Etiquette Questions: What Do You Do With Your Room Service Tray When You’re Done?

Filed Under: Hotels

I have a hotel etiquette question for you guys. When you order room service in a hotel and finish it, do you:

  • Just leave the tray or cart in your room?
  • Place the tray or cart right outside your door and not inform room service?
  • Call room service to let them know that you’re done? If so, do you place tray or cart outside for them to pick up, or leave it inside until they knock?

Sometimes when a room service order is delivered I find that they ask you to call when you’re done with your order. If they tell me that, I’ll call them when I’m done, and place the tray outside. If they don’t tell me that, I’ll just place the tray outside my door. In my opinion any hotel employee who sees a tray in a hallway should remove it immediately, or otherwise call someone to remove it.

At the hotel I’m staying at right now, there has been a tray outside the door of the room next to me since I checked in yesterday (it has been about 16 hours), and I’ve seen several housekeepers walk past and not do anything. To me that’s a bit ridiculous, and shows employees taking a lack of pride in their hotel.

But I’m curious, maybe I’m looking at this wrong. What’s the correct procedure when you’re done with your room service tray (I’m curious to hear about this both from the perspective of hotel staff and guests)? Should it be safe to assume that any employee that sees a tray should have it removed immediately?

  1. Depends, if its something that smells or if the room is smallish and I need the space I just leave it in the hall by the door. Fully agree that any employee who sees this should either pick it up or notify the right department to do so.

  2. If it’s been sitting outside the room next door for 16 hours and you want it to go away, call. Clearly it’s not going anywhere soon………..

  3. @Curt and @Ryan on point — any hotel luxe enough to offer room service should also be proactive enough in hallway patrol and cleanup.

    A corollary etiquette question is what to do with a pizza box or something like that, that wasn’t from room service but is too large or smelly for the trash can in your room.

  4. Every hotel I’ve ever worked in or managed has had collateral on the tray inviting the guest to leave the tray outside the door for collection. Then you have procedures in place for Food & Bev teams to do ‘floor checks’ a couple of times a day (generally after breakfast and after dinner or more frequently depending on the star rating).

    I find this a good balance between labour cost control and a lack of intrusiveness…

    No excuse though for housekeeping to ignore it, if they can’t clear it then at least they can communicate to someone who can!

  5. I place it outside the door and call if requested. They know I ordered food, so should know there will be a tray to pick up. I also fully unfold my napkin and place it over the tray so people don’t have to see my leftovers as they walk by.

  6. Might also be because of unions. Back when I worked at a hotel, I wasn’t able to do a few things like help a guest with their bags as only the bellmen were allowed to do that. The room service attendants might be the only ones who are allowed to deliver/clear the room service trays. If taking room service trays from the hallways isn’t a part of their responsibilities, unionized housekeepers don’t have to clear the trays. It’s crazy but I even had banquet attendants who refused to grab certain things (ex. carafes) from the storage room even though they needed it, instead they’d have someone else grab it for them.

  7. If it is just a tray I will put it outside my door when I am done with it. Someone whether it is housekeeping or another employee should remove the trays when they see them. Other times if travelling with others and we order a lot of food they might bring a small roll-able table that you can eat from. In that case when I am done I will call room service to come and remove it from our room.

  8. On cruise ships with the typical narrow hallways, they’re pretty adamant about *not* putting the trays outside the door. Mostly, I leave them in some corner of my solo-occupied room, and they’re picked up by the morning cleaning the next day without fail.

  9. Always place outside and call if they ask you to. I don’t want to wait for them to pick it up as it’s indefinite and I’m usually doing work and need the desk or going to sleep

  10. If another hotel guest leaves a room service tray outside their door, is there anything wrong with helping yourself to what they didn’t eat? My question assumes that the tray hasn’t been sitting there for 16 hours…

  11. The “standard” etiquette for disposing of a service tray is to put it outside the door [with or without calling to have it picked up], but it might depend on the circumstances, e.g., if I had ordered a late night dinner or breakfast, then I would just leave it in the room for it removed when the room is serviced.

  12. How is room service still a thing?

    Unless it’s after the bar/restaurant closes and you’re starving, why in the hell do you pay the ridiculous prices and fees?

  13. In luxury hotels they ask that you phone for pickup. I always phone no matter where I’m staying.

  14. As a former Housekeeping manager for a Hyatt property, the service standard is that any employee is to collect the tray from the hallway and bring it to the service area on that floor. However as @J notes, there are exceptions in some properties where union bargaining agreements don”t allow for certain employees to perform certain duties, in those cases the employee is to notify the responsible staff at their soonest opportunity.

