Travel Explainer

Charge It to My Room!

How do hotels guard against abuse of the room charging system?

But is it secure?

Photo by DAJ/Amana Images

Hotel bars and restaurants are wonderful parts of the lodging experience. There’s nothing better than knowing that if you overdo it (whether accidentally or intentionally), you can politely stumble to the elevator and be in your bed, half-comatose and still fully clothed, within minutes. But not before you’re able to utter five powerful words: “Charge it to my room.” The room charge is clearly a convenient custom, but how is it kept secure? After all, a hotel bar can be brimming with activity at any given time, and presumably anyone could claim your number as their own. How do hotels keep the room charge system free from abuse?


With the help of technology and by watching you a lot more closely than you might think. Most hotel bars and restaurants use operating systems like Micros when taking orders and making sales, and the room charge function is part of that system. When you ask to bill to a certain room number, the system pulls up the associated reservation along with the name. Servers are then expected to check, as casually as possible, that your name matches the file. This is usually handled by the server simply asking you, the guest, what name is associated to the room when it comes time to pay. ID checks aren’t common, but they aren’t out of the question. As with most establishments that serve alcohol, a sharp server can also request proof of age before sliding that refreshing cocktail in your direction.


In general, bartenders are obliged to be the first line of defense against those trying to game the system. They are trained to be alert and to check names when they sense something fishy. There’s no general rule of thumb for noticing shady patrons, but security is always in place and a phone call away if the situation escalates. Bartenders are also expected to settle the bill as soon as you give your alleged name and room number, in order to catch any discrepancies before you leave.

And what happens if you find a charge on your room bill for a drink that you actually didn’t enjoy? Assuming the bill is on the smaller side, most hotels will readily remove it when you complain. From their point of view, a disputed $20 cocktail charge is not nearly as valuable as a repeat customer.

Explainer thanks Michele Mayo, a former front-office manager at the Hampton Inn Manhattan-SoHo and the Hotel on Rivington in New York City, and Megan Pattison, a former VIP insider and PBX agent for the W San Francisco.

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