Hotel Minibar Ethics Question

 Posted by on 8 February 2010 at 8:00 am  Ethics
Feb 082010

The January 10, 2010 New York Times recently published the following interesting ethics question:

When I checked into a hotel in California, I was starving, so I ate the $6 box of Oreos from the minibar. Later that day, I walked down the street to a convenience store, bought an identical box for $2.50 and replenished the minibar before the hotel had a chance to restock it. Was this proper? My view is “no harm, no foul.” In fact, my box was fresher: the Oreos I ate were going to expire three months before the box I replaced them with.


The NYT’s ethicist Randy Cohen answered that the hotel guest was in the wrong:

…The hotel is providing not just a product but also a service — the convenience of having Oreos available in your room, 24/7. To create this utopia of constant confectionery access, the hotel had to pay someone to travel the world and select the finest vintage cookies, order the Oreos and stock the minibar. You enjoyed that service; you must pay the (ridiculously high) price.

For what it’s worth, I’ve never consumed any of the items in a hotel minibar.

But I have never thought of engaging in this sort of “minibar arbitrage” either (as Tyler Cowen calls it.)

Obviously if you take the Oreos from the minibar, you must make good. The key question is whether the only way to do so is pay the $6. Or is it ethically kosher just to replace the cookies?

Feel free to post your own thoughts