Now you’d probably think that even the most unscrupulous guest couldn’t walk off with a nailed-in showerhead. Guess again. Andrew Stembridge, managing director of Chewton Glen, a manor hotel nestled in England’s Hampshire countryside, says he’s had visitors unscrew all types of furnishings, including the big bottles of Molton Brown lotion affixed to the spa’s walls. Stembridge cheerfully volunteers harrowing tales of people pocketing silver sugar tongs and helping themselves to the iPod docks available at reception. “Sometimes the culprits are the fanciest people—it’s not the guests on the special Sunday night rate. We just factor it in,” he shrugs philosophically.
On the other hand, Stembridge is not afraid to fight back. Once, when an antique cup and saucer went missing from a room, he confided that he actually riffled through the guests’ luggage, which had been stored as they took a final spin around town. “They had a lovely leather bag falling to bits,” he remembers. As he suspected, the dishes were indeed packed in the crumbling old bag, but any triumph Stembridge felt at their retrieval quickly vanished when he realized “I couldn’t zip the case!” He finally managed to close it, just minutes before Bonnie and Clyde returned.
That crockery wasn’t for sale, but the good news is that plenty of coveted items offered by hotels can be yours, legitimately, for the swipe of a credit card. Have sweet dreams of the bed at the Four Seasons?Everyone knows you can order it. Develop an unwholesome relationship with the Perspex mini-mannequin lighting at the Soho Hotel in London?The property can arrange a set for you.
And what about that classic stuff-it-in-your-suitcase item, the terry robe?Plaza Athénée’s Delahaye says that this is actually a much smaller problem than it was a decade ago, since there is frequently no room in today’s carry-ons for these puffy behemoths. Do hotels really charge for swiped robes, making good on the threat implicit on those little signs in the bathroom?Since I have learned the hard way that a diet Coke gulped on the sly the final day of your stay will almost surely show up on your bill, I have always wondered about the robe scenario.
“We put a charge for the robe on a card if we can be absolutely sure someone took it, and didn’t just pack it by mistake,” says Leslie Lefkowitz, the Four Seasons Hotel New York’s director of public relations. On the other hand, some hotels have bent the stick far in the other direction. At the Raffles L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, they not only gift a bathrobe to VIP guests, they monogram it, too. (But do these swells take their personalized dressing gowns homes?Nope—they often let the hotel keep them for use on subsequent visits.)
As it turns out, sometimes resisting temptation can be just as haunting as giving in to one’s base instincts. My friend P., who has been traveling longer than many of us have been alive, recalls wistfully, “As you know, hotels of a certain caliber turn down the bed at night and put little linen towels down so your feet should never, heaven forbid, touch the carpeting. Not only did they do that at the Ritz in Paris, but they put down a second one for my dog. It had a bone embroidered on it with the words ‘I Am Ritzy.’ I didn’t take it and, to this day, I regret it.”
Maybe he should have just folded “Ritzy” into his Goyard duffel. Then he and Fido could have dreamed of the Ritz as they rested their tootsies back home, just as the sight of my ill-gotten Argentinean laundry bag has me fantasizing about dancing the tango at 2 a.m. in the grand ballroom of the Alvear Palace.