Fact Check

Menu Shouldn't Trust

Burglars target women who fill out room service breakfast orders which indicate they're traveling alone?

Published Dec 28, 1999

Claim:   A woman traveling on business almost becomes a crime statistic because she filled out a room service menu.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1999]

I am posting to let you know a situation that happened to me on Tuesday to warn all women who travel by themselves.

I was in St. Louis at my company's corporate headquarters. I was staying at a very well known highly respected hotel. I was put in a roof level end room (meaning that the building was 15+ stories, but designed with an connecting lower level roof, for the pool, deck, meeting rooms, etc.). I intuitively KNEW it was a bad idea to take a room on this level....but shrugged it off (mistake #1).

I ordered room service for the next day on the flyer-like thing that you stick out side your door. I thought it would be easier because I would have my order delivered during a specific time frame and then I did not have to worry about a room service delay.

On this order form, one writes her name, how many will be eating, your room number, time of delivery and your f&b order. I hung it on the outside of my door for collection (defined as "after 2 a.m." ) (mistake #2).

I had given someone all the ammunition that he would need. That someone went to my door-tag.... got my name and room number.... and then told the front desk that he was my husband (remember my tag showed 1 female name) and that he needed a new key.


At 2 a.m. I was awakened by my door opening (luckily I had put the security bar across) with a man's hand trying to figure out how to get the bar undone. I started yelling at him and told him that I was on the phone with the police. He shut the door and left.

I called down to the lobby and spoke with the Front Desk - I wanted to alert Security about the incident. The Front Desk Attendant said, "That was your husband." I told her my husband was in North Carolina.

The hotel staffperson said... and I quote, "oops, sorry about that" then hung up.

Well, let's just say that I was both terrified and pissed the rest of the night. Next morning, I spoke with a Hotel Manager whose eyes almost popped out of his head when he learned that his clerk had given an unidentified stranger a key to my room.

My company is also not very happy and they are looking at their legal options.

Me, I am just glad I am typing this to all of you with my 2 year old on my lap I don't want to think of what might have happened if the safety chain/bar had not been secured.

Laura Wilson

Origins:   This snippet of e-lore debuted on the Internet in December 1999. It speaks directly to the fears of the lone female business traveler, thus accounting for its popularity. Those who don't do a great deal of traveling themselves easily have a number of female friends who


In 1970, female business travelers were rare birds indeed. Only 1% of road warriors were female. In those not-so-long-ago days, well-dressed women traveling on behalf of their companies were sometimes mistaken for prostitutes, both by hotel security and other guests.

A lot has changed. Today, more than 40% of business travelers are women, and by 2002 that figure is expected to rise to 50%. Though she still greatly prefers to take meals in her room (at least twice as many women as men traveling on business will order from room service), she's a lot less likely to be mistaken for a lady of the evening these days.

In terms of debunking this particular account, there's not much that can be done — dates aren't given, the hotel and city aren't named, and though we (supposedly) have the name of the woman who wrote this missive, without also knowing what company she works for, finding her would be impossible. There is thus no point in asking if it's true — not enough information is provided to call it one way or the other.

Experience in dealing with scarelore, however, indicates the above is merely good advice worked into the form of a cautionary tale. "When traveling alone, don't sign your name on room service orders" is not the kind of message to be retained in people's minds; it just won't stick. Work the finger-wagging into a scary story about a woman who failed to follow this advice and thus barely escaped God-knows-what horrible fate, and the tale's underlying admonition is branded into memory.

The tale tends to fail the plausibility test on a "key" point. Hotels say they will not hand out room keys to just anyone, no matter what relationship that person claims to have to the room's occupant. Especially in the case of one spouse looking for the other, only a fool of a hotel staffer is going to give out a key, no matter what the sob story. The married have too often used hotels to hunker down with someone other than their lawful spouse for any hotelier to presume that a lady who checked in by herself is necessarily sleeping alone.

When an unexpected visitor — husband or otherwise — presents himself at the front desk, standard procedure requires a call be placed to the registered guest. Not even the room number is given out at this point. Only once the guest has given the okay will the visitor either be directed to wait in the lobby for the guest to come fetch him or provided with the room number and directed to the correct bank of elevators to take him to that floor.

Under no circumstances are keys given out to anyone not listed in the registration for that room. Even those who've checked in together should not expect be given replacement keys if they lose theirs and are not noted as one of the room's occupants. Even in the case of properly registered guests, the front desk will demand to see a photo I.D. before issuing a new key.

