Web Exclusive | October 2016 | By Bruce Horovitz

Shaking Up Room Service

At the Chicago Athletic Association, Shake Shack's famous burgers and fries can now be delivered right to a guest's hotel room door.
Guests staying at the famed Chicago Athletic Association Hotel can order Shake Shack's signature dishes directly to their room. AJ Trela

If you were creating an institution from scratch that had its nose stiffly thrust in the air—and its membership utterly exclusive—it might be the old Chicago Athletic Association.

Way back in 1890, when a World’s Fair precursor came to Chicago, the Chicago Athletic Association was built as a monument to the wealthy with soaring ceilings, detailed millwork, and marble staircases. Back then, membership was mostly limited to prominent business icons like William Wrigley, Marshal Field, and Cyrus McCormick.

That was then. 

This is now: The historic building re-opened several months ago as an iconic but public-embracing hotel in downtown Chicago with an unlikely lure—a Shake Shack restaurant located inside the hotel has its food delivered, piping hot, to guest rooms. 

That’s right, Shake Shack burgers and fries delivered right to your hotel room door within 15 minutes of your order.

While such unusual partnerships are not necessarily the future of fast casual dining—or of Shake Shack—the move does signal the need for constantly seeking creative ways to expand market share in an ultra-competitive environment.

For Shake Shack, which had never before offered any kind of hotel room service, this was a first. And for the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, which was eager to turn an old, stodgy image into a welcoming one, Shake Shack was a perfect PR vehicle.

“Shake Shack was a no brainer,” says Michael Mason, director of restaurants and bars at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. “We wanted to make the guest experience as special as the building they’re in.”

And what will make the guest experience more special than to have a ShackBurger, Cheese Fries and, perhaps, a decadent Shack Attack dessert delivered to your hotel room from a hotel employee whose mission is to get that food to your room, pronto.

Just how popular is it? Well, over the first month of Shake Shack in-room dining service, orders for Shake Shack food have accounted for roughly 30 percent of all room service orders, the company estimates.

“Shake Shack has certainly become a cornerstone of our hotel,” says Patrick Hatton, general manager.

The three most popular items, in order: The ShackBurger, Cheese Fries, and SmokeShack.  “They want the Shake Shack experience,” Mason explains.

But there’s a price for having it delivered to your room. While the Shake Shack room service menu prices are identical to those inside the restaurant, the room service also adds on a $3 delivery fee and an automatic 20 percent gratuity.

Shake Shack’s room service at the hotel is doing “very, very well,” Mason says. And that’s before the hotel and Shake Shack have had time to piece together various promotional offerings that are on tap for the future.

The hotel and Shake Shack are currently exploring various guest packages—perhaps involving a Shake Shack meal along with a special activity—that might be part of Shake Shack room deliveries, Mason says. 

Although the Shake Shack food is delivered by hotel employees, it doesn’t arrive on a silver, room service platter, but in the same, familiar bags that guests received who order the food to go. That’s in order to keep the food hot—and the packaging familiar, Mason notes.

Every item that’s on the Shake Shack menu is offered for room delivery, Mason adds.

But the delivery service isn’t limited to guest rooms. It’s also available for banquets and meetings held in the hotel. Due to the bustling lunch hour at the restaurant, however, the room service hours are limited to 3 to 10:30 p.m.

Shake Shack executives declined to comment on whether or not the chain will consider expanding room service to other hotels—such as at the New York New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where it also has a location.

But even if other hotels eventually do latch on to Shake Shack room service, well, Mason is OK with that. “We’ll always be the first,” he says. “This place was trend-setting 125 years ago, and we’re still doing it now.”

Bruce Horovitz, a freelance writer and marketing consultant, is a former USA Today marketing reporter and Los Angeles Times marketing columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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