How do we control the excessive taking of food in our complimentary breakfast?
July 11, 2010 5:25 AM   Subscribe

How do we control the excessive taking of food in our complimentary breakfast? My family and I own and operate a Comfort Inn. We offer a free continental breakfast: coffee, toast, bagels, frozen waffles (you just pop them into the toaster), apples, bananas and a lemon cake that we cut up into small slices. Frequently we have people who take it upon themselves to take way more than they need. We can understand someone taking a bagel to go for later in the day but these are guests who will take 15 extra plates, half a loaf of bread (I kid you not, just empty out the sack onto a plate and then take fifteen to twenty small packets of peanut better and/or cream cheese). My mother believes that we should place some carefully worded sign next to breakfast in the hopes that people will be considerate of others as well as management and only take what they will eat. Too often people take because they assume they have a right to take. How could we word such a sign without insulting the guests or make them feel like we're being rude?

Here is the problem, we're a franchise and so we're beholden to the big name that is outside the building. People frequently feel the need to complain and will do so at the drop of a hat.

How could we word such a sign without insulting the guests or making them feel like we're being rude. I don't think it's possible and that we just have to deal with these jerks who steal from us. It's difficult for my dad and I to watch this because we see every cent in every piece of bread or every cup of coffee.

People just assume that because it's a complimentary breakfast and that they've paid for the room, that they then have license to take as much food as possible.

So basically I want to you think a sign will work? If so, how would you word it so that it doesn't come off as a rude statement from the hotel management.

"Please eat wisely!" "Don't steal our sh*t!"

Thank you.
posted by Fizz to Work & Money (94 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
My limited experience is that hotels control for this by putting out very limited amounts of food at a time. If there is a breakfast area with 10 people and only 10 donuts, people will be a lot less likely to grab extra.
posted by gjc at 5:32 AM on July 11, 2010 [15 favorites]

People just assume that because it's a complimentary breakfast and that they've paid for the room, that they then have license to take as much food as possible.

I hate to state the obvious, but from the guests' perspective this is a perfectly reasonable assumption.

You have a couple of choices here:

(1) Stop providing breakfast.

(2) Charge for breakfast.

(3) Increase room rates to cover the breakfast costs.

(4) Eat the loss.

A sign won't do much of anything.
posted by dfriedman at 5:33 AM on July 11, 2010

Best answer: Put out drastically less food, but replace it quickly. People won't go overboard because they don't want to take the "last" of something if there are other people in line.

Instead of having individual packets, prepare a bowl. You can do this for spreads, cereal, even yogurt.
posted by acidic at 5:38 AM on July 11, 2010 [18 favorites]

Response by poster: I hate to state the obvious, but from the guests' perspective this is a perfectly reasonable assumption.

So it is reasonable for a room with two guests in it to take 4 or 5 extra bagels as well as 4 or 5 frozen waffles and stuff them into their purse/bags?

We're mandated with providing a breakfast and our rates are competitive with those in the area. We're a mid-sized hotel with 75 rooms (two floors). Our breakfast area seats about 10 guests at a time. We provide trays for people to take the breakfast back to their room.

I personally do not think a sign will work, nor do I feel like there is a way to word it so that we do not seem rude or petty about our breakfast. But the family wanted some general feedback.
posted by Fizz at 5:38 AM on July 11, 2010

If offering a complementary breakfast is standard practice for Comfort Inns, then I would ask other franchise owners and/or corporate for advice on how other owners handle this situation.

Another option would be to only put out a small amount of food at a time. You'll have to restock it more frequently, but having a smaller amount of food available at any one time will discourage people from taking so much because people generally don't want to take most of the food or the last of the food.

But, before you do anything -- how big of a problem is this, really? Once you start looking for something you're going to notice it a lot more, even if it's not happening that much (think of how often you notice cars of the same make and model as yours out of all the cars on the road). Maybe you should spend a week monitoring the breakfast and recording how often people are actually taking "too much" food and how much "excess" food they're taking, then calculate how much this behavior is actually costing you. If it's only costing you an extra $50 or so a week, well, although it's annoying and rude for people to be doing that, your time and energy are probably better spent focused on reducing more significant expenses or increasing revenues than on trying to police such a small thing.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:40 AM on July 11, 2010 [8 favorites]

Also, maybe nix the bagels, peanut butter, and cream cheese. By only offering toast and butter and jam you'll be discouraging the idea of using the free breakfast as lunch. Since your customers are short-term I don't think they'll even realize what they're missing.
posted by acidic at 5:41 AM on July 11, 2010

Maybe a sign that says, "We'll be happy to pack your breakfast for you, if you would like it to go." Then when they ask, you can gently control the quantities.
Another idea is to put out a stack of lunch bags with a sign that says, "One bag limit on take outs please."
posted by lee at 5:43 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I see this happening when I stay at Comfort Inns; I wish I could take the nifty waffle maker with me -- that thing makes the best waffles!

But, I agree with putting out less more often. It also gives you the opportunity to be available to manage the situation in person. My personal experience with signs is that they barely work even when people read them.

Would it be less likely for people to abuse the breakfast if someone was standing nearby and giving them the stink-eye?

I get the feeling that people that are this abusive are impervious to tact and subtlety, so you have to come right out and say something along the lines of "Our goal is to provide you with breakfast today. May I suggest some places along your route to stop for lunch/dinner/feedbag refillage?"
posted by kidelo at 5:46 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

A sign won't prevent people from taking food. They will just ignore the sign.

All you can do is limit the amount of food that is available, and be prepared to eat the loss. Just write it off as a cost of doing business, just like you do when people take the little shampoos and towels from the rooms.
posted by twblalock at 5:46 AM on July 11, 2010

Is it possible to plate the food on the buffet, ie put 2 halves of a bagel or 2 slices of toast on a plate with the butter, rather than having the whole bagged loaf and a tub of packets. Assigning a staff person to stand behind the buffet to refill the plates might have an ameliorating effect.

Agree that a sign won't be sufficient. These people already know that they're taking more than their share. It's their due.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:47 AM on July 11, 2010

whoa, everyone is so fast this morning
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:51 AM on July 11, 2010

Response by poster: But, before you do anything -- how big of a problem is this, really? Once you start looking for something you're going to notice it a lot more, even if it's not happening that much (think of how often you notice cars of the same make and model as yours out of all the cars on the road). Maybe you should spend a week monitoring the breakfast and recording how often people are actually taking "too much" food and how much "excess" food they're taking, then calculate how much this behavior is actually costing you. If it's only costing you an extra $50 or so a week, well, although it's annoying and rude for people to be doing that, your time and energy are probably better spent focused on reducing more significant expenses or increasing revenues than on trying to police such a small thing.

We have tracked the losses and they are fairly significant. I do not know if it is Karma or what but frequently the guests are who staying at discounted rates are the ones that abuse the braekfast the most. There is a frequent stay program in our chain and so we routinely have guests who are using their "points" to stay for free.

Somehow it is always these free-loaders who will consume the most food. And it's not just the food, people will stock up on extra cups, paper-plates, cutlery, napkins by the fistful. These are all costs that add up and we notice because we're constantly having to restock these items and purchase more stock.
posted by Fizz at 5:51 AM on July 11, 2010

I don't think a sign will work, in part because there are so many signs in mid-range hotels that it's becoming insulting although I guess it's necessary ("No Smoking", "We count the towels, so don't steal them", "Put this sign on your bed if you don't want the sheets washed", "Call this number for a pizza", "Internet available", "Dog walk is at the side of the building", "This room costs $X per night", and so on, plus the hangers without the top part, etc., which imply that I will walk off with anything not nailed down).

