Thursday, July 27, 2006


Honor bar

I don't get why hotels are increasingly referring to the in-room snack bar -- what they used to call a "mini-bar" -- as an "honor bar."

There's no honor in it -- only the dishonor of paying grotesque markups that would make even the most rapacious convenience store blush. Every night I go to bed in a hotel I pray that I will never be that desperate for a package of M & Ms.

If "honor bar" is so named to suggest an "honor system," then we have on our hands a major misnomer that dishonors the notion of trust-based self-reporting systems. Hotels, of course, place their trust in housekeeping staff -- some hired specifically for the purpose -- to keep careful account of items missing from the "honor bar" stock in each room, so that what you take ends up on your bill without the nicety of self-reporting.

Some parents have told me stories suggesting that the honor- or mini- bar presents a opportunity to teach their kids an important life lesson about the complex and intangible nature of property relations. Kids, who have only just learned that they're not supposed to take stuff from stores without paying for it, are often puzzled why they can't just take food items from the mini-bar. It's sitting right there in their living space, after all. Maybe it's now called an "honor bar" so we people can teach their kids about honor.

Look at me -- I'm one of those people whom the Jack Nicholson character was sneering at in the trial scene in A Few Good Men:
"We use words like honor, code, and loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending our country. You use them as a punch line."

I see you have never been hopelessly hungry for Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies while blogging in the middle of the night. It happened to me this Sunday in D.C. I paid $2.50 for the pack. I may have paid $25, I wanted them that much.

At other times, I have had great comfort knowing that I have all those choices, just in case. It comes from being raised in Poland. We never had honor bars there when I was growing up. Maybe we lost a valuable opportunity to educate our children in things like honor systems. So that now there is much robbing and picking of pockets, especially in big cities. Though maybe that has more to do with high unemployment. There's not much to be learned about high unemployment from honor bars except that your lack of work means you can't afford hotels, with or without honor bars.
Hi Oscar,

They ought to call it an “Honor Bar” only if they mean that one displays honor by refusing to use it. It is all so tawdry, hotel managers know that many of their guests are traveling on business and so their employer is picking-up the tab. Managers also know that very few people would pay $4 for a little bag of peanuts on their own dime, but that (unfortunately, in my view) there are plenty who will let their employer pay that rate. The hotel managers are making a profit by encouraging vice and have the gall to call it an honor bar?

What is ironic is that profit from mini-bars would probably be much higher if the prices were high rather than insanely high. I would happily pay a reasonable premium for the convenience of not having to leave my room when I am tired. Hotels make no mini-bar profit from me when their prices remain insultingly high. If more people used a mini-bar, they could make up in volume what they lose in margin.

Nina, that comment would have made a very funny, stand-alone blog post.

DBP -- excellent point. I feel the same way.
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