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Nonguests crash hotel breakfast buffets

Many hotels offer a free breakfast buffet in the stiff competition for guests -- and some local deadbeats are taking advantage.

By Karen Datko Dec 2, 2011 5:05PM

It's 8 a.m. and the free hot breakfast buffet at the hotel is in full swing. Among the traveling salesmen and happy vacationers are local folks who've snuck in. 


Barbara De Lollis wrote at USA Today's Hotel Check-in blog:

Bottom line, according to hoteliers and frequent travelers I spoke with: In some hotels that offer free breakfast buffets, this has been a known problem for years.

David Minsky at Short Order, the Miami New Times food blog, calls it "urban foraging."

With a full breakfast bar of pastries, cereal, fruit, yogurt, a waffle maker, prepared eggs, bacon, sausage, juices and coffee, who wouldn't want to try and take advantage of Hampton Inn's bangin' free breakfast?

One reader of New Times confessed: "I have done this!!! While I am so not proud of it, I was short of cash while traveling and there was a hotel at the off ramp. So I had a quick snack and off I went." That prompted howls of condemnation from other readers. Post continues below.

Another reader said that during a trip to find work, he'd spent all his money on gas, but found enough change here and there in the car to buy something at McDonald's. "It was very embarrassing, but stealing food is not an option for me," he wrote.


If you're not a guest, chowing down at the free hotel breakfast buffet is theft, no matter that your chances of being caught appear to be small at some establishments. It's far worse than, say, sneaking food into the movie theater.


It appears that hotels don't deal with the problem in a uniform way. Some will let you cheat -- once. Show up again and you'll be told to leave or you may be asked to compensate the hotel for your meal. Rarely, it seems, are police called.


Because the problem is so common, some hotels now ask people to show a room key before they can partake of the buffet.


What do you think -- urban foraging or thievery?


More on MSN Money:

Dec 2, 2011 5:41PM
yes it is theft -  I take advantage of hotels that offer free breakfast.  I know it is built into the price I pay and I prefer these hotels.  Obviously anyone who sneaks in without paying for the food or the room is stealing from me, not the hotel.  They will hike their prices to offset this.  It's just like stealing from the grocery store or any other store.  They should be prosecuted.  it raises the prices for the honest customer.
Dec 3, 2011 12:10AM
We stay at Holiday Inns in Mississippi when we visit relatives.  They give away the leftover breakfast food to homeless people in the area.  I told the manager how nice that was and she said "You never realize the value of a warm meal until you go without one." She was homeless for years and felt the need to give back.  Since she is a franchisee, it comes out of her own pocket.  Rather than look at the negative aspect of things, let's think of the good this does.  But to you folks who just get it to be getting it and can afford food, shame on you.
Dec 3, 2011 1:15AM
Theft is theft whether its a penny or a million dollars. To justify theft on the premise that he was hungry is wrong. I'm sure if a hungry person would just ask, they would get a meal. I personally have never turned away anyone who ask me for a meal. Oh, police man, I robbed that bank cause I was out of money. BS. You can justify anything if you try hard enough. When I'm traveling, I don't want poachers intruding. There's no grey line here, theft is theft and that's all it is too it.  
Dec 2, 2011 6:27PM
It's definitely stealing and unfortunately hotels will probably be forced to eventually stop offering buffets.  When I travel to see relatives about every 6 months I stay at the same place because it's nice(platinum rated)clean, convenient and yes they offer free breakfast which i take advantage of.  The last time i was there in October 2011 the most irritating thing was not only were the employees out there eating but their spouses and children as well.  I was taken aback by that because it seems extremely unprofessional.  I didn't say anything which i know i should have but i usually write them a really good comment card and leave a good tip, neither of which did.
I frequently stay at Hampton Inns when traveling for work. Recently my boss was paying for 6 people to stay at the Hampton Inn for 5 days. He flew in for a one day visit and arrived at breakfast time. I asked at the front desk if there was a problem with him having breakfast and they said "absolutely not". This is different than crashing the buffet but Hampton Inns has their priorities straight.
Dec 3, 2011 4:53PM

I work in a hotel during the breakfast's stealing.

You stealing means we have to prepare more food.  Preparing more food drives up our cost and waste.  Driving up our cost means we will have to raise our rates or make cuts elsewhere that is detrimental to the employees. 
McDonald's has a dollar menu.  There is no excuse for stealing.

Dec 3, 2011 5:00PM

The question was simple--is it theft or not?  It's amazing how easy many people are diverted from a simple question. 


I think it's theft.  If it's not in the agreement for what you're paying for, you're not entitled to it. 


Regardless of how much one wants to justify or make your ethics 'situational', if it's purpose is for the guests of the hotels, then anyone else who takes the food is stealing it.  Very clearly.  Now just answer the question..........

Dec 3, 2011 2:23AM
I travel for business several a year, and I enjoy staying in hotels with buffets. Eating at a buffet without staying in the hotel is definitely theft. What chaps me is finding the buffet items gone because of non-guests, and the hotel doesn't bother to restock it. Kinda defeats the benefit when there is no food at the buffet and I have to go elsewhere. 
Dec 3, 2011 4:32PM
What do you think -- urban foraging or thievery?
What a stupid question.  Dumpster diving behind the local restaurant or super market is urban foraging.  Sneaking into a hotel and pretending to be a paying guest while gluttonously making your third trek down the breakfast buffet line is STEALING.  PERIOD.  But if you are still in doubt, why not ask the legitimate, paying hotel patrons who are in line with you, what their opinion is.
Dec 3, 2011 4:35PM

It's stealing and it's wrong that's it   !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dec 2, 2011 10:39PM

Theft. Urban foraging my foot. David Minsky should be fired.  Nice example to encourage theft to one's blog readers. "Who wouldn't want to try and take advantage of Hampton Inns bangin' free breakfast?"  Honest people, that's who. Why not go up to the floors and wait until the housekeeper isn't looking  and snatch some bangin' personal  toiletries off the cart? Gee, the toiletries are free!   Free when you pay to stay.