Maybe, offer breakfast foods that are hard to put in a purse, such as scrambled eggs. Or, serve the food in a cafeteria style (they hold a tray, you fill the plate for them). Or, offer pre-boxed breakfasts ("Breakfast on the Go!") so that to steal the person must ask for 12 boxes or whatever. But, that means you have to buy boxes....

FWIW, I disagree that it is a "reasonable" assumption on the part of the customers that paying for a room means you get free breakfast for the week. They (should) know that this is basically stealing.
posted by Houstonian at 5:52 AM on July 11, 2010 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Would it be less likely for people to abuse the breakfast if someone was standing nearby and giving them the stink-eye?

I work and manage the front desk which is just a few feet away from our breakfast area. So whoever is at the front desk is responsible in the mornings for keeping the breakfast stocked and ready for our guests. I do not give a rude face but I do frequently walk by so that people can see that we are noticing how much food they take. But this does not stop them. As everyone has stated, guests feel as if they deserve to take because they've paid and they are going to take as much as possible.

It seems the best solution is to stock a bit less and hopefully people will feel shamed into taking only what they need so that they do not appear greedy in the eyes of other guests who are waiting in line for food.
posted by Fizz at 5:55 AM on July 11, 2010

It's what they paid for - at least, that's their perception. Hell, that's my perception if I've paid a premium price for a hotel room, the amenities are part of what I've paid for, whether you call it 'free', 'complimentary', or any such. I'd hesitate to think of it as a loss, but as a cost of doing business, as has already been stated.

Get an intern or assistant to physically restock / watch the area. That way, there's no complaints about the empty baskets / bowls. The individual-serving-sizes HAVE to be more expensive than just putting out a large bowl (maybe a little less sanitary, but a lot harder to transport away).

If any sign would make a difference, I'd suggest putting up one that says 'no food allowed outside of the area' (or lobby or wherever). The policy of letting people take TRAYS (?!) up to their room should be over. Now.
posted by chrisinseoul at 5:57 AM on July 11, 2010 [10 favorites]

Research has shown that a poster with eyes on it causes people to more often pay for "honor system" coffee, because they feel "observed". This might work.

Or you can just post an employee in the dining area, for the same effect.

That said, these people are being rude, but they're not technically stealing. As an all-too-frequent hotel guest myself, if I feel as if you're looking at me as a "jerks who steal[s] from us" rather than as a guest, I'm going to be pissed off. Pissed off guests don't care if they're screwing with your bottom line.

Take a hint from the Holiday Inn Expresses: same crappy breakfast (though they add eggs), but in my experience, much better trained staff, staff who smile and greet me, who remember my name and my preferences, and who always address me as "Mr." or "sir". (And so I remember their names as well, and always leave a good tip for the maids.) Every hotel has beds and toilets -- if you want to distinguish yours, it's all about service.

Guests who feel good about the service will feel bad taking advantage of the buffet.

(Also, on a personal note, I despise Comfort Inns. The "continental breakfast" is pretty crap, and not usually worth getting up for. And the weird shower fixtures -- with all the mold-attracting but otherwise useless cavities and indentations just annoys me. And always full of bus-loads of loud kids on school trips.)
posted by orthogonality at 5:58 AM on July 11, 2010 [9 favorites]

Another idea is that you could say, "Please call reception in the morning, and we will deliver your complimentary breakfast to your room." That provides portion-control. But, like the boxed breakfast idea it has an associated cost (labor) which may or may not be greater than the cost of theft.
posted by Houstonian at 5:58 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The individual-serving-sizes HAVE to be more expensive than just putting out a large bowl (maybe a little less sanitary, but a lot harder to transport away).

Comfort Inn policy dictates specific individual serving-sizes as well as specific name-brands when it comes to certain types of cheese or peanut butter (thank you very much Philadelphia).

The idea of removing trays is a good one though. It does encourage a certain amount of "taking back" to the room.
posted by Fizz at 5:59 AM on July 11, 2010

I can see why you might need to limit your costs here, but this is not theft, and your customers are not freeloaders. They may be gaming the system, but it's a system you've signed up for. There's no rule guaranteeing that you get to make a profit on every customer.
posted by jon1270 at 6:01 AM on July 11, 2010 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: We are always polite to our guests and I make a habit of referring to everyone as Mr., Sir, or Miss. or whatever is appropriate.

And we do not take food off of the trays of guests who are staying with us. We understand that it is apart of our service and we know that having a nice and clean breakfast area with good food will keep guests coming back. But the cost is high and tourism is down in this area.

Thanks for all of these suggestions though. At the end of the day I'm going to talk them over with my family and figure out how we can control some of this.
posted by Fizz at 6:02 AM on July 11, 2010

Best answer: As a frequent guest of Comfort Inn- I love the generally good free breakfast! However, I have seen the behavior you describe and it disgusts me.
I think talking to other owners may give you some tips, but also I've noticed that frequent refills of relatively small amounts of food seems to cut down on this as well.
Worst case scenario, a camera posted near the breakfast showing the culprits' actions may shame them a bit. I wouldn't hesitate to post a pleasant note along the lines of "Hey folks, don't forget to share!"
I once worked at a company that provided lunch for its employees on Thursdays. Until, folks starting sneaking in friends, family members and storing enough food the siege of Stalingrad. Then management rightly took away that particular benefit.
Good luck!
posted by pentagoet at 6:03 AM on July 11, 2010

Comfort Inn is one of my favorite places to stay when I travel. Lately a lot of them have gone to waffle batter and a waffle iron. That would eliminate the freeloading on waffles anyway. Likewise, skip the little boxes of cereals and get a couple of bulk dispensers. With a little thought it shouldn't be too hard to make it a lot harder to load up on take out. And definately nix the trays. Anytime I've taken food back to the room it's been a balancing act of plates and bowls on my arm. I don't think I've ever seen a tray at a complementary breakfast.

And if really it that significant of a loss maybe it would be cheaper to hire a college kid to stand behind the breakfast line to manage portion control.
posted by COD at 6:06 AM on July 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

I think that putting less food out will work, or, at least, help. Of course that means you probably have to put an extra member of staff out there so that might not be feasible.

Just to chime in with my opinion here though - I completely disagree with the posters that state that they think they're entitled to grab whatever they can just because they've paid (or used their points) for a room. But I worked in the hotel industry for a couple of years so maybe I drank the kool-aid.

And I'm sure you're right about the discount guests being the freeloaders, doesn't that make sense to you? The less they're paying the more value they're going to try and extract from the experience. I'd be willing to bet that these guests submit the most complaints as well.

Good luck.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 6:07 AM on July 11, 2010

The Comfort Inn I stayed in last week had a small sign to the effect of "Please take as much as you want for breakfast, but eat everything you take." It was sitting on the microwave and I didn't notice it until the second day.

They also seemed to follow the "limited quantities, restock often" strategy. Smallish stack of plates, cups, etc. Three bananas at a time, four of each kind of bagel. There as a lot of coffee cake sitting out, but it's so crumbly that nobody carried it off. :)
posted by WowLookStars at 6:07 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could serve stuff that's not easily taken. Like eggs or put the peanut butter in a jar or bowl instead of individual packets. You could portion out the bread and waffles onto plates, and put the bag/loaf away. Could you have waffle irons with the batter in a dispenser? I've seen those at hotels. They're really hard to steal.

