Hotels placing room service menus online

Add the room service menu to the list of hotel items collecting dust. A growing number of hotels are using online menus, allowing guests to order via smartphones or laptops.

Online menus offer more detailed information about food choices, including photos and daily specials, and allow guests to bypass phone chats with kitchen attendants. For hotels, the new technology means freeing employees from the phones for other chores and creates opportunities for "upselling" with recommendations.

Generally, the system works like this: A guest uses Wi-Fi to download an Internet page that contains the hotel's online menu. Once the order is placed, the system directly bills the room or the credit card. Some hotels also allow housekeeping, valet and requests for services such as additional towels or wake-up calls to be ordered online.

Omni Hotels has been testing an online order application at Omni Mandalay in Irving, Texas, since last year. Developed by Vancouver, Wash.-based GBCblue, the system will be expanded to several other Omni properties in coming months. The company hopes to install it chain-wide by the end of the year, says Kerry Kennedy, Omni's director of e-commerce.

Starwood Hotels has approved GBCblue's technology for all of its hotels, says Joe Adkisson of GBCblue.

Among other hotels that offer a similar service: Hyatt Regency Monterey, Calif.; Grand Hyatt San Francisco; Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, Calif.; Westin Maui; and Westin-Kierland in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Omni and GBCblue are developing a mobile menu "app" — or a software application — for iPhone and Blackberry users that can be downloaded to the phone directly and bypass the Internet browser.

To encourage more online orders, Malibu Beach Inn distributes Apple's iTouch to customers if they don't have their own Internet devices. GBCblue is working with a hotel in Hawaii for a similar project to distribute iTouch to guests sitting poolside.

For now, online orders are used mostly for room service. Once Malibu Beach Inn started using online menus last year, it saw a 25% increase in room service orders in the first six months, says Matt Allard of service creator Runtriz. GBC says Omni Mandalay's orders have similarly risen.

Omni Mandalay also has noticed that guests spend more — by about $3 an order — when ordering online. Omni plans to add a function that will recommend accompaniments to go along with the item ordered.

"If someone ordered just steak, we can remind them of the drink," Kennedy says. "We can have it set up to recommend the right wine."