That is the recommended (indeed, pounded into the heads) procedure, but how this plays out in real life can sometimes stray wildly from the script. Easily-cowed desk clerks can be pressured by insistent "guests" who keeps demanding the key to "their" rooms. The number of fool desk clerks who can be counted on to surrender up the key without first seeing proper ID from the registered guest is small, though, so the likelihood of an invader using this highly unreliable method is remote.

Hotel invaders do exist, but their most effective means of gaining entrance to a victim's hotel room is to simply knock on the door and announce themselves as being from room service or maintenance. (Not surprisingly, even the savvy traveler will often unthinkingly open the door to a stranger under those circumstances.) First presenting themselves to the front desk, thus affording hotel staff to get a good look at them, doesn't fit the basic rule of break-in artists everywhere of not calling undue attention to themselves.

Dead-bolting the door upon retiring is always a good idea — who knows but that the happy drunk staying down the hall will return to the floor three sheets to the wind at some ungodly hour and by happenstance his key will work on the door he soddenly remembers as being his but which is in reality yours. More likely, one fails to put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign — without the bolt being on the door, the maids are likely to barge in while you're in the shower the next morning.

Those who continue to be very worried about the possibility of someone breaking in while they're there should consider buying a screamer, a device hooked to the door handle which will go off if anyone tries to open the door.

Some hotels do provide "hang on door" breakfast menus which allow the room's occupant to check off desired items and indicate when the meal should be delivered. Such an arrangement can be a real timesaver, as anyone who has ordered breakfast from room service then sat around for an hour waiting for it can attest to. These menus usually have to be on doorknobs by a stated time (often 2 am). It's rarely necessary to list the guest's name on them — the order and a room number will suffice. Even if a name is called for, a surname only will do.

All of the preceding is not to say that travelers (especially women) shouldn't take certain precautions to foil thieves and invaders or that the dangers hinted at in "Laura Wilson's" account aren't real. You should, and they are. But do these cautions really need to be expressed in the form of a "This happened to me!!!" e-mail to drive them home? Or can we for once do away with the bodice-ripper writing style and cut straight through to what needs to be said: how to safeguard yourself when traveling?

Safety Tips For All:

  • Don't leave valuables in your car. The anonymity of self-park garages offers the experienced thief great opportunities to help himself to the contents of even locked vehicles. As for entrusting ol' Betsy to the valets, we should note cars parked in valet garages are often left unlocked. If you care about seeing your valuables again, take them with you. If you really care about seeing them again, leave them in the hotel safe.
  • Great care should be taken upon check-in by lone female travelers to not alert any pricked-up ears either to their names or the room numbers assigned to them. Should the clerk loudly declare the room number, another room should quietly be requested. If the clerk balks at doing this, the manager should be summoned and the request put to her.
  • Names trumpeted too loudly afford the room invader with a made-to-order scenario for gaining access to an occupied room. A call to the hotel operator asking to be connected to Ms. So-and-So's room followed by a conversation with the lady herself during which the caller identifies himself as a handyman in need of repairing some item in her room can lead to an ugly chain of events. Always call the department in question to make sure they are sending someone before taking such a caller at his word.

  • Pay attention to your suitcases, briefcase, laptop, and handbag during check-in. Alert thieves have been known to blithely scoop up the unattended, quickly handing off purloined items to fleet-footed accomplices.
  • Ground floor rooms should be refused because they allow easy access to potential thieves. The especially security conscious will seek rooms far distant from stairwells on upper floors, believing that thieves or invaders will generally strike at rooms only within a certain distance of the planned escape route.
  • If at all concerned about the walk to your room, ask that a security guard accompany you.
  • Thieves generally work during the day, when most guests are off doing other things. Most thieves just want to grab loot and skedaddle and thus bend over backwards to avoid potential confrontation with the victim. Leaving a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door will discourage most of them as will leaving the television or radio playing.
  • By contrast, invaders generally work at night, at a time when most folks will be found in their rooms. The key to avoiding becoming the victim of such a crime is to not open your door to it. No matter who shows up demanding entrance (room service, maintenance, telegram boy, flowers delivery, UPS), call down to the front desk and verify that this person was rightfully sent.

Barbara "sent of a woman" Mikkelson

Last updated:   28 July 2006


  Sources Sources:

    Schutta, Susan.   "Tips for Travelling Women."

    The Toronto Star.   26 November 1999   (p. E8).

    Shaw, Anne.   "Check in to Safety."

    The [Glasgow] Herald.   10 June 1995   (p. 12).

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