I'm not sure peer pressure is enough for the people you are describing. I've seen them, and they're shameless. They are on vacation, and they do not care about anybody but themselves. They will not be courteous to the other guests. The have gotten a deal (a steal!) on a hotel room, and they will milk it for what it's worth. I'm not sure those people can be stopped, unless you have very close supervision of the breakfast (someone serving the food, etc).
posted by bluefly at 6:07 AM on July 11, 2010

My last idea: Talk to someone who runs a Homestead Suites. At least at the ones I've stayed at, they had a room that was kinda like a convenience store in that it had little boxes of just about everything from shampoo and tampons to peanut butter crackers and sodas. There was a price tag on the shelf for everything, and a lockbox with a slit in the top. No employees worked in the room, and it is entirely on the honor system -- you are supposed to add up the cost of anything you take, and drop the money in the lockbox. I'm sure they have some people steal from them, but somehow it is working for the majority otherwise they'd not do it. How does it work for them, to offer so many packable items in an unmonitored room? They do have a sign explaining what to do and that it is on the honor system....
posted by Houstonian at 6:08 AM on July 11, 2010

Research has shown that a poster with eyes on it causes people to more often pay for "honor system" coffee, because they feel "observed". This might work.

Or you can just post an employee in the dining area, for the same effect.

I've seen the same studies - with newspapers in train stations (where people are in a hurry and don't want to queue just for a newspaper) - they found not only were people more likely to pay, they paid more when their was an eye painted on the 'dispenser' or nearby. But a member of staff being in the dining room (not on the front desk a few feet away - right next to the table with the food). I've seen hotels do this under the guise of someone coming round giving you refills on your tea/coffee or clearing tables. Some people will not be deterred even if they were called out on it, but most people are less likely to give in to their greed if they're being watched.
posted by missmagenta at 6:11 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

FWIW, the Comfort Inns I've stayed at recently have had cereal in bowls, not individual packages; relatively few items out at any one time; and, in one case, no trays.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:13 AM on July 11, 2010

The only real answer to this is to hire someone to serve the breakfast.
posted by HuronBob at 6:14 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd get rid of the trays and anything else that might make it easier for them to carry away a ton of stuff.

I realize this doesn't work for things like butter and jelly, but I'd get rid of as much single-serving stuff as possible. I've stayed at Comfort Inns and the cereal is often loose in a dispenser, so you can only take as much at a time as will fit in the bowl. Also, waffle batter that you have to pour into a waffle iron is better than frozen waffles.

How about slicing the bagels before putting them out? If they're sliced they'll get stale faster and that might make them less desirable for saving for later.
posted by cottonswab at 6:18 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

You've got a few different ideas here, so why not try them all out, one after another, and measure the results?

Here's my idea: Ask each group of guests verbally to please eat their breakfast in the buffet area. Hopefully this sounds more like "we don't want egg on the carpet" rather than "we think you are thieves". Then if guests start removing the breakfast, you can say politely to them, "We don't allow guests to remove the breakfast from the buffet area. I can get you a plate if you'd like to sit and eat that here. We could deliver a breakfast to your room tomorrow if you'd like?"

If you suspect there's a market for packed lunches, you could try upselling those to your thieves.

Also, serve breakfast over a shorter time so that there are more guests around.
posted by emilyw at 6:20 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

My first thought was what HuronBob said--could you have someone staffed at the buffet? Some folks are absolutely shameless but I have a feeling that most of them will lay off if they're being stared down. This person can be standing there, smiling and greeting people, and never say a word about portions.

A sign with vague wordage ("Please be respectful of other guests enjoying breakfast") but I don't know if people will make the connection.
posted by ista at 6:23 AM on July 11, 2010

Get rid of the trays! Unless you're forced to have them by Comfort Inn, and then just move them somewhere totally out of eyesight. That really is just encouraging excess food grabbing. I don't think I've ever come across a continental breakfast where there were trays for that exact reason. If I had to take food back for a family member who stayed in the room, I'd have to juggle plates and I'd still feel all shameful-like.

I worked at a Super 8 that later became a HIEX oh so many years ago, and it had the same setup with continental breakfast and the desk several feet away, but I did an evening shift most of the time so I can't remember if they used any "please do not take food from breakfast room" signage (also, I would grab toast and bagels from the kitchen for dinner now and again, but in my defense the owners paid way under normal hotel wages for the area).

Do you have more than one employee in the mornings to both run the desk and handle breakfast? If so, you should be able to restock food often. If not, it might be hard - you run the risk of getting complaints because goddamnit, I hadda go without toast for THREE WHOLE MINUTES because someone was checking out!
posted by kpht at 6:24 AM on July 11, 2010

1. Attempt to precisely enumerate the real costs of this issue. This will allow you to assess what it makes sense to do anything about it.

For example, you could remodel your breakfast area to provide seating for all your guests, or you could employ extra people to deliver breakfasts to people's rooms - but would these cost more than they would save?

Or there could be other areas where there are bigger inefficiencies to be tackled.

2. You could rework your breakfast offering, or the presentation thereof, so that only inexpensive things are uncontrolled.

For example, some hotels offering a complimentary breakfast will have things like bacon and eggs served canteen-style, while things like cereal are on a serve-yourself basis. Or you could use cheaper produce for the more frequently exploited offerings.

3. You could change your provision of crockery and serving utensils to make large portions harder to take.

For example, I've stayed in hotels where the plates and bowls are small, and there are no trays; one cannot fit more than two bread rolls per plate, and one cannot carry more than one plate per hand. In another hotel, cereal was dispensed with a dessert spoon, making it time-consuming to take a large helping.

Of course, if one takes such portion control so far, your hungrier guests will go back for a second helping - and as such may take more in total.
posted by Mike1024 at 6:25 AM on July 11, 2010

Best answer: I hate to state the obvious, but from the guests' perspective this is a perfectly reasonable assumption.

No it is not reasonable. At all. This is a very ugly end result of America's obsession with the phrase "the customer is king" - just because you can take all of the individual packets and stuff them in your bag doesn't mean that you should, or that it is "reasonable".

I think a sign is fine - it won't stop everyone, but it will almost certainly reduce the behaviour. Buffets always have signs along the lines of "Please take only as much as you can eat."
posted by molecicco at 6:32 AM on July 11, 2010 [32 favorites]

Before we all jump on the ugly American, I've seen this happen in 'budget' lodgings all over Europe too, by Australians, Germans, French, Spanish, Italians, Israelis, etc. (with the associated "oh my god I can't believe my fellow countrypeople are like this" grumblings from other travelers of the same nationality). Heaven forbid the hostel should leave the Nutella packets unattended, it's open season.

There's a high-end sushi buffet here in NYC that has signs everywhere about how you have to eat what you take, can't just eat the fish and leave the rice, and who charges for takeaway containers. I know you need to worry about people complaining to corporate but can you put up a sign that says "Your complimentary breakfast is meant to be consumed here, takeout containers are available for a $5 charge"?

Also, make someone ASK for a tray, don't put them out there.

Use name brand cereals, but put the cereals in dispensers, don't put out the little boxes.

I do think the solution is to have the buffet constantly staffed, have someone make eye contact with the guests, etc. Again, some people have no shame.

