- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Leave the luggage at home and just bring an appetite: Two upscale hotels in Northwest Washington are inviting guests to check in solely for a room service meal.

For $125, a customer at the Riggs Hotel can enjoy full dinner service in a room that has been converted into a so-called safety dining box, in which the bed has been replaced by a table and chairs.

“[It’s] something that was borne out of necessity, but also something innovative that could continue to serve guests that are eager to dine out and do so in probably the safest environment if you think of any sort of dining out,” hotel general manager Abe Liao told The Washington Times.

Both the Riggs and the nearby Sofitel began offering the private dining rooms in December, when Mayor Muriel Bowser closed indoor dining as part of the city’s coronavirus restrictions.
Karla Erales, general manager of Sofitel, said she wanted to provide an alternative to outdoor dining options.

“I know a lot of people were doing those bubbles … those tents they put outside — I found that very cold, physically, so I said it would be nice to provide a warm environment,” Ms. Erales said during a phone interview.

Upon arriving at either hotel, each guest must undergo a temperature check and provide information for contact tracing before being escorted to a room where the table service is like that of a high-end restaurant.

Ms. Erales said the clientele has ranged from couples, families and friends to solo diners — just like a typical eatery.

Unlike traditional dining establishments, however, guests can control the temperature, television, music and lighting.

“They really love the fact that it’s a different experience,” Ms. Erales said. “The kids [are] loving it as well, I mean, they’re in the room [and] they can turn on the TV if they wanted.”

Both general managers said the in-room dining has received good feedback at a time when the hospitality industry has been struggling.

U.S. hotel occupancy in 2020 decreased by more than 33% compared to the previous year, as the pandemic caused record lows for the industry’s performance metrics, according to data analysis by STR, which tracks marketing data for the hotel industry.

The Washington metropolitan area reportedly saw a 75% drop in total revenue per hotel room during that period — the fifth largest decline nationwide.

Mr. Liao said the pandemic has “severely impacted” the industry overall and the “political tension and demonstrations” in the District also have “taken a toll.”

Echoing those sentiments, Ms. Erales said the challenges have been coming “in waves.”

“The first wave was obviously the pandemic, then the second wave was having to board up or having to close areas because of restrictions … as well as the protests in the area,” she said. “During the election and inauguration, we also had road closures.”

The citywide ban on indoor dining was supposed to be lifted in mid-January, but the riot at the U.S. Capitol prompted the mayor to extend it through the presidential inauguration.

Although the restriction has been lifted, the hotels have opted to continue offering the special room service dining experience, for now.

“It will be sort of a slow recovery to normal and if there’s demand still, and people really are latching onto it, I could see us continuing it,” Mr. Liao said.

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