Arriving at a boutique London hotel recently, I heard uttered the most magical sentence in the English language: “You have been upgraded to a suite.”
Among my newly acquired perks was a complimentary mini-bar and upon checkout I duly emptied its entire contents into my bag. The artisan sourdough-flecked chocolate, little mints, herbal tea bags and Fever-Tree tonics were an obvious choice. But I couldn’t simply stop there. In too went the roast beef crisps and cranberry juice – both of which I despise – and, well, everything else.
I had slight concerns my father, who I was staying with, would judge my grabby ways but turned around to see him delicately wrapping an already open bar of slippery soap in layers of loo roll – the notepad, pens and envelopes were already in his case.
It was a vaguely pathetic scene, but one that will be familiar to many – and it occurred to me that we were just one step away from the infamous Friends episode where Ross pilfers everything from ornamental pine cones to light bulbs and batteries from an upmarket B&B in Vermont (his overstuffed suitcase eventually bursts open in the lobby).
The character’s ethos was as follows: “You have to find the line between stealing and taking what the hotel owes you. Hair dryer, no no no, but shampoo and conditioner, yes yes yes.”
The fine line
For some, however, that line proves elusive and it’s often far more than the toiletries that disappear at the end of stays. For their part, hoteliers are equal parts amused and dismayed by our collective kleptomania. Paul Bayliss, general manager of the New York-themed brand Hotel Brooklyn, which has outposts in Manchester and Leicester, suggests there is nothing guests won’t try and pinch.
“Guests taking pens, pads and bath products is the norm, but we have also had some who have taken cushions, pictures, quilts and even mattresses and televisions,” he said.
Further afield, Bengt Mortstedt, owner of Bequia Beach Hotel in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, recalls one guest checking out early and stripping their room of all bed linen, blankets, towels and pillows. In scenes worthy of a low-stakes television drama, staff managed to catch the thief, who had travelled direct from hotel to ferry terminal to make their getaway from the island, by boarding their ship just before it left the harbour.
Over the years, high-end hotels have reported a number of pricey items pilfered. A marble fireplace somehow went missing from the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire, while in Hong Kong, a chandelier was stolen from the Shangri-La and a $300,000 Andy Warhol artwork from the W hotel. On the other end of the scale, Travelodge has apparently seen myriad curtains and mirrors stolen.
While the motivation for taking pricey artwork is obvious, the compulsion to stuff our bags with low-value items is worth examining. My own take everything (within reason) approach in hotels does not translate to my regular life and I’m certainly not savvy with spending or always on the lookout for a bargain. But something happens when it’s time to check out: I must have it all, even if I don’t really want or need it – as evidenced by my attic full of flimsy hotel slippers.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott suggests that when we take items from hotels we are looking to preserve our holiday experience. He said: “Hotel guests can’t resist taking home these amenities as they’re mostly about keepsakes for the memory. It’s a harmless fetishising of the experience. “Investing in objects with emotional content and meaning is something that starts early. Think of a child’s special blanket, which stands in for the actual experience of being hugged. We develop this capacity to carry relationships into other things and then can project into other objects, so we take the stuff as a way of holding on to the experiences we had.”It should be said that most of us do know where to draw the line – clearly swiping a couple of Earl Grey tea bags is not comparable to a lamp. Toiletries are usually seen as fair game, though this has become trickier now that mini plastic bottles are being phased out in favour of larger refillable receptacles.
The Artist Residence group, for example, which provides full-size bottles of Bramley bath products (with a retail price of around £20) in its boutique UK properties, advises guests that while they are welcome to lather up during their stay, if the shower gel is removed they will be charged. Other hotels bolt bottles onto the walls to deter light-fingered visitors, which does jar slightly in higher-end establishments.
Up for debate are the likes of coat hangers, batteries (from the remote control, for example), light bulbs and loo rolls, which are unlikely to see you charged but perhaps should lead to some thorough self-examination.
Home from home
As hotels increasingly embrace a trendy home-away-from-home aesthetic, they may see themselves more likely to become the victims of theft, as guests get a little too comfortable or fancy helping themselves to a slice of the lifestyle.
Millennial-focused Max Brown hotels, which has properties in Amsterdam, Berlin, Dusseldorf and Vienna, reveals that vinyls and record players are regularly taken from rooms, as well as funky vintage phones and kitsch salt-and-pepper shakers. In turn, guests sometimes leave behind unusual items – it reports once finding knickers in a kettle.
With larger groups now styling themselves as lifestyle brands – see the success of Soho Home, whose candles and throws are a must in the mansions of Montecito – theft might become less of a problem. Paul Bayliss of Hotel Brooklyn says: “We make it easy for those guests who want a little souvenir by letting them know they are all up for sale (almost every item in the room), so if they take something they are actually buying it. We found this approach works as our guest losses are minimal.”
Indeed, if everything is already costed-up and accounted for, minibar-style, it makes it much easier to stymie clandestine steals. Psychologically for guests too, taking something you know can be purchased online or from a gift shop which has a definitive price tag, rather changes the action from a cheeky swipe to an outright theft.
Ultimately, if you really fancy that trinket, then the message is you’re welcome to it, but you should be prepared to see it show up on your bill.
While policies vary, here is a general guide to what is acceptable to take home from hotels. Of course, though you can take these items it doesn’t mean you necessarily should, particularly given the general industry-wide push to be less wasteful.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.
Have you ever taken anything home from a hotel? Share your experiences in the comments below
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