The problem is, though, the that worst offenders are just going to ignore it and take everything anyway.
posted by micawber at 6:50 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recently stayed at a hotel chain (sounds like "Shmilton") that had the same deal. They served small quantities of hot food that I wouldn't want to save for later (egg and cheese in a tortilla, pancakes) as well as small portions of cereal, bagels etc. that were refilled often. I thought it was really great to get a hot breakfast as most of these free breakfasts with your stay are cold, but now that you mention it, they were probably just addressing your problem.
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:55 AM on July 11, 2010

Best answer: Perhaps a tactic you might take is to make the customers more aware that the hotel is a family-owned business that happens to have a big chain name outside. People are less likely to take advantage of kindly Mr. & Mrs. Fizz and Family than Great Big Comfort Inn Corporation. Signs to the effect of "The Fizz family welcomes you to their Comfort Inn" and "The Fizz Family hopes you enjoy your breakfast." (with pictures of the Fizzes even) may be more effective than something potentially reprimanding.
posted by Morydd at 6:58 AM on July 11, 2010 [29 favorites]

Taking a different tack, I wonder if there's a way to make it more clear to your guests that this particular hotel is operated by your family - maybe a sign at the check in desk that says "Owned and operated by the Fizz family and we are happy to serve you." Part of the problem may be that the guests see it as stealing from big faceless Comfort Inn corporation that wouldn't be hurt by an extra half a loaf of bread or whatever. But if they know that it's a family, trying to make a living, it may reduce that feeling of entitlement.
posted by misskaz at 7:01 AM on July 11, 2010

Ah, Morydd beat me to it!
posted by misskaz at 7:02 AM on July 11, 2010

I haven't read much here, but I think a sign would work fine. I would phrase along the lines "Please take only what you need for breakfast. Of course, an extra bagel for the day is fine."

In general make people understand what's the norm and what isn't. A list of photo of a "normal breakfast" might do. Most people won't go beyond the norm, if they see it. Maybe a little bit (because "they're so hungry"), but not much (because "they're not greedy or gluttons").

In corporate environments psychological experiments have shown (no, no source here :-) that a photo of some critical eyes lets people take less because they feel observed. Maybe you can find some other means of faking observation?
posted by oxit at 7:03 AM on July 11, 2010

Try attacking this problem from another angle. Start using whatever customer relationship management system you have to identify profitable and less profitable customers. Cater to your whales and marginalize your small fry, or attempt to extract greater value from them. Regardless of how breakfast turns out, you should be doing this anyway.

But if you could say that Person X was the one that took all the bagels, maybe Person X doesn't get a discount on his room ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:05 AM on July 11, 2010

"Please enjoy your breakfast in our lounge area."
posted by GaelFC at 7:25 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Put up a poster with a picture of eyes.

Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting

We examined the effect of an image of a pair of eyes on contributions to an honesty box used to collect money for drinks in a university coffee room. People paid nearly three times as much for their drinks when eyes were displayed rather than a control image.
posted by Jakey at 7:25 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

JMHO, I travel a lot, and I always add places with signs that treat me like a child to my "never stay again" list.

I'm trying to do the math here. A box of waffles is $3 for 10. A bag of napkins is $1 for 100. So if every guest is paying $50 a night for a room (and this only happens in the Middle Of Fucking Nowhere), and every guest takes 100 napkins and 10 waffles, it's only costing you $4. Every time someone buys a coke from the machine, you are almost making your money back.

So really, I don't see the big deal. Yeah, it's annoying to watch fat fucks eat 10 waffles that you bought to share with everyone. But you're running a budget hotel... that's the kind of person that's attracted to ultra-cheap hotels. (Airlines are the same way. Compare the people you fly with on Cathay Pacific to the people you fly with on Southwest. Then compare the prices. Yup, exactly.)
posted by jrockway at 7:27 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

frequently the guests are who staying at discounted rates are the ones that abuse the braekfast the most. [...] Somehow it is always these free-loaders who will consume the most food.

I tend to book any hotels through hotwire or kayak or by using "frequent stay" points I've accrued. I'm not a free-loader: I'm someone who can't afford to waste money. It's pretty rotten to refer to your customers as "these free-loaders" simply because they are participating in a promotion offered by your hotel or because they paid for their room through a discount site that your hotel is listed on.

Limit the amounts or types of food set out at the buffet, talk to other franchise owners about their solutions, see if there are any corporate resources on the subject--if this is affecting you financially, find a solution. But, at the same time, don't make this about how horrible your customers are. Don't put up a sign. The five-bagel-takers will ignore it, and people like me, who would only take one bagel, will resent it. People know that a breakfast buffet is for breakfast. A sign says, "We don't trust you to be reasonable, we think you're free-loaders, and when we say 'complimentary breakfast' we really mean, 'corporate makes us do this.'"
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:51 AM on July 11, 2010 [20 favorites]

@jrockway, precisely because they are running a budget hotel, they have to be mindful of those pesky marginal costs. These costs seem minor on an individual basis, but in any business, they add up over time and can make all the difference. I'm astounded at the suggestion that you just "eat the loss" -- people plainly do not understand the business environment you and others are operating in.

Just put one of those elegant portrait-oriented standing signs -- the ones you see in some restaurants saying "Please Wait to Be Seated" -- at the entrance of the eating area. It should say "Please Refrain From Taking Food Out of the Breakfast Area" or something like that.

If the losses are considerable, you could always hire a high school student, pay them minimum wage, and have them supervise the area, be responsible for putting out food in smaller amounts, ask how people are doing, etc. Anytime people ask for a ridiculous amount -- you know the type, the ones who enjoy pushing their luck -- just have the staffer say, "We offer a free breakfast, not free breakfast, lunch and dinner." Or she could throw herself at the customer's feet, and tearfully beg them to reconsider. =)
posted by teedee2000 at 7:58 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

How about changing the "Complimentary Breakfast" to a "Breakfast by Courtesy" (and maybe, as suggested, By Courtesy of Your Hosts, the Nice Family)?

My dictionary defines "by courtesy" " a favor rather than by right". Complimentary also is defined as "free", whereas by courtesy implies something of value is given kindly. That may be a little too subtle for some, but somehow the mention of the word courtesy reminds me to behave my best.
posted by peagood at 8:13 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Well a sign can't hurt. I like the idea of teedee's easel mounted one at the entrance, those are hard to avoid.

You've got to get the food loose instead of packaged. If you are not permitted for jam but you can for cereal or whatever, that's a start. And is there no way you could add additional seating somewhere - a meeting room or patio or something? I guess half your issue is people saying that there's no seats and they have to bring stuff back to the room to their families. Not knowing what sleepy boyfriend wants they grab one of everything. Another idea might be to have a staff member hand everyone one plate, bowl, glass as they come in? I had a (paid) breakfast buffet at a Westin the other day where I'm convinced they made extra crockery impossible to find. I didn't mind but it sure prevents overloading a couple of plates with every trip to the buffet table. Good luck!
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:21 AM on July 11, 2010

Please don't take away the trays.

My husband and I tend to sleep late. We usually just barely make it down in time for breakfast--or one of us will, and will have to run the food back to the other while we're also scrambling to get ready for checkout. Hotel breakfasts are already inconvenient enough for us because of this. Adding extra inconveniences make it nigh-on impossible that we'll stay in your hotel again.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:36 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

I would treat this like a science experiment. First, figure out what your food expenditures look like for each and every type of item. How much are you spending for apples per week? How much on waffles? How much all together? Analyze it over time, and also on a per-room and a per-guest basis. Then, by observation, look at what foods are being hoarked up by the more greedy guests, over a week-long period. You might realize that most customers behave, but you get five percent of customers who engage in this behavior, and it realistically only costs you about seven bucks per incident.

Looking at the suggestions, we have signage (words, eyes, pictures of the family preparing the breakfast), tray removal, tray hiding, tray asking, staffing, food bins for loose items, item availability reduction, menu alteration, etc. Try out each of the suggestions in turn and measure their effects. Does a sign have a measurable impact? Figure out how much, in a rough manner, by checking your costs and amounts taken. You may want to provide a survey. The final test is combining all of your proven-effective strategies and seeing what that does.

At the end of this, you will have enough information to find out that it's just a few yahoos every so often, yahoos who don't look at signs and are Tactical Wrigglers (people who adore short-term gaming strategies and basically make it their standard operating procedure to find little ways to get whatever they can lay hands on, "free") and are therefore not likely to change their behavior, at least, not without measures that put you at the risk of ticking off your more conscientious guests. Or maybe you find that thirty percent of your guests are making off with the lion's share of the food, and you get a huge payout by just a little behavior modification.

