The iPad has revolutionized the way guests order room service at the swanky Hotel Bel-Air in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. No longer do they need to pick up a paper menu sitting on their desk and call in their order for scrambled eggs and coffee.

These days, 75% of people who order room service place their order via the iPad included in their room.

The hotel had expected that maybe 50% of orders would be made using the iPads, after the hotel reopened with newly redesigned rooms that include one of the devices. “It was a surprise,” Bel-Air General Manager Denise Flanders told me during a phone interview.

Still, the 75% statistic is noteworthy because it’s an indication as to how rapidly people are embracing newfangled tech offerings in their hotels – especially at a time when more hotels are undergoing renovations and considering installing new customer technology.

Some higher-end hotels are already using the iPads to replace the old-fashioned paper brochures that describe the hotel’s features such as spa offerings, restaurants and local information. A small-butgrowing number, however, are taking it further. They’re letting guests conduct hotel business once done over the phone, such as requesting a special pillow or extra towels, making restaurant reservations, booking a spa treatment – and ordering room service.

Room service orders: A feeling of efficiency

The Hotel Bel-Air requires guests to place a room-service order at least 30 minutes before they want it delivered, Flanders says, but often guests place their orders even farther in advance. It gives them a feeling of efficiency.

“People view it as a way to make their life easier,” she says. “They put down exactly what they want. It’s the luxury of saving time.”

Impact for the kitchen?

In many cases, the iPad orders help the kitchen plan better since the majority of orders are made in advance of the 30-minute minimum, she says. Many guests will order an hour before they want their meal, and then use the time to jump in the shower and get ready. “It’s not just an immediate call,” she says.

Once an order is made, explains Adam Jones, the hotel’s tech chief, the iPad system run by Intelity communicates to the kitchen software run by Micros. The order is printed out for the room-service team and fired automatically to the specific department, such as the beverage team for coffee orders or the team making egg dishes. A manager watches the orders and make sure it all happens in a timely manner, he says.

“People view it as a way to make their life easier. They put down exactly what they want. It’s the luxury of saving time.”

- Denise Flanders, General Manager

Learning Curve

The adaption of the iPad for room-service wasn’t without its problems. In the beginning, guests would sometimes find that their hotel-room iPad didn’t work when they entered the room, requiring a phone call.

The key to overcoming that basic challenge, she says, was training. Employees from all departments were trained on how it works so that they could answer guests’ questions in case they’re ever asked, she says.

“With any new opening you go through a learning curve. Technology was no exception,” she told me. “We needed to go through this process to get to peak performance.”

When a guest checks in, a front-desk agent escorts them to their room and explains how to use the iPad, as well as the high-tech Alcatel phone and Bang and Olufsen television.

Future use for iPad

In the future, Bel-Air guests will be able to conduct more hotel business on the iPad, such as placing a reservation for a facial or massage and perhaps ordering items from the retail shop, Flanders says. Her first goal was getting the room-service technology down to a science.

The hotel made the transition to the iPad, by the way, when it reopened last October after a two-year closure during which guest rooms were massively overhauled. The hotel was also equipped at that time with other cutting-edge technology such as above-average Internet bandwidth and Bang & Olufsen flat-screen TVs.

The hotel wanted to offer guests extra bandwidth because every couple that checks in now brings with them an average of 2.5 devices – including, often, their own iPad; families who check in bring as many as seven devices, Flanders says.

The goal was to invest in technology that will remain relevant for the future, which would include people who are in middle school now.

iPad vs telephone: No contest with youth

To get a feel for what the young set might think about the iPad option today, I asked my in-house expert – our 11-year-old son, who loves my iPad as much as he loves ordering room service when he’s in a staying in a hotel with his grandparents.

I asked him if he’d rather place his room-service order via a paper menu and phone, or an iPad. Without missing a beat, he said iPad, but sounded surprised. “Hotels actually have that?” He assumed it would be too expensive for them to buy a device for each room.