Why Doesn’t Signing the Bill to Your Room Get Horribly Abused?

Speaking of hotels, I’ve always wondered about this: when you sign for something in a hotel, there appears to be no controls to confirm that you are, in fact, a guest at that hotel. It seems like anybody could walk in off the street, order a lobster, sign it to a random room, and take off. Does this happen, and how often?

I asked Chris–he left a comment on the aforementioned post–from Vacant Ready, a social network for hotel workers. Here’s his lengthy but informative reply:

Abuse happens a LOT (overall), and there isn’t always an easy fix.

Clearly the hotel in Budapest is relying on the judgement of their employees and the innate honesty of people(?) in their restaurant outlets. I’m not surprised to hear that, given the intrinsic need to trust that one’s guests will pay to receive hospitality. Obviously trust is the main ingredient that keeps the machine moving forward, and for the most part it works.

…not always though. I have seen all kinds of fraudulent behaviour throughout my hotel career…massive credit card fraud, restaurant “walk-outs”, plain old theft….and certainly people capturing names & room numbers and abusing the system. It’s a fact of life in the hospitality industry, and total losses through fraud are huge for the industry as a whole.

Servers in hotels are usually required to immediately match a room number with a name when accepting a charge posted to a guestroom, but it’s after the fact and can not always be rectified. Then you get guests who are honest, but you simply can’t ready the room number or the name!

When a guest checks into a hotel, the desk agent should never be saying a room number and name out loud together in case someone is listening in the lobby. Housekeeping room attendants have to also be careful never to leave their “assignments” in the open in case people glance at the sheet and capture that golden name & room number combo. Bellmen using radios have to be careful never to mention a room number & name in the same breath….because someone could always be listening.

To your point, anyone can theoretically eat in a restaurant and sign any old name and room number, and it might get missed by the server. It shouldn’t, but it absolutely happens. It’s the “Service” vs. “Security” quandry that is very real in the hospitality industry. We need to protect our assets and collect money for services rendered, but we also need to show gracious hospitality or we’ll lose customers. Manditory credit cards or pre-payment for hotel rooms has helped a lot from the rooms side, but F&B definitely gets abused.

Hotel law in North America is guided by the Innkeeper’s Act, which was developed based on a similar Act in the U.K. The document specifically states that hotel guests and restaurant patrons have a fundamental right to receive “hospitality”, as long as they 1) “Seem” to have the ability to pay, 2) Do not pose an obvious threat to the security of fellow guests & 3) Are not presenting signs of a communicable disease (the plague maybe?). As you can see, these are pretty vague and are heavily in favour of protecting the guest. When the Act was initiated, hotels were safe havens where travellers could find peace & not to be robbed or killed on the road. That’s where the tone of the Act began.

Well, there you go. You do, as the idiom goes, learn something every day.


  1. I vaguely recall my brother-in-law telling me that they often keep a signature book & room number list near the restaurant in smaller hotels. This is because smaller hotels can’t afford the loss. So they check the details on anyone who seems sketchy. But not for everyone and not in larger hotels (where there are numerous restaurants and the front desk is not nearby). My BIL is a restaurant manager in the hotel industry.

  2. Interesting reading.

    There’s another, bigger scam going on in some of the larger hotels here in Edinburgh. People dressed in business suits are walking into the hotel conference facilities around lunchtime and walking out with laptops and other valuables.

    No-one seems to be checking for delegate badges.

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