Finally, present your information to your parent company in the form of a short paper titled "How We Controlled Costs on the Complimentary Breakfast" or "How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Breakfast Snorfflers."

I will throw out a completely off-the-wall suggestion: if you have a pool, open it early. This creates a choice between breakfast and swimming. I would actually skip breakfast just to get in a pool, and I'm never hungry after swimming. I am not a Breakfast Snorffler, though.
posted by adipocere at 8:39 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be careful about your wording on any sign. You'll want to avoid breaking the social contract implicit in most people's minds. Take a lesson from day care late pick-up fees. If you word it along the lines of "please limit what you take for later" then someone who normally would not take anything for later may view it as an approved action.
posted by borkencode at 8:43 AM on July 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

When you try to attract extremely frugal people to your hotel, you shouldn't be surprised to find that they are extremely frugal. I concur with no trays, little food, small bowls, small cups. Make it as difficult as possible for someone not interested in just getting a quick bite to take advantage of your largess. People are cheap and eager to take advantage of what is essentially business-sanctioned looting; but they are even lazier than they are cheap, by and large.

People are almost always nice. The Public, on the other hand, are generally despicable. Not a bad attitude, just experience.
posted by umberto at 8:44 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've stayed in two hotels recently. Both times I was there for a reason--isn't everybody, when they're traveling? And so I was only getting a chance to eat twice a day. If I hadn't eaten the large complimentary breakfast I took at the hotel, I'd've been buying an equally large one at a fast food joint somewhere between my hotel and my appointment. Taking large amounts of food doesn't necessarily equate to stashing for later, and makes more sense at a hotel when people are likely to be pressed for time during their day.

Now, these hotels did have signs that said "food can't be removed from the lounge" and served food that wasn't easily carried off. There was a waffle maker with waffle mix, not frozens; there was cereal in dispensers and milk in a jug, juice dispensers and only a few bready items out at a time. A shelf of pastries under glass, not individually wrapped. The nicer hotel also had hot food with serving spoons under a sneeze shield. There wasn't much that could be carried off, unless people brought their own ziplock bags. And if anyone carried anything off while I was in the lounge, I didn't see it.

They also made the lounge as attractive as possible for staying to eat. Television tuned to the morning news, newspapers, nice clean area with lots of seating at the tables.
posted by galadriel at 8:47 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would also resent signage urging me to curb my eating. I travel a bit (15-20 nights a year) and most of the places I stay have trays for breakfast (Embassy Suites the king of gorge yourself in the morning). You say that costs are significant, I would think you need to look at a rate increase. I understand your need to stay competitive, but you must also stay solvent.

The Hilton family of hotels give me a number of free nights a year and I really appreciate the way I am treated during those free nights. At least to my face, they go out of their way to thank me for continued stays with the chain(s). They don't get anywhere near treating me like a freeloader. Because of the way I am treated I stay exclusively in Hilton family properties. I am willing to pay more at most any of their hotels because of the way I am treated.

As a traveler I don't really have a problem with you having limited quantities of food out IF you are replacing it as needed. Yeah, it is a pain to have to wait on food to be replenished if you are only putting out a bit at a time. I tuck away experiences at hotels in my mind, and if I have other choices I will not revisit those that make me feel less than welcome or appear to really be cutting corners.

From my perspective keep the breakfast stocked or do away with it (you can't do this due to corporate guidelines). If this means your rates are a buck or two more a night so be it. I'll return for the service during my stay and pay the extra.
posted by busboy789 at 8:53 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Perhaps a sign offering takeout breakfasts and lunches for a very reasonable, surprisingly low price (i.e. you are not making money on it)? That implies, without saying so, that taking the food out of the breakfast room is stealing.
posted by musofire at 9:00 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

You need only one word from doublehappy's comment to understand what's going on here: entitlement.

So somehow, you have to navigate around that sentiment, or better yet, not induce it in your guests.

The European model I have seen work well places the free whatever (coffee, wine, snack) directly next to the check-in desk. This guarantees at least a few sets of eyes in the vicinity. You could replicate this by having a staff member babysit the breakfast--not ideal, but still better than nothing.

You could also just eliminate the issue by putting out only very limited food: doughnuts and coffee, for example, and improving your signage to read 'Please take one per person.' Personally, if I were staying with you, I'd skip that breakfast, but ultimately, that's pretty much what you want.

It leads you to the most important question here: Do you really want your guests eating breakfast? Probably not, as it's a loss for you and doesn't get defrayed by cost increases.

I think you shouldn't be afraid to make the breakfast significantly less appealing. Breakfast is a negative on your bottom line regardless of how you do it--so retain the few guests who choose your hotel over others because of the promise of something free, but just make it as minimal as you can.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:09 AM on July 11, 2010

If you have room for 10 people to eat but 75 rooms, you need either trays (especially if you have families staying with you) or increased room to eat. People take food with them in part because there isn't room to sit near the food, so best take some of everything so I don't need to go back downstairs. Put out less food at once, too, but you have a problem with how much room you don't have for food.
posted by jeather at 10:01 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I see in your profile you're a grad student. Does your university have a social psychology department? I bet you this would make a great project for an honors student, or a class experiment, or even for another grad student. I know when I was at ASU our department worked with the hotel across the street from campus on several experiments. One of them eventually led to journal publication. It sounds like a fun experiment! Good luck.
posted by lizjohn at 10:07 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband and I tend to sleep late. We usually just barely make it down in time for breakfast--or one of us will, and will have to run the food back to the other while we're also scrambling to get ready for checkout. Hotel breakfasts are already inconvenient enough for us because of this. Adding extra inconveniences make it nigh-on impossible that we'll stay in your hotel again.

I'm a late sleeper, too. It's a struggle for me to get up before 11AM check-out. But I take my lumps and just forego the free breakfast in favor of my beauty rest. "Hotel breakfasts are inconvenient"? How so? They're offering you free food. That's like saying clipping coupons is inconvenient, can't they just give me the buy one/get one free deal without the coupon? Besides, I don't even get the daily newspaper.... Maybe it's because I'm old and remember a time when no lodging chains (including higher-end ones) offered such a luxury. As for the OP, I've seen several suggestions upthread about putting out "bowls" instead of individual packages, I have a feeling that there are probably very complex Health Department regulations involved with that sort of thing. For example, any large open-container serving situation I've seen in a restaurant has always been covered with a sneeze guard. The only viable solution I can think of is the "put smaller portions out" tactic mentioned above.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:11 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

a frequent stay program in our chain and so we routinely have guests who are using their "points" to stay for free. ... Somehow it is always these free-loaders who will consume the most food.

This is your vision of your regular customers? You might wish to re-examine its role in your scenario. There are many good ideas above. I am one of those people that shop around hard for breakfast included when I stay in a hotel with a family of five. Heck, I travel enough that I even sometimes get free benefits due to corporate loyalty programs, and I work these opportunities to my advantage. I am very aware of every penny that it costs me to pay for each meal I pay for multiplied by five. Breakfast is a big deal because eating out for breakfast alone can cost me up to the equivalent of half of the room rate. I don't stock up for lunch, but I don't hesitate to take what my family will eat for breakfast, and it's often a lot.

You can cut the bagels so that halfs are the default portion and they don't pack as well, put less out and restock often, and get rid of the trays, etc. But really, if you're that tied by your corporate standards, then your best options are to see what other corporate folks are doing, raise your rates to cover the actual costs of this corporate requirement, or suck it up and change your attitude.
posted by kch at 10:13 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could also just eliminate the issue by putting out only very limited food: doughnuts and coffee, for example, [...] Do you really want your guests eating breakfast? Probably not, as it's a loss for you and doesn't get defrayed by cost increases.

