James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

You Can Blow a Shocking Amount of Money on Room Service for Breakfast

You Can Blow a Shocking Amount of Money on Room Service for Breakfast

Granola at the Waldorf-Astoria

The flight to JFK from London felt short, almost like a commute: smooth and simple, no fuss. In New York, it was cold and the car ride into Manhattan was eerily slow. “There’s always traffic, every day, every hour, it never stops,” said the driver.

I was staying at the Waldorf Astoria; not the kind of hotel I’m used to, but this was a trip that was being paid for by others. There were a few of us in town for an event, all in the same hotel, same schedule, same restaurants and food. It was all very planned out and routine. I got an email when I arrived: “Everything is taken care of, including breakfast, so help yourself to room service if you like, or there is a breakfast served each morning downstairs.” I only thought of room service for the rest of the day.

I can’t remember exactly my first experience with room service in a hotel. It was probably during one of our family vacations to Las Vegas when I was about 12 or 13. My parents never thought that Vegas was the wrong place to take my sister and I and on those trips. I learned more about life than in five years in the Midwest. Room service is an institution in Vegas. As a young, naive kid who liked to eat, I soon realize that there was this entire world of hotel breakfasts: huge buffets of steaming pancakes, sausage, bacon, and eggs that didn’t seem to exist anywhere else. I’m sure it did, but everything seemed so surreal in Vegas in 1993. Since then, I’ve realized that getting breakfast at a hotel is usually a great idea because it’s hard to get breakfast wrong. Almost anyone can cook eggs, bacon, pancakes, or toast. If anything is bad, it’s normally the coffee.

I took full advantage of the room service on offer at the Waldorf and took great pride in placing my order the night before. The operator repeated my order back to me:

“That’s granola with yogurt and fruit, orange juice, and coffee, Mr. Dart?”

“Yes, that’s right, at 7:00 am”

“No problem sir, it will be with you then. Have a good night’s sleep.”

It was terribly simple; it’s easy to spend a ridiculous amount of money on breakfast in your room. The prices are never friendly, made for desperation or laziness, I think, or those with expense accounts. I was trying to be good and not order the huge stack of pancakes, waffles, or anything with hollandaise sauce.

In the morning the doorbell to the room woke me up, the first hotel room I’ve stayed in with a doorbell.

“Sir, it’s your breakfast,” said the waiter.

Pulling a robe on over my pajamas, I opened the door to the white-gloved waiter.

“Good morning,” he said. “Should I just leave it here for you?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“Shall I pour the coffee for you, sir?”

He unwrapped the granola and the out of season melon and berries, arranged like a painting.

The whole scene was so short it was over in a blink of an eye, but it was performed with a graciousness that reminded me that being a waiter is an art. It was as refined a service as you can find. It was a simple pleasure, a little luxury that made me feel like a king for a day.

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