Image: Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, UK
© Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons
Raymond Blanc of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons serves line-caught, Cornish sea bass, pan-fried on the plancha and served on a bed of garden bok choi ($88), on his room service menu.
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updated 10/23/2007 4:59:17 PM ET 2007-10-23T20:59:17

Hotel room service sure isn’t what it used to be.

Although some hotels still feature the same ‘ol shrimp cocktails, club sandwiches and hamburgers on their room service menus, others take a more innovative approach, offering unusual dishes—like a Japanese bento box, risotto of escargots, and pavé of sole with cassoulet Toulousain—often created by the well-known chefs who run their restaurants.

This trend is global, frequently found at smaller hotels that belong to organizations like Relais & Chateaux and Small Luxury Hotels, two collections of upscale hotels, and Design Hotels, whose hotels are distinguished by their arty décor.

Famous chefs who oversee room service menus include Raymond Blanc, of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, a Relais and Chateaux, two-Michelin-star restaurant and hotel outside of Oxford, England; Eric Chavot, of the two-Michelin-star Capital at the Capital in London; Nobu, whose one-Michelin-star restaurant Nobu is in the Metropolitan in London; and Joan Roca, whose one-Michelin-star Restaurant Moo is in the hip Hotel Omm in Barcelona.

Then there's the legendary Philippe Legendre, chef of the two-Michelin-star Le Cinq at the Four Seasons George V in Paris; culinary heavyweight Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose three-Michelin-star, eponymous restaurant is in the Trump International Hotel in New York; Geoffrey Zakarian, whose restaurants do room service for two Manhattan hotels, Town at the Chambers Hotel and the one-Michelin-star Country at the Carlton Hotel; Patricia Williams, of District in the Muse in Manhattan; and Charlie Palmer, of the Dry Creek Kitchen in the Hotel Healdsburg in Healdsburg, Calif.

Elaborate room-service menus are a relatively recent phenomenon, says Martha Gaughen, an owner of Sterling Brownell, an upscale leisure travel agency in Atlanta that belongs to Virtuoso, a consortium of high-end travel agencies. A travel agent for 24 years, Gaughen is a member of Virtuoso’s hotel and resort committee, which helps determine which hotels the consortium’s agencies partner with. “When I was first in the industry, there was no room service. At Caneel Bay 15 years ago, you couldn’t get anything in your room—you had to go to the bar for ice,” she said. “Room service has sort of evolved—it’s now all about ambience, the setting, the food and the service itself.”

Resorts in particular go all out to make the room service experience memorable; among these is Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa in French Polynesia, which prepares a “romantic Milky Way dinner” for guests in the privacy of their bungalow terrace, complete with flowers, champagne, wine, and a three-course meal.

Zakarian, who cooked at famous Manhattan restaurants like Le Cirque and the 21 Club and at two of Ian Schrager’s boutique hotels, the Royalton in New York and Delano in Miami, before opening Town and Country, believes room service has “gone from an afterthought to a forethought. Offerings have become much more inventive and creative.”

Image: Ladera, St. Lucia
© Ladera St. Lucia Resort
An intimate resort in southwestern St. Lucia, Ladera offers Soufriere Cocoa Boat Lamb ($35) on its room service menu, named after the port town two miles away. This is a rack of lamb marinated with nutmeg and cajun spices, pan-seared and served with two pillows of sweet potato mash and leeks, and red-wine cocoa jus.
He finds “customers have become much more sophisticated; they know what they want, and they’re demanding. You have to be able to meet their needs at any time.” One way Williams caters to demanding guests at the Muse is to let them create their own ice cream flavors, with 48 hours’ notice, thanks to her recent purchase of a Pacojet, a Swiss food processor that lets her make and freeze ice cream base and custom-mix in flavors and additions like cookie dough or Gummi Bears.

Williams has also come up with an innovative way for Muse guests to entertain in their hotel rooms: She recently introduced room service items that help guests create their own party, including a popcorn bar, with flavors like cheddar, cayenne, chocolate, truffle and rosemary; garlic potato and taro chips with green goddess, ranch and roasted onion dips; vegetable wraps with mint yogurt sauce; guacamole and chips; and a selection of cheese, grapes and breads.

Once you’ve ordered these yummy dishes, how much should you tip the room service waiter? Gaughen believes there should be “no difference between what you tip when you eat in a restaurant and what you tip for room service, 15 to 20 percent of the bill.”

However, she says it is imperative that you check the room service bill to see if a gratuity is included, which happens most often at resort hotels. If the tip is already on the bill and your room service waiter does something extraordinary, Gaughen suggests leaving an additional gratuity. “If the waiter comes, makes up the table, throws rose petals around, and creates an incredible ambience for your dining pleasure, that’s aboveboard” and deserves an extra tip if a gratuity is included on the bill, or an extra-handsome one if it isn’t, she says. But, she adds, “if the service stinks, I wouldn’t tip. That’s what tipping is all about.”

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