I think you shouldn't be afraid to make the breakfast significantly less appealing. Breakfast is a negative on your bottom line regardless of how you do it--so retain the few guests who choose your hotel over others because of the promise of something free, but just make it as minimal as you can.

I gather that some people in the hospitality business have discovered that by offering a product people place a higher value upon, they can command a higher price.

For example, people may pay more for a hotel room with breakfast included - in other words, people pay for the "free" breakfast by way of higher room prices.

People's willingness to pay extra for rooms with breakfast included may be mitigated if they learn from friends or online review sites that the breakfast is a cup of coffee and a single doughnut.
posted by Mike1024 at 10:17 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't read all the ideas above (but did read many). I have a few ideas, though.

1) I like the idea of the waffle iron and the batter, and want to second (or third) that idea. It's pretty tasty, freshly made (from a mix), and who's going to steal a bunch of batter? Who's going to make a plate of pancakes and then steal those?

2) You could put out a bulletin board with a map of your hotel at the center and nearby restaurants marked on the map. Perhaps a portion of people are stealing because they don't know that there are restaurants nearby. Maybe they're not stealing the food just to be cheap, but because they don't know that there may be restaurants really close by (and if they deliver, so much the better). Also, maybe keep a stack of their menus next to the food. So maybe a few of those people will think, "I don't have to steal this bread. There's a burger place right next door that I didn't know about."

3) You could get some sort of food dispensing machines. You know how there's those straw dispensers that will dispense one straw at a time? Maybe people would steal less if you had a bagel dispenser that only gave out one at a time. Hell, if it automatically cut it and toasted it, that would be even better.

4) Move the food closer to the reception area. Some people will be less likely to steal if they know they're being closely watched.

There will always be food loss. Inventory shrinkage is a way of life. People steal and horde--many do it whether they need it or not.
posted by rybreadmed at 11:07 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

In answer to your question, "Will a nicely worded sign work?" I would say, it might deter some people, but in all honesty, those are probably the people like me who have long internal debates about whether it's OK to take a single banana from the breakfast room if I'm not going to eat it until later.

I know you have to provide a complimentary breakfast, but complimentary just means free. Does it have to mean unlimited? Do you have to provide a breakfast buffet?

I've stayed in small hotels where the breakfast was served to you. This meant you came down between set hours (7-10 am?) and informed the front desk that you wanted breakfast, stated your hot beverage preference (coffee, tea, hot choc) and then sat down in the lounge while your beverage and various cold breakfast foods (e.g. a croissant, jam, fruit, yogurt) were put on a tray and brought to you.

I personally thought this was pretty great--it never occurred to me that, duh, this is how they make sure people get a nice meal but don't walk away with half the buffet.

I know you'd have to pay someone to do this, but it might end up being cheaper if you are no longer having people take way too much food. The advantages are

1) you are still fulfilling your obligation of a "complimentary breakfast"
2) no one can take half your food supply for themselves
3) by asking people to take the (IMO, very minor) step of requesting their meal, you cut down on the people who are viewing your "complimentary breakfast" as an opportunity to do their grocery shopping for the day while still meeting the needs of people who actually want breakfast
4) you provide a nice service for your guests (a friendly, smiling person is bringing them breakfast! Yay!)
5) if a guest is in a hurry and doesn't have time to sit down for the meal, you could pack it in a takeaway box so you are not punishing people with busy schedules
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:11 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

take a look at the sign that says 'complimentary breakfast'. And don't judge people for exercising their contractual rights.

Complimentary breakfast means complimentary breakfast. It does not mean complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner so long as you grab it all at breakfast time and stuff it into your purse for later consumption. So long as the hotel provides breakfast for guests at no charge, it is fulfilling its promise to provide a complimentary breakfast. Unless there's something in the small-print specifying the quantity of breakfast, they are not obliged to provide you wth all you can eat plus all the food you can conceal about your person and you're not just 'exercising your contractual rights' when you take enough food for 5-10 people just so you "get your money's worth".

I admit that in hotels I usually eat a larger than normal buffet breakfast and skip lunch because eating out is really expensive and not always convienient when you're on holiday (interruping planned activities etc) but what the OP is talking about here is way beyond just having a big breakfast so you don't need lunch. The behaviour that the OP has described is just plain taking the piss.
posted by missmagenta at 11:14 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

More as an anecdotal data point more than anything else, I work at a place that offers free samples. Some people will split their (small) free sample between their kids. Others will take 5 of the exact same flavor. These are the samples on the counter directly in front of us.

People will take as much food as you give them.
posted by 47triple2 at 11:20 AM on July 11, 2010

I recently stayed at a place (different hotel chain) that issued "tickets" to the guests for the complimentary breakfast. It was necessary to pick them up from the front desk that morning, or the night before.

Their breakfast consisted of some hot items. Here's how it worked: Hand the server your ticket, get a plate. Go down the buffet, getting the hot items, which were scrambled eggs, sausage, etc. In the other area, they had coffee, drinks, cereal, pastries, fruit. As far as I could tell, only one trip through the buffet line was allowed, since you couldn't get another ticket.

I am not sure it would be worth the cost of having someone "monitor the tickets", but I didn't see anyone hauling off huge amounts of food. Of course, something like this would have to work slightly different for your place.

galadriel's comment about a sign prohibiting anyone from removing food from the lounge seems fairly reasonable.
posted by annsunny at 11:21 AM on July 11, 2010

My family traveled a lot when I was little, all over the US, by car. We stayed in a lot of motels. My younger brother and I were always thrilled when we were at a place with a complimentary breakfast with those single-serving cereal boxes. We'd eat a doughnut or bagel or something like that for breakfast, but we'd each take one box of cereal as a snack for the car later on in the day. It just wasn't something possible at the places with cereal in the big dispensers.

So, loaf-of-bread-stealing guests aside, remember that you could be making some seven year old's day.
posted by phunniemee at 11:24 AM on July 11, 2010

as far as guests taking your napkins, cups, etc - switch to cloth napkins, and "real" dishware, not paper, and non-disposable forks, spoons, and knives. Small, to control portions, but while you'll still lose some to thieves, people will be a lot less likely to take extras for later use.

I think all the suggestions to approach this from the psychological angle of discouraging overeating is what you're looking for, and that's your choice. But to tell you the truth, if I find a hotel that operates like this? I don't go back there, and it gives me a bad impression of the whole chain.
posted by lemniskate at 11:29 AM on July 11, 2010

Yes. They're travelling - who knows where their next meal is coming from. They've paid you for the privilege of staying in a room for the night. They're tired and hungry. You offer complimentary food. You better believe I'm stocking up on bagels.

When you have paid for a complimentary breakfast, taking food that you do not intend to eat for breakfast is outright theft. It's complimentary breakfast, not complimentary breakfast, lunch, and maybe dinner.

As for where their next meal is coming from—most places with chain hotels also have restaurants and grocery stores. You can purchase your subsequent meals at these locations.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:43 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure what the solution is, but I disagree with the posters who say that this is reasonable behavior or not a problem. Not only is it cutting into your costs, it's just gross. Give an inch, and so many people will take a mile. Their behavior is legal, it's just...unethical? Poor manners? It's one thing to grab an extra bagel for the road or for your spouse upstairs. It's another to exhibit this kind of behavior.

My company occasionally hold events to recognize loyal customers (well actually blood donors but it's the same principle). They're usually at museum or other attraction, and include a buffet lunch. We are always grossed out at how greedy people are! The first time we tried annsunny's method of issuing tickets, one person said to the ticket-taker "well if you take this how will I be able to come back for seconds?" And this is at an event held by a non-profit!

