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Tray Charge vs. Service Charge: Understanding Hotel Charges.

Updated: Jan 18, 2024. Walter Ray.
Tray Charge vs. Service Charge: Understanding Hotel Charges. - Cover Image
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When we stay at a hotel, there are many additional services offered for our comfort and convenience. One such service is in-room dining, which allows you to enjoy meals in the privacy of your own room.

However, this convenience often comes with additional fees that can sometimes cause confusion among guests. Two charges that often raise questions are the service charge and the tray charge.

If you’ve ever wondered what these charges entail, let me try to provide some clarity.

Service Charge on In-Room Dining.

A service charge on in-room dining is basically an added fee that covers the cost of providing this convenient dining option. For hotels, delivering food to your room involves extra labor and resources compared to serving food in a restaurant setting. This includes time spent by staff taking orders, preparing trays, delivering meals from the kitchen to individual rooms, and then clearing away dishes after meals.

This charge is usually calculated as a percentage of the total bill (typically around 10-20%), but it can also be a fixed amount depending on the hotel’s policies. It’s important to note that this fee is not a tip for the server. It’s an operational fee meant to cover such costs associated with running an efficient in-room dining service.

Tray Charge.

The tray charge (also known as a delivery charge), on the other hand, is specifically related to the physical delivery of your meal from the kitchen to your room.

This fee helps cover some costs associated with transporting food throughout large hotels – including time spent by staff carrying trays up elevators or down long corridors and any equipment needed for transporting meals.

In contrast to a service charge which varies based on your total food bill amount, a tray charge is typically a fixed amount per order regardless of how much you’ve ordered.

Should you tip if you are already paying a service charge, or a tray charge?

This depends on the policy of the establishment and the country you’re in. In some locales, the service charge goes straight to the business, not to the staff, so a tip may still be welcomed.

However, elsewhere, the service charge is shared among staff as part of their salary. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to inquire. Keep in mind, tipping is typically a way to show gratitude for excellent service.

At the same time, fairness towards customers also needs to be considered. If you’re already paying an additional 15% to 25% on top of already pricey food, it might be unreasonable to expect further tips from you.

Another junk fee?

If you’re wondering whether tray and service charges are akin to hidden or junk fees like resort charges, you are not wrong.

Some hotels include these charges in their menu prices, while others add them separately to your bill.

While many hotels might allocate the additional funds gathered to their staff, the majority may not follow this practice. In fact, many hotels will add such charges just because they can. Even if it doesn’t cost them a penny extra for in-room dining.

A simple and less confusing solution would be to include all charges in the price of the dish (some hotels already do this). This allows for fair compensation of employees and spares guests from spending excessive time calculating their final bill.


In essence, while both charges relate to in-room dining experiences, they cover different aspects of it. The service charge is a broader fee that helps cover a range of costs associated with offering in-room dining, while the tray charge is specifically tied to the delivery process.

It’s always a good idea to ask about these fees when checking into a hotel or before ordering in-room dining, so you can avoid any surprises on your bill.

In conclusion, understanding these charges can help you make informed decisions about using hotel services and manage your travel budget effectively. Remember, all charges and policies can vary from one hotel to another, so it’s always best to inquire directly with the hotel staff for specifics.

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