    As to guest etiquette, it is always best to call room service and notify them your done and setting the tray in the hallway. Usually it will be collected either the next time there is a delivery to that floor, or at the end of the current shift when the servers are supposed to “walk” the floors and collect any dirty tray’s.

  15. I call them. And if I forget they usually call me. But, in the past ten years I’ve only stay at Four Seasons and Aman

  16. I leave it outside but decently arranged.
    The splatter all over the place is something II have never understood.

  17. Unless requested to, or unless I ask to do so over the phone I wouldn’t put the tray out in the hallway in order to keep it clean. I’d keep the tray on a table with all the plates stacked properly on top in an easy to remove manner for housekeeping the next day. If it’s a cart I’d didn a good spot unless I really do need the space the. I would call ahead and ask to leave it in the hall outside.

  18. I’ve worked at hotels and this was a known problem. At some hotels the rule was that at the end of each shift the people who deliver food were supposed to walk the halls and clear out the trays they saw even if it wasn’t delivered during their shift. Some people disliked the idea of having to clear out trays from other shifts, but the rule was it didn’t matter whose shift the tray came from since guests could place trays out at different times/hours so in the end it should even out. Housekeeping carts were small and wouldn’t accommodate all trays and they were focused/busy on their duties so if they saw trays their job was to call Room Service to have them clear it out. In the end it was all about management and team work. The hotels that weren’t well run didn’t have clear policies and didn’t enforce similar rules and it would show on surveys from guests. My recommendation is to make a note of it as hotels do pay attention to feedback and if it is recurring or enough of a hot topic they will make it a priority to focus on resolving it. I don’t think it is your job to police room service trays of other guests and in the end it should just disappear without you even having to call… I travel now for work and I rarely call the hotel I am staying at. Depending on what I order I will leave it in room or place outside. I judge hotel based on how long that tray sits outside. Based on what I know I expect it to be cleared within 8 hours or less. Typical shift is 8 hours.

  19. Donna spoke for me.

    At the Park Hyatts in DC and Sydney they actually set the table and place the food as if you’re in a restaurant so one has no choice but to call for removal.

  20. @J OK perhaps they aren’t allowed to physically remove it but I cannot imagine their contract forbids them from notifying the allowed group that there’s a tray that needs collecting!

  21. As J mentioned, the union situation can also affect a lot of things. At the luxury NYC hotel I work at, housekeepers simply cannot touch them, as it’s the room service department’s (also union) job to remove them. While one could be well intentioned, they could very well have a grievance filed against them. Though fortunately, usually our butler will call down to have them removed

  22. The etiquette is to call and have it removed, why do people think it’s ok to leave trash in the hallway for other guests to see?

  23. I actually just got a survey from Marriott today asking how many nights have I stayed in the past 12 months (100+) and how many times I used room service (0). We’ll see what they are trying to do!

  24. I never call. I just put it outside my door and in the morning, the room service tray fairy has always picked it up. The fairies have never let me down. Now, if I have a rolling table, and I can’t figure out how to get the ‘wings’ down, I’ll just leave it in my room. I never call.

  25. I think you’ve nailed it on the etiquette front as all three are fine. It’s down to your preferences and whether you are happy to have it sit in your room, or will be heading out for a bit.

    Re leaving it in the room, you know the rough housekeeping schedule for hotels, and the wider hotel schedule, rooms get serviced between 9-11am and turned down between 6-7pm. Housekeeping will take it to the floor station, but in almost all hotels, room service and house keeping are different departments and so if you leave it outside the door, housekeeping won’t touch it, so whilst I understand your logic, I’d very much disagree with the statement that ‘any’ employee should move the tray, but I agree with you that they should page the correct department, BUT then again, should they, every time they walk by as there’s always a tray outside a room in a 200+ room hotel… it adds duty-clutter, and as well staff can’t get ketchup on their cuff mid-shift, and even room service guys cant, so it does seem to all get done at once in a lot of hotels by the room service shift. If they ask you to call, then of course, that’s the right thing to do.

    Personally if it’s breakfast, I’ll leave it neatly on the cart in the room as they’ll be servicing the room shortly, if it’s late at night, I’ll put it outside the door, if I have a small room and I put it outside early afternoon or evening, and it’s still there late evening, but before 10/11pm (night service switchover), I’ll call down to notify, if it’s after that I obviously won’t. I never notify of other guest’s trays unless they’re a trip hazard or they make the hallway smell gross.

    I like @Erica T’s suggestion of covering it with the knapkin, not only does this cover the gross left overs, it also contains the smell!! Good thinking.

  26. I dont think there is a correct procedure. It’s up to the hotel. The few times I ordered room service, they told me to place the cart outside when finished and someone would collect it.

    Usually it’s at night when i get room service. If the cart is still there in the morning, I’ll call to let them know its there.

  27. I’ve seen lone champagne glasses left outside doors, as if the rooms were too tiny to accommodate extra glassware. Really, if you are so disgusted by the sight/stench of your room service remnants, don’t order anything. No one else wants to see, smell, or trip over your tray either.

  28. I always call to let them know I’m done. I mean — it takes about 15 seconds and I figure it is common courtesy to the hotel and to other guests. If I am heading out for the day, I just leave it in the room. If I am sticking around, then I put it outside the door.

  29. I don’t know how this is “etiquette”, etiquette is polite form, it is neither polite nor impolite to not do someone’s job for them. The hotel is supposed to meet your accommodation needs, and accommodation traditionally includes catering meals, hence the terms full and half board.
    It is the hotels responsibility to deal with the tray and ideally they should allow you an hour or so then perhaps call and check if you’re done, if it’s late at night it’s a bit more difficult because you might have slept, in which case I usually call them and tell them I’m going to bed, so come and collect the tray. I also call them when leaving the room to tell them to clean the room to assist them or if they haven’t picked up the tray. That’s what I do but it’s just what I do it’s not really “etiquette”. I personally think just leaving it in the hall and saying nothing is a bit strange (the room is your space the hallway is shared, and also I don’t think I need to roll around the hotels tray carts as a guest) but I would think it’s a stretch to call it incorrect etiquette or bad manners.

  30. To be honest I find it pretty rude when guests leave their room service trays in the hallway. Fair enough they don’t want to see their left over meal sitting in their room, but at the same time I also don’t want to have to walk down the hallway and see the tray and left over meal either. It’s pretty selfish in my opinion! Once I’m done with my meal I ring room service and ask them to come collect the tray. I may not want the tray to be left in my room for me to look at, but similarly I don’t think it’s right that other guests should have to look at my left over food either! Regarding the hotel tray being left for 16 hours on the floor, well that’s just ridiculous. In my opinion any member of staff should collect the tray as soon as they see it, whether it be the hotel manager or the porter, they should all be responsible.

  31. I just leave it in the room somewhere. Either I’m checking out the next day or it disappears during the housekeeping service.

  32. Perhaps the tray was left by one of those Spirit Airlines ruffians that you’ve been consorting with as of late.

  33. At a recent stay at an (otherwise fantastic) hotel in Cape Town, there was a room service tray outside the room across the hall from us we checked in. The next evening it was still there, and I alerted reception. The following morning, the wine glasses had been removed, but the tray and food scraps were still there. When we checked out two days later, the tray still had not been removed. It was quite disgusting, as the hallway now started to smell like rotten food.

  34. I’m mostly ordering room service late in the evening and I almost always just leave the tray on the table/desk and go to bed, not wanting to go out into the hallway or be bothered with a phone call/pickup. It doesn’t bother me. If they roll in a huge cart and I need the space I’ll roll it out but I’m not very good about calling to have it removed. In this case I at least try to make the tray tidy or lay my napkin over the dirty dishes.

  35. I usually call when done to let them know I’ll put tray in hallway. it drives me crazy if tray still there hours later or next day. I know housekeeping can’t remove generally but room service really should do a sweep/collection at end/beginning of each shift
    at a luxury hotel in London I ordered dinner and sorbet for dessert, they delivered dinner only so sorbet wouldn’t melt and asked when they should return with dessert at which time they’d remove the dinner tray and ask when to return for dessert dish removal.

  36. Reminds me of our stay at a (fabulous) Hyatt AI in Mexico last summer. Every time we left our room we’d say, So, do you think the dead fish is still there? Personally, I think anything sitting in the hallway makes the establishment look trashed, so I would expect someone to clear it asap.

  37. Put tray/cart outside and then call up, unless it is breakfast on check out day I’d probably just leave that

  38. I never put it outside the door , as when I see somebody else’s leftover in hallway it grosses me out . I call them as soon as I am done and they take it from my room directly same way they brought it.

  39. Depends. If I in a single room, I place it outside the door. If I am in a suite, I keep it in the suite.

    In both cases, I’ll call down and let them know I am done.

  40. Leave it outside the hall and say nothing. Someone should pick it up. Lucky, maybe it wasn’t the same tray and the hotel guest just ordered the same meal again.

  41. Not even a question. Move it outside in the hall, they hire people to make sure the place is clean for a reason.

  42. I was recently in a hotel in Bangkok that about 45 min after delivery called the room to ask if I would like my room service items removed. They were really on top of it, or really needed to re-use the tray.

  43. I’ve only ordered room service in two hotels (Peninsula in Beijing, Omni in San Francisco), but left the trays outside my room because I’ve seen so many room service trays left outside of hotel rooms. I thought this was the norm! Unless I’m crazy tired and just want to sleep ASAP, I’ll have to start calling down to let them know that I’m done. 🙂 Good to know what the consensus is!

  44. I don’t order room service because it’s too expensive. I also find hotel rooms to be depressing places and I spend as little time there as possible. It’s nice to get outside in a new place and explore, try new restaurants and meet new people.

  45. tray or table whichever they bring I leave it outside when I am done. And no I am not calling you to come get it i have better things to do. i pay extra for the meal, you deal with it. tough noogies.

  46. To the people leaving the tray/table outside without letting anyone know because “it’s their job”, “they should know”, “I paid for the meal” or whichever reason: Your behaviour is disgusting.

  47. It really bothers me to see trays with leftover of food sitting outside in the hallway. That is just disgusting. However, hotels should have people walking around time to time checking on those. Otherwise, just a call letting them know you left outside the door wouldn’t hurt.

  48. Well we’ve learned that:
    Unions are ridiculous.
    It’s OK to just put the tray in the hallway.
    Some people can’t figure out why anyone would order room service, ever but still have opinions about it.
    Type A people can’t stand the tray in the hallways.
    And many people like calling room service more than once while others don’t.

  49. I call for removal – and give them thirty minutes. IF the server does not return in that time frame everything goes into the hall. I call and let them know. It is on the hotel if they don’t retrieve the tray.

  50. Lucky, I know that looked like a tray of food sitting in the hallway for 16 hours, but it is actually part of the carpet design.

  51. @Charlie McMillan

    Depending on how Lucky books the room and/or what his status gets him, he sometimes gets F&B credit from the hotel that he would rather use than spend money out of his own pocket at a restaurant outside of the hotel.

    Hey, the constant pimping of priority pass cards only goes so far, gotta save spending coins whenever he can…

  52. @Julia – good point. But if he has a F&B credit then he could go to the hotel restaurant or bar, better than watching CNN in your room while you eat… Breakfast in bed however, well that’s another thing! But I still prefer to go local and spend my own money, the experience is worth it to me.

  53. Usually I have breakfast and then leave the hotel for the day so I don’t call and just leave it in the room as I know housekeeping will deal with it.

    If I am going to be staying in the room after breakfast I put it in the hallway. Housekeeping will also deal with it as in the morning they are going throughout the halls.

    If it is any meal other than breakfast I put it in the hall and call.

  54. Dont put tray out in the corridor in third world hell holes like the Philippines . You end up with rats running up and down the corridor . Big And fat ones , he he he , you are also feeding the cats and cockroaches!

  55. I could not figure that one out. so I just don’t order room service. It’s only a short elevator ride to the restaurant in most hotels.

  56. At the Four Seasons, there is a feature in the iPhone app one can use to indicate that you wish for your table to be picked up, which is what I always use. Alternatively, the in-room iPad offers the same functionality.

  57. Call and then put outside the door, if it’s a tray.

    Union labor rules or not there is no excuse for a tray to be left out for 16 hours. Housekeeping could inform room service if they notice it. However I usually call specifically to ensure the tray doesn’t sit for hours.

  58. Just dial 0 to get them to remove it. Even though you have informed it might take up to 5 hours to see them removed. Most hotels don’t have the SOP to petrol the hallway. Employees have became robotic, it do sounds like common sense that I ordered food and they should know and come and collect it back or Housekeeping passed by and inform their colleagues . Just call :)

  59. If the tray is small, I’d typically leave it in the room for pick up the next day while the room is being serviced. If it’s a rolling table, I’d roll it out of my room and call for pick up. I’m typically in my PJ’s when i’m in the room and would much prefer to be left alone. The times I called to have the room service items removed from the room, I ended up waiting around for housekeeping to come before I was able to hit the shower.

  60. Show of hands please…How many people leave dirty dishes and left over food on the hallway floor at home?

  61. what i considered the best is to push to the tray outside and call the room service for clearing which i always do anytime i found myself in hotel room.

  62. I think it is just nasty to leave a food tray outside your room expecting someone from the hotel is going to see it in a matter of minutes. If it is so disgusting in your room, then it is equally disgusting for other guests to have to walk by it. Plus, leaving food on the floor just makes no sense. You ordered it by phone so call by phone to have it removed.

  63. I just leave it in the room. Housekeeping can pick it up or call someone to pick it up. I’m usually too busy to coordinate getting everything together and putting it all on the tray, calling someone, etc.

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