The last time we did an event, it was buffet-style again but there were servers - that helped a lot to control the pigginess.
posted by radioamy at 11:44 AM on July 11, 2010

I would not find a politely worded sign offensive at all. Worth a try; you can always remove it if necessary. You'll know you've won when someone asks: "My wife and four children are upstairs. Do you mind if I take them bagels?"

Offering carryout food for a price would also clarify that taking food with them without paying is stealing.
posted by salvia at 11:52 AM on July 11, 2010

jon1270: "I can see why you might need to limit your costs here, but this is not theft, and your customers are not freeloaders. They may be gaming the system, but it's a system you've signed up for."

True, it's not theft -- but this response confuses either 'freeloading' or 'gaming the system'. I can "game the system" by taking all and every 'complimentary' item I ever see. But if I do this, there'll no longer be any for anyone else... precisely because I'm freeloading.

This is because the concept of freeloading includes taking more than one's share of something that one (and others!) are entitled to in common. See the free rider problem.
posted by astrochimp at 11:59 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a late sleeper, too. It's a struggle for me to get up before 11AM check-out. But I take my lumps and just forego the free breakfast in favor of my beauty rest. "Hotel breakfasts are inconvenient"? How so? They're offering you free food.

It's inconvenient because many places stop serving breakfast at 9 am--well before, say, even McDonalds stops serving breakfast. I'm not complaining about the free breakfast, but I'm a good, paying customer (have never gotten a free room) who has likely chosen a hotel in part because they advertise free continental breakfast. Its convenience is directly correlated to how easy it is for me to actually, you know, have time to eat the food (and I can't tell you how many places I've stayed at that advertise breakfast till 9 but start cleaning up at 8:30). I'm not some sort of moochy asshole, seriously. I just want to be able to eat before hitting the road--as advertised by the hotel to help entice me to stay there.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:13 PM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Build it into your business model. If I am a guest, I don't want someone giving me a hard stare over $5 worth of food, regardless of whether or not I'm taking more than the prescribed amount which is implied but not explicitly stated. You wouldn't deny toilet paper to a guest who'd already used 3 rolls that day, would you? It's just like using all the towels or any other customer variable expense, sure you'd prefer they take the cheaper (for you) option but since you allow your guests options you have to expect that some of them will opt for the one you like least. I'm sure some of your guests are eating little or no breakfast and you're not giving them a refund, so turnabout is fair play.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:15 PM on July 11, 2010

Response by poster: I think I have all the feedback I am needing. I will be holding a meeting with the family this evening and we'll discuss many of the ideas put forth. Thanks for all the feedback everyone.

posted by Fizz at 12:17 PM on July 11, 2010

I see your point, astrochimp, but I wasn't using "freeloading" in quite the same sense as it's used in the economic problem you linked. In casual usage, "free" usually implies that nothing has been paid for what is taken, whereas the specific "free rider problem" you linked uses it more broadly to refer to anyone who's shouldered "less than a fair share of the costs."

In one of his followups the OP specifically stated that frequently the guests are who staying at discounted rates are the ones that abuse the braekfast the most. There is a frequent stay program in our chain and so we routinely have guests who are using their "points" to stay for free.

It seems fairly obvious that these latter guests are not really staying for free. Their stay, including the "free" breakfast is paid for, frequently, albeit indirectly and incrementally, during their other stays. That's what triggered my earlier response. And, like I said originally, I see why widespread overconsumption is a problem for the OP.
posted by jon1270 at 12:30 PM on July 11, 2010

When people come down in the morning, introduce yourself and let them know you're part of the family that owns the place. It's easy to ignore "some guy who works here" while sponging an entire day's eating from a free breakfast table. It's much harder when the person you're mooching off of is standing right over there.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 1:17 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whenever I travel with my family, my dad is always the first one up, and he always goes and has breakfast before bringing back a tray of food for the rest of us. For a family of four adults, we usually have about 3 muffins, an order of eggs, a little fruit, and some coffee (total, not each). Sometimes we grab a couple of muffins or a juice to go. That's in no way excessive, but if you were to stop letting people take food out of the area, or limiting trays, or making us pay for "take away bags," we would all not stay at your hotel again, and if I had time and was bored, I would probably write a mildly negative review about the experience online.

I'm frankly not sure there's any way to solve the problem of people who are honestly taking whole loaves of bread for no reason (i.e. it's not for any other customers back in the room) without raising the room rates slightly. There have been studies done that show that people (on average) are prone to be ruder and bypass more of the rules of "social acceptability" when in a strange place. If I remember right, it had to do with the lack of accountability perceived. But a politely worded sign about taking only what you need couldn't hurt, I guess.
posted by wending my way at 2:22 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been mulling this thread over all day and just out of curiosity would be interested in how your family plans to tackle the issue if you are interested in sharing. The peek behind the curtain has been interesting and the chosen path of the business owners might be even more so...
posted by busboy789 at 4:18 PM on July 11, 2010

I'm curious too, about what is decided - and wanted to know, too, if it in any way amortizes the costs of those who take too much that some don't take advantage of the free breakfast at all?

I was just thinking back over our most recent vacations, and sometimes we used them, and sometimes we didn't, say, if we hit the road really early; and we never use things like the coffee maker in the rooms or the soaps and such. So, when you're considering those that abuse the complimentary breakfast, does that consider those that ignore it too?
posted by peagood at 4:46 PM on July 11, 2010

I stayed at a Comfort Inn. It was very nice. We had a nice complementary breakfast, complete with a nice granola cereal and soy milk!! But people did go WAY overboard with the hording. My husband and I thought it was really odd the way people would pack up food. People would be making extra toast just to take away. And it was not to bring back for someone in the room. I overheard these folks, and they were making lunch. I would say about 50% of the folks were taking undue advantage of the food.

I suggest, what most people here have already suggested, put out less food and restock more often. If people know you are "watching" they may restrain themselves a bit. But I do find the customers' behavior perplexing. Believe me, none of these people were starving. I don't know if a sign would work.
posted by fifilaru at 5:09 PM on July 11, 2010

I disagree with the proposal of presenting less food that will be replenished more often / adequately.

In the grand scheme of things, it might be entirely true that each and every guest will get fed to their satisfaction. But we don't scientifically evaluate every situation we encounter - that is, we don't analyze the replenishment rates of food during our morning breakfast. We walk up to a counter that looks sparse / inadequately stocked and make a snap judgment about how well our needs are being met, and how effective management is running their business.

I propose an alternative that will preserve the perception and judgment of your business, while creating a "cooling effect" on such undesirable and unjustified behavior: hire or schedule a part-time employee to stand at a reasonable proximity to (a) actively ensure that the client is being served, and (b) create oversight and accountability to the customer's behavior. If they step out of line, simply request them to consider the other customers. That expenses that you recover will more than offset their wages, assuming your evaluation of overall cost is accurate.
posted by platosadvocate at 5:40 PM on July 11, 2010

I too would like to know what happens.

Also, Not sure if this is in your budget, but I have gone back to a certain place because the coffee was so good. Dewey Eggbert. Yum!
posted by annsunny at 7:41 PM on July 11, 2010

I have one last suggestion. Make a few little signs for the buffet table, one for your town, another for a half-day's drive along one interstate, another for a half-day's drive in another direction, etc. Write down some popular, tantalizing restaurants and put barebones directions ("exit 7"). Maybe if they see a Panera Bread in their future they'll choose to eat out for lunch. Many people who can afford an overnight trip can afford spending $5-10 on lunch. Just remind them that it's out there.
posted by acidic at 9:06 PM on July 11, 2010

I have stayed at a Comfort Inn, and I thought they were dealing with this issue by providing barely-edible junk for food, and dire bilge-water for coffee. After the first day, I just went down the road & bought breakfast.

