When room service is dismal, it makes you long to be home in your own bed. When it's great, though, you don't care if you ever see your home again. The hotels that understand this will send up the kitchen's absolute finest--no rubber chicken or diamond-hard melons--but they'll do much more than that. We perused room service menus the world over in search of hotels that go the extra mile, places where a call on the bedside phone can procure, say, real Loch Fyne kippers, a personal mixologist or a star chef's signature dish. You want your breakfast delivered by canoe? No problem. Here's where to go.
the best specialties
A true power breakfast, with high-energy carrot-ginger juice and a super healthful fruit salad of papayas, berries and mangoes, kicks off the day at London's One Aldwych.
Snow-white mozzarella, blood-orange juice and jet-black espresso are breakfast staples at the Cipriani in Venice.
Om food--or, more precisely, macrobiotic cuisine--is offered at every Ritz-Carlton hotel in America.
Poached finnan haddie, Scots porridge and Loch Fyne kippers (the holy grail of Scottish fish) are available at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland, and, like all other breakfast items, they're included in the room rate.
A daily special available only through room service (recently it was Pacific snapper with oak-grilled vegetables and cilantro sauce) might be the most exclusive meal you can get at the very exclusive Beverly Hills Hotel.
Regional comfort foods are featured on the new "Just Like Home" section of the room service menu at any Hotel Inter-Continental. There's chicken quesadillas in Los Angeles, deep-dish pizza in Chicago and--at any Inter-Continental in the United States--meat loaf and mashed potatoes.
The entire cheeseboard appears on a trolley that rolls to your room when you order a simple piece of cheese with your café complet at The Ritz in Paris.
The best wake-up call in Canada is found at Hastings House on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. A basket of pastries is discreetly placed inside your door, filling your room with the smell of freshly baked muffins.
the best chefs
Jean-Georges Vongerichten will send one of his sous-chefs from Jean Georges to prepare dinner in the kitchenette of your suite at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City. (We hear that Vongerichten may get his own hotel soon, but his restaurant will probably stay put.)
Hubert Des Marais of the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach will dispatch guava-glazed short ribs or Caribbean lobster stew to guests who want to savor both his South Florida cuisine and the ocean view from their balconies.
Christian Delouvrier doesn't oversee room service at The St. Regis in New York City, but the staff can be persuaded to deliver a few choice items from his restaurant, Lespinasse, such as baked Fuji apple filled with foie gras.
Patrick O'Connell of The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, will send up breakfast (cottage cheese pancakes with fresh huckleberries) or afternoon tea.
Jean-Louis Palladin serves up modern takes on brasserie food at the restaurant in The Time hotel in New York City. A few of his lighter dishes, such as the tartare of ahi and hamachi with seaweed gelée, are available through room service.
the best romance
A strolling mariachi trio serenades guests during a five-course candlelight dinner on the oversize beachfront terrace at Villa del Sol in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
A yellow flag above your cottage at Petit St. Vincent Resort on St. Vincent signals that you'd like a steward (who zips around in a golf cart) to take your food order. Later, a red flag communicates your desire for total privacy.
"Sanctuary of love" service from the International House in New Orleans supplies a sugarcane stalk, a statuette, a candle, a feather, a gris-gris charm--all the prerequisites of a voodoo courtship--as well as a bottle of Champagne. With a little more notice, the hotel can even arrange for a local "matriarch of mambo" to redecorate your room.
A fireside supper in your cottage at Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont, might be bouillabaisse in a copper pot or some other warming meal. A waiter brings the food, uncorks the wine, stokes the fire and closes the door.
White sand and candlelight set the mood at Cap Juluca in Anguilla, where waiters can serve dinner on the beach.
The engagement menu for men intending to pop the question at Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Los Cabos, Mexico, comes with a contingency plan: six full courses if she says yes, an abridged version if things don't work out.
the best staff
Sommelier Mark Walter will step up to your room and guide you through the wine list at Chewton Glen in New Milton, perhaps England's finest country-house hotel.
An expert mixologist from the bar at Loews Miami Beach Hotel will be dispatched to your door on request to stir up a fresh and icy batch of martinis.
A bicycle-riding steward balancing a tray in one hand makes special deliveries to your cabin at Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta. This service is only available in the summer; during ski season, cyclists have a hard time in the Canadian Rockies.
Your personal butler at London's Lanesborough can provide virtually anything, including a StairMaster. He'll place it beside your Chesterfield sofa, but first he'll wait until a heat-sensitive infrared sensor tells him that you've left the room.
A crew of tree trimmers will put up a small tree in your room and then decorate it if you come to the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, during Christmas.
A canoeist paddling a flower-bedecked outrigger will ferry breakfast to your bungalow, which is suspended above the water at the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort.
Sprinting waiters will dash to your private villa at the Malliouhana on Meads Bay in Anguilla so that the chef's soufflé will arrive before it starts to deflate.
the best extras
Your own toaster arrives with the breakfast tray at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona.
"Black napkin service" at the Four Seasons Olympic in Seattle means that your meal comes with a special black linen napkin that is supposed to keep dark suits lint-free.
A terrace with its own grill is the secret amenity of Room 1831 at The Regency in New York City. The staff will tend the fire, making for a decidedly Upper East Side barbecue.
A rum punch awaits guests who've had an in-room Balinese massage at Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos.
Twenty-one pieces of china and cutlery accompany a simple Continental breakfast at the Dorchester in London. Almost everything sits on its own plate, including the water pitcher and the starched white linen napkin.
Fugu, the potentially deadly blowfish delicacy, is prepared by a specially licensed chef at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. After dinner, assuming all goes well, there's a shiatsu massage.
A pitcher of Goldeneye cocktails (light and dark rum, lime juice, sugar and cherries) is delivered to your villa every afternoon at Goldeneye, Ian Fleming's former estate in Oracabessa, Jamaica. James Bond would approve.
Don Johnson and his new bride, Kelley Phleger, at the Ana Mandara Resort in Nha Trang, Vietnam. After their wedding in June, they celebrated with a Champagne toast and local oysters on their veranda with the executive chef in attendance.
Brad Pitt at The Otesaga resort in Cooperstown, New York. After a tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame, he went back to his room and ordered burgers and beer.
Paul McCartney at the Soneva Fushi Resort on Kunfunadhoo Island in the Maldives. McCartney requested "villa dining" at a table in his private garden on the beach; a waiter lit the candles, served the meal, then slipped away.
Kevin Costner at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows on Hawaii's Big Island. Costner took many meals poolside, served by a hotel-assigned private butler.
Celine Dion at Le Bristol in Paris. Following each of her Paris concerts, the Canadian diva has a 2 A.M. dinner sent up to her penthouse suite to feed her family and other select members of her 100-person entourage.
Bruce Springsteen at his four-bedroom suite in the Waldorf Towers in New York City. After he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, the Boss requested a pound of beluga caviar, an entire terrine of foie gras pâté, a raw bar, Roederer Cristal--and Budweiser.
Everett Potter is a room service addict and freelance writer who lives in Westchester County, New York.