The Truth Behind Why Hotel Food Is So Expensive

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Anyone who has stayed at a few hotels in their life knows that the food is overpriced. But why does it cost so much? I decided to do some research to find out why hotel food is so expensive.

Hotel food is expensive because you’re paying for the convenience. Many guests don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a place to eat outside of the hotel. These guests will eat at the hotel regardless of price. Hotel chains know this and adjust menu prices accordingly.

Convenience is not the only reason why hotel food is expensive. There are several other factors that lead to high prices, that I’ll cover in this article. I’ll also give you a few tips that can help you find cheaper meals the next time you find yourself in a hotel.

Why Hotel Restaurants Are So Expensive

There are many reasons why hotel food is so expensive. Some of the culprits are obvious, while others may seem a bit counterintuitive. Here are a few of them:

  • Convenience
  • Lack of competition
  • High operating costs
  • Markets that support high prices
  • Keeping the number of guests at the restaurant low
  • Guests on business trips that have their meals paid for by their company

Not all of these factors apply to every hotel, but at least one of them has an impact on price.

Convenience – There’s a certain percentage of hotel guests that will always eat at the hotel restaurant. For them, eating at the hotel is easier than going out of their way to find a cheaper alternative. Hotel managers know that these guests are not price-sensitive, so they increase the cost of a meal.

High operating costs – On-site restaurants are an expected amenity at hotels. But most hotel restaurants don’t generate enough business to cover expenses. So to compensate, the restaurant raises prices.

Keeping the number of guests low – Many hotel restaurants operate at a loss. The busier the restaurant, the more money it loses. When prices are raised, it lowers the number of guests that order food. With fewer guests to feed, the restaurant can cut back on labor costs (which is their biggest expense). If the food was cheaper, more people would order, resulting in greater losses.

Guests on business trips – A large segment of people that stay at hotels are on business trips. Business guests usually have their travel expenses fully reimbursed by their company, so they’re not worried about price (they may even go out of their way to get an expensive meal). Hotels know this, and prices on the menu reflect that.

Markets that support high prices – If people are willing to overpay for food, the hotel has no incentive to lower prices.

Lack of competition – If an independent restaurant raised prices, people would quickly stop eating there and take their business somewhere else. However, hotels are always going to have some customers (because of convenience), so they don’t have to price their food competitively. Outside competition is simply less of an issue.

Why Hotel Breakfasts Are So Expensive

Everything mentioned above applies to hotel breakfasts, but there are some other dynamics at play as well. If a hotel offers a breakfast buffet, it has to make more food than is actually needed because it looks bad if they run out.

Since the hotel makes extra food, there’s always going to be a substantial amount that goes to waste. The hotel then charges extra to make up for the cost of wasted food. You’re not just paying for your food, but also the leftovers.

Furthermore, hotels keep breakfast prices high so that not everyone eats at once. If everyone ordered breakfast, the kitchen staff would not be able to keep up. To prevent this, they increase the prices.

Why Hotel Room Service Is So Expensive

If you think hotel restaurants are expensive, wait until you order room service. Room service can often cost twice as much as the meal itself when you factor in service fees and tips. There are a few reasons why hotels charge so much for room service. A few of them include:

  • Room service is expensive for the hotel
  • It’s a pain for the employees
  • There is no competition
  • Convenience

Room service is expensive for hotels – In order to offer room service outside of normal restaurant hours, the hotel must keep a chef and waiters on standby 24 hours a day. The hotel needs to pay the staff, even if no one is ordering food. This gets expensive quickly, which explains the high prices.

It’s a pain for employees – To deliver room service, employees have to stop what they are doing and carry food through the hotel (while trying not to spill the dish). This is a pain, and often times waiters don’t receive a tip. Room service can also cause issues at the restaurant if it takes away from the pool of available waiters.

There’s no competition – Hotels can make room service as expensive as they want since guests can’t order room service from another hotel. You are forced to use your hotel’s room service or not order room service at all.

Convenience – You’re paying more because they are bringing the food directly to you.

Why Hotel Minibars Are So Expensive

Ever wonder why the bag of M&M’s in your hotel room costs $4? Or why the small bottled water in the minifridge costs $10? Here’s why hotel minibars are so expensive:

  • Convenience
  • Minibar items expire
  • Minibars are expensive for hotels
  • Encourage you to go to the hotel restaurant

Convenience – You’re always going to pay extra for convenience in a hotel. Since you don’t have to go all the way to the store, the hotel is going to upcharge you.

Encourage you to eat at the hotel restaurant – Hotels would rather you spend money at their restaurant than at the minibar in your room. The high prices are meant to encourage you to go downstairs and order a full meal at the restaurant or an adult-sized drink at the bar.

Minibar items expire – M&M’s don’t last forever, and believe it or not, bottled water has a printed expiration date. The hotel needs to increase prices to make up for expired product. Theft is also taken into account.

Minibars are expensive for hotels – It’s expensive for a hotel to keep hundreds of minibars running. Hotels have to pay for the minibar items themselves, electricity for the refrigerator, and for staff to clean, restock, and check for expired items. It’s not uncommon for a hotel to lose money on their minibar.

How to Eat Cheaply in a Hotel

We’ve already established that hotel food is ridiculously expensive. If you’re tired of overpaying for hotel food, here are a few things you can do to save money:

  • Stay at a hotel that offers free breakfast
  • Find a hotel located near cheap local restaurants
  • Bring non-perishable snacks
  • Pack a refillable water bottle
  • Find a local grocery store
  • Book a hotel with a full kitchen or kitchenette

Stay at a hotel close to cheap local restaurants – The best thing to do is to stay at a hotel located close to a few cheap local restaurants. These spots shouldn’t be too hard to find if you do a little bit of research ahead of time. You’ll want to avoid the expensive tourist areas at all costs.

Prepare you own meals – Preparing breakfast and lunch in your room will save you a ton of money. Just pick up some cereal and a few lunch meats at a nearby grocery store, and store them in your hotel refrigerator (assuming it doesn’t have weight sensors). Most hotel rooms at least have a microwave. If you bring instant oatmeal, all you need is water and a microwave to cook a healthy yet cheap breakfast.

Book a hotel with a kitchen – Many resorts nowadays offer rooms with full kitchens or kitchenettes. By staying in a room with a full kitchen, you are free to cook your own cheap meals.

Bring your own food – If your hotel room doesn’t have a kitchen, you should pack some non-perishable snacks, like protein bars, nuts, trail mix, crackers, dried fruit, pretzels, granola bars, and beef jerky.

Pack a refillable water bottle – Make sure you bring a refillable water bottle, so you don’t have to keep spending money on bottled water. Another option is buying a one-gallon jug of water. I buy big bottles of water all the time, and they typically last me a few days. You can find them at any CVS or Walgreens.

Find a hotel with free breakfast – There are plenty of hotel chains that offer complimentary breakfast. Hilton and Best Western have several brands that always have this amenity.