tray to be placed and you point accordingly. How odd to have a stranger in your room, reshaping the atmosphere of your newly claimed personal space. Yet you don’t mind, they bring with them an object to satiate your desire.
The server is like a sorcerer’s assistant, and you are the sorcerer. The silver dome (official title: cloche, French meaning ‘bell’) is lifted in order for you to inspect the contents. Wallah. All you had to do earlier was utter a few words into the phone, a food-conjuring spell if you will, and something tangible has been produced which the server has revealed to you. There’s no magic of course. While you were looking the other way – at the TV screen or cell or mirror, people were hard at work creating your order. From the person who, after putting the phone down, had to speak to the chef who made the food, who then passed it to the server who then had to carry the food from the kitchen and into the elevator and along the corridor to your room. And this is something to be appreciated. You nod and smile and tip them for their efforts. ‘Bon Appetit’ they announce, ‘please leave the tray outside when you finish.’ You will not be doing the washing up this evening.
When the server leaves the room you lift the dome to check and make sure you weren’t dreaming. You weren’t, the food is still there. Next to the dome are neatly wrapped utensils, a range of sauces, salt and pepper pots, and a selection of mini bread rolls. In the back of your mind you question why there are mini bread rolls – how often at home do you eat mini bread rolls with a burger or pizza, carb on carb? But you enjoy the gesture nonetheless. And then you eat.
Time to dine
This is undignified eating. There’s no one around. You can eat without etiquette. You can use your hands. You can eat with your mouth open. You can lie down. You can burp. You can let the sauce drip onto your chin. And onto the bed. You can even be naked. Room service strips away social rules (and possibly clothes) and gives you a temporary freedom from food manners.
And then you finish. A little shame creeps in. But don’t worry. Tomorrow you will explore more of the local area and indulge in the culture. Your guilty pleasure is satisfied and you promise yourself not to get room service again unless vitally necessary.
Time to rest. After all that hard work of ordering food and eating it.
And first thing in the morning, breakfast.
Perhaps they can bring the croissants and coffee to the room.
You wipe the sauce from your chin and reach for the phone…