Theft of food/ leaving without paying for food or lodging is called by law "defrauding an innkeeper" and depending on which state it occurs in can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony.  Because "hospitality" businesses try to maintain a positive atmosphere they are usually more likely to experience this kind of theft whereas a department store will rightly take a thief right on in to the office for the police to arrive.

Dec 3, 2011 3:43AM
Recently, I had the unfortunate opportunity to stay at a hotel during a "visit" to the cancer center for treatment.  The hotel offers a breakfast buffet daily for their guests.  By the time I was able to get down to the breakfast it was ravaged by these uncouth scavenging nonguests.  Nothing was left except a few containers of orange juice.  There weren't enough guests in the hotel to do that kind of damage.  As a matter of fact, you could follow the trail of empty milk cartons, wrappers, and small breakfast food boxes down the street to another hotel. Sometimes "urban grazing" takes more away than people think.  Since my insurance doesn't cover most of the treatments I have to take, most of my money goes to the hotel and for treatments.  Those free breakfasts, in most cases, are life savers....literally.
Dec 3, 2011 10:33AM

It is theft pure and simple.  I'm sure that the "free breakfast buffet" is included in the price I pay for the hotel.

And BTW, it's not the same as bringing your own snacks into a movie theater.  I pay for the ticket to see the movie, but I will not pay $4.00 for a bottle of water that cost the theater 10 cents.

Dec 3, 2011 12:09AM
Do like Crown Plaza does, issue the guests that qualify Free Breakfast Passes and make sure the Buffet people collect the passes or the fees.  What's the problem.....
Dec 4, 2011 10:52AM

Maybe I shouldn't split hairs here, but, in this case, I'm going to look the other way.  Funny how we condemn our OWN Americans for being extremely hungry, so hungry, in fact, that they've swallowed their pride to "steal" a meal, (and, yes, it IS stealing), yet we gladly gleefully give away our resources, food, and everything else to non-Americans, 3rd world countries, and empty out our pockets to those who would kill us if we turned our backs for a moment or so.  And, to boot, it's not OUR will, but our government's will, so we are constantly being stolen from, whether we like it or not, and we get persecuted if we are unwilling to empty out our pockets and refrigerators to those who hate us.  Thanks, I'd rather give it to a deserving American in our own country than to have it "stolen" from me, against my will, and given to those who hate my guts.  And don't EVEN say that's Obama's fault, or you will sound quite childi**** been going on forever-----hate your own and do good for those who hate your guts.  There IS a passage in the Bible that talks about a person (at that time, a man, in that culture) being worse than an infidel if he gives to the entire world, but fails to feed and clothe and protect his OWN family, as he cannot make up for his shortcomings by giving to the undeserving foreigner who really actually has no rights to what is not his or hers, legally.  But let's be really nice and continue to take it out of our own people's pocket books, so that they, too, will have to resort to stealing hotel food.  And, by the way, take all of our corporations overseas and give those jobs to foreigners who will suck off of the American people's jobs, so that we don't have any.  I am not jobless and haven't been for 18 yrs or so, but I "feel"  God's love for those who do/are?  WHAT are you thinking!!??  Judge not lest you BE judged for your own wrongdoing (I know I'VE done plenty of wrong in a lifetime, but I know that you are all perfect, aren't you, duh??)






Dec 3, 2011 10:40PM
Dec 4, 2011 6:12PM

I was involved with a Embassy Suites several years ago and this was a problem then. 

 The insistence on presentation of a room key to participate in the free breakfast ultimately became the best solution to the problem but until it was instituted, the loss as a result of freeloaders ran the hotel several thousand dollars a week. 

The hotel guests were charged a dollar or two extra per night to make up for the loss.  They were the ones who ended up paying for the deadbeats just as always. 

 Honest people always end up paying for the shop lifters, and all of the other people who feel that they are entitled to take whatever they can get away with. 

A total lack of ethics and morality that is still all to common in our society today.

Dec 2, 2011 10:30PM

i traveled on the road for almost 30 years.if you are opening new territories as i did it requires

2 years before a salesperson will beging to see a is the salesperson responsibility to budget his money to last for the trip.i an unexpected espense arises,then it become scary if you are travelling on a close matter,this is not anyone elses concern.i have had penny suckers for dinner:no breakfast or whatever to make it thru the week.hotel/motel did not offer a complete (maybe a danish).if you aren't willing to make sacrifices to be a success in your chosen profession;do something else.stand on the street corner with a sigh.those people are more honest than a freebie scrounger

Dec 3, 2011 5:32PM
Thievery! The hotel had to purchase the food, and they did not do so to feed non-guests. If they wanted to feed the hungry, they would donate their excess to a food pantry. This is where people go to eat, when they cannot afford to pay for their food. I actually know people with money in the bank, who would do something like this to save money...........does that sound fair to anyone????
Dec 3, 2011 7:54AM

Theft pure and simple. Almost as annoying are the registered hotel guests who show up for the free breakfast unshowered in their bathrobes and slippers!

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