Room service, even at excellent hotels, is a mixed bag. A trade off. The benefits are clear, of course, with the convenience of dining in your robe and enjoying the comfort foods of home while not needing to face the outside world — whether it’s being avoided due to jet lag, hangover, malaise, laziness, or some combination thereof — weighed against otherwise sizable disadvantages, including the loss of any chance to expand your culinary horizons with the authentic flavors and dishes of your destination.
I am a staunch advocate for the occasional room service club sandwich, have no doubt, a meal I eat in no other circumstances or scenarios beyond those described above, but dip too often into that well and what you end up losing is the very reason you’re traveling — the discovery of something new and surprising, something fresh and fun and unforgettable, the very moments and experiences that are representative of this far-flung place you just sat in a flying metal tube for 11 or 27 hours to reach. That is to say, if room service represents the “break glass in emergency” measure for travel dining, save it for when you need it, as an exception to the rule of always searching out a city’s boldest and best and most exciting local flavors.
Unless, that is, you’re staying at one of a few hotels around the world who offer game-changing, foundation-shaking room service options. These are hands-on, bacchanalian in-room meals delivering to your doorstep a feast of flavors representing where you are, not what you left behind; room service spreads so incredible and indulgent to be almost intoxicating, so rich and rewarding that they are reason enough to book a flight and visit a new place, or to pack right up and do it all over again. You’ll travel the world for room service this wonderful, 20 hours in a metal tube be damned.
Four Seasons – Koh Samui, Thailand
Your villa at the Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui is the type of place you won’t want to leave. A large private patio replete with lounge chairs, a plunge pool and picture-perfect views of the shimmering, crystal-clear waters off the island’s northwest tip is everything you’ve conjured up about this paradisiacal piece of the world. And with a moo kra ta Thai barbecue delivered to your deck, you really won’t have to leave at all.
Moo kra ta is a popular style of Thai barbecue, often served at roadside shacks and street food stalls, with a convex metal pan or plate placed atop a mound of charcoal embers contained within a tabletop wooden barrel. You grill up a selection of meats, including strips of beef, chicken, bacon and prawns and mix and match with an assortment of condiments, seasonings and dipping sauces.
Koh Samui Is One of the World’s Best Beach GetawaysBeaches and Buddhism crossed with Thai food and hospitality provide the ultimate escape
Meanwhile, the grill pan is surrounded by a mote of simmering chicken broth, a liquid ring of hot pot, and all of the sizzling juices of what you’re cooking runs down into it, creating an ever-changing, evolutionary soup in which you cook up a grab bag of fresh vegetables.
The spread comes with several Thai salads and side dishes, such as Som Tam, or green papaya salad, and Yum Nua, a spicy grilled beef salad, as well as fruit for dessert (as if you possibly have any space left or desire to consume anything else).
Full disclosure: you will be smoky. Perhaps sticky. Sweaty, probably. And entirely satiated.
Hoshinoya – Okinawa, Japan
The Hoshinoya Okinawa is a luxury beachfront enclave with minimalist Japanese rooms and décor. The property features a large resort pool and a number of gardens and walking paths, and is surrounded by Gusuku stone walls, a traditional fortification used across the Ryukyu Islands. The idea is that within is a walled-off, bygone universe from centuries past where you can live at a slower pace and be more in-tune with nature.
While the property has an on-site restaurant that offers lavish tasting menus meshing the island cuisines of Okinawa and Sicily, as well as a more casual grill, another option is to order an in-room delivery they call their “gathering dinner service.” A loaded picnic basket chock-full of dishes and components is delivered and kept in your fridge, along with any equipment that might be necessary to finish off the meal (all of the ingredients have been prepped but may need to be cooked).
Why the Japanese Robata Crushes the Stuffy Hotel SteakhousePlus, where to go.
There’s a wide selection of a la carte components you could cobble together for a large meal, but the winning ticket is one of their stocked set menus, including a western set menu — hard pass, right? — as well as a Japanese set menu and, what I went for, the Shabu-shabu, or Japanese hot pot. In this case, the hot plate, pan and essential utensils are delivered along with a staggering selection of high-grade, luxuriantly marbled sliced meats, including different cuts of wagyu beef as well as pork. Also included is the starter broth, a mound of fresh noodles, tofu, a dozen different vegetables and herbs, and a variety of seasonings, plus a few starters and small containers of gelato for dessert.
If there’s a better way to spend an Okinawa evening than listening to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore outside your window, while you go to town on a a decadent in-room hot pot wearing the cozy, matching pajama sets the hotel provides to each guest, sipping on some awamori along the way, of course, then I don’t know what it is.
Boardwalk Boutique Hotel – Aruba
The Boardwalk Boutique Hotel is a property definitive of Aruba’s new and more modern touch for tourism and hospitality. The former coconut plantation retains a lush, tropical garden-like setting, and features a collection of casitas hidden across the grounds, linked by winding walkways taking guests through the property’s pools and its numerous, Instagram-photo ready nooks.
Order a healthful and vibrant breakfast or lunch from the on-site Coco Cafe, but then prepare to go bigger when it’s time for dinner. Rooms feature private terraces or balconies equipped with charcoal grills, and the hotel will order you a stocked BBQ dinner set from a local, sustainable purveyor. Get what you need to marinate and grill up a fresh catch of the day, along with some ceviche and a few side dishes; the hotel staff will even fire up the grill for you, so that the charcoals are hot and ready at your desired time.
Not Your Grandparents’ Aruba: A Modern Guide to the Caribbean IslandSwap the Aruba Ariba and dated resort for ATV rides these contemporary hotels
If serving as a grillmaster is not your idea of a relaxing vacation, though, fear not. The hotel can also bring the culinary team to your private patio instead. Room service with a personal chef included? Sign me up.
Request a private, in-room dinner prepared by the hotel’s chef Taki, who will whip up a three-course, fresh fish barbecue feast of his own so you can sit back, swing on the hammock and enjoy the local delicacies. An alternative booking is for a private Caribbean paella dining experience. Choose between seafood, chorizo and chicken, or vegan options, tack on a bottle of wine or a six pack, and watch as the paella comes to life before your eyes, no hustle or hands-on prep required.
It’s dining out while staying in, eating chef-prepared food with your shoes off on your patio, indulging in vibrant, local flavors and the freshest ingredients while still capitalizing on the “break glass in emergency” joy of room service. When you can get all of that at once, you can, and absolutely should, break that damn glass.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.