Is your amortization of the breakfast costs taking into account the people like me who don't touch the provided breakfast?

Is a buffet essential? In this part of the world, you normally get 2 types of breakfast:

1) A buffet in a dining room - usually you have a fairly wide choice of cereals, fruits, juice, bakery items, toast, etc, plus various 'cooked breakfast' items [sometimes you have to order this separately]. Normally you'd pay for this type of breakfast.

2) You get a card in your room which has boxes to tick for the various items on offer, plus what time you want it. You hang the card on your doorknob at night. Breakfast is delivered to your room on a tray. Sometimes you pay extra for this, sometimes it's included in the room rate.

3) For completeness I should mention that in more up-market places you also have the option of room-service. You'd definitely expect to pay for that.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 10:33 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Obviously late to the party here, but my inner attorney (but not your attorney!) wonders if you would need to clear whatever you decide to do with the Comfort Inn corporate people. If you are a franchisee, you may need to yield to the franchisor's desire to control the 'look and feel' of the business. Googling "comfort inn franchise" brings up hits suggesting a franchise connection.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 11:15 PM on July 11, 2010

In case the OP is still checking this thread:

I definitely agree with limiting the available food at any given moment. People don't mind taking what they can get from 'Corporate America', but they are generally not so selfish as to leave nothing for the next few actual human beings in line.

Along the same lines I would strongly recommend prominently displaying a big photograph of your family along with a caption such as "Proudly operated as a family business since 19XX", or similar. You need to encourage people to mentally separate Corporate America — which frankly deserves to lose as many packets of food as I can stuff in my pockets, after the way it's behaved my entire lifetime — from your family business, which certainly doesn't deserve such treatment.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:10 AM on July 12, 2010

You could have a breakfast monitor standing nearby to confront people who take too much.

I was a regular at a place which had a dessert table of fresh and dried fruit, nuts, cheeses, yogurts and so on at every lunch. I always had the pudding from the set menu. However it is my habit to finish each lunch with a little sliver of cheese.

Well, the last time I got up after pudding to get my little piece of cheese, a monitor stopped me. I'd had the pudding. I couldn't have a piece of cheese. It was either/or. Desserts were costly to provide and they had to make sure they only went to the deserving.

I hadn't actually realized that I wasn't allowed to do this, but I never did it again. If that place could afford to dedicate staff to confront guests over a small sliver of cheese, surely you could get one of your employees to do the same over half a loaf of bread, a wheel of Edam, and a roast ox stuffed into someone's purse. (Idea: get the ox to eat the bread and Edam first, and then roast it? saves space)
posted by tel3path at 5:16 AM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: My father and I are looking at many of the suggestions offered here and we are going to try a few.

On a side note, all of us at the front desk make a habit of making eye contact with guests are taking advantage of the food. We walk around and through the guise of "checking" to make sure things are stocked and clean, we also watch how people are consuming, especially greedy people in the hopes that they might be shamed into cutting back when they realize they are taking far too much. It's not a guarantee but it might occasionally work.

Our cereal is served not in individual packages but through a large dispensing container. We would obviously save costs on large containers of cream cheese and jam but because of certain sanitary restrictions we are not allowed to use such products and have to use individual serving packages. Also, certain brands are mandated by Corporate and so making use of non-name brand food items is not an option.

We realize that for the most part these costs are set. It is just that occasional customer that will take advantage of us and it is difficult to watch people who feel entitled to essentially steal from the hotel because they have "paid" for their room.

Just because you have paid for the room does not mean that an individual should USE everything for the sake of using, but that is the mentality that so many guests seem to have.

Whenever a guest checks out, my father and I immediately go to the room to "shut it down". Guests will leave the water running, all of the lights on, the a/c at full blast, television loud and turned on. This is not what most people do in their own home, yet they feel comfortable enough to do so in the hotel...why...because they've paid and so they're entitled. Yet all of the hydro/electricity has a high cost for the hotel.
posted by Fizz at 6:03 AM on July 12, 2010

Or, the problem could be the Comfort Inn commercial I saw last night with John Rothsberger (?? The mailman from CHEERS). I caught the last 5 seconds of the ad as he scraped a huge pile of bacon on to his plate!! Thought I'd about die over the irony!

Perhaps the OP wants to bring this ad to corporate's attention

I don't care for Comfort Inn as a brand and mainly stay at Marriott hotels. The SpringHill Suites offers a great breakfast bar. I don't recall ever seeing people walking out with armloads or trays full of food in abuse of the free offerings. Those on the elevator with a tray had no more than could feed 2 people in their room. Me, I might have taken an apple for the road, but certainly no more. I can't imagine grabbing up all the cereal boxes and cartons of milk for a later meal. I guess it takes all kinds, though.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 6:36 AM on July 12, 2010

Now I'm curious as to how the amount of food taken by 1) normal eaters 2) hoarders 3) people who skip breakfast entirely averages out over the number of guests the previous night. Does the budget account for every guest having breakfast, or does it already assume a certain number will skip breakfast? Or it is an issue of the average of 1 and 2 going over budget, because that would be a different beast entirely. The first case definitely sucks for you, but the second case is a little trickier. Then it's the non-eaters that are subsidizing the hoarders, not the hotel. This has gotten me curious. The FPP might be a good idea.
posted by wending my way at 1:57 PM on July 12, 2010

A lot of people are emphasising the word "breakfast" in "complimentary breakfast", as if that somehow legally prevents someone from taking uneaten food away from their table because, if they consume it later, it no longer qualifies as breakfast.

If they intend from the outset to consume it later, it no longer qualifies as breakfast.

Taking extra "complimentary breakfast" for the road is roughly equivalent to filling your cooler with ice from the ice machine so that you have cold drinks in the car on the next day. You're taking more than was given to you, and more than you paid for.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:26 PM on August 15, 2010

This is not what most people do in their own home, yet they feel comfortable enough to do so in the hotel...why...because they've paid and so they're entitled.

I think you have this completely wrong. They've paid, so they don't care. When you're leaving a hotel the things you're worried about are mostly "Did I leave anything behind?" and "What time is my flight?". Also, I wouldn't assume much about what other people do in their homes. I, for one, leave lights on fairly regularly, and fans running and the stereo on and my computer. Why? Because I'm usually thinking about something else and I don't care that much to start with. Some people aren't motivated by money and some people are thoughtless power wasters.
When I stay at a hotel, I almost never let them make the bed and I generally use the same bath towel. This has nothing to do with costs and everything to do with habit and comfort. I don't like tucked in blankets so I don't let them make the bed because i would then have to unmake it. I use the same towel for a couple days at home so why would I do it differently at a hotel. I leave the AC on in the room when I'm gone because I like it _cold_, and I would do the same thing at home (if i didn't live in San Francisco). I may leave the TV on and the lights when I leave because I got a call telling me my ride is outside waiting for me, and I'm in a hurry. Notice that none of these actions stem from an attitude of entitlement, just my personal preferences which may or may not be "normal".
The attitude that your customers are victimizing you isn't going to get you anywhere. Some people are very conscious of how what they do effects others, some are not and some just don't care. Any one of these could be your customer, if you'd like them to stay at your hotel in the future, I'd suggest treating them as nicely as you can. If I got a weird vibe from the management because I took a bagel for later, I wouldn't go back. There's lots of hotels and I won't pay someone to treat me like a jerk. Being right here means nothing if it costs you future business.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:22 PM on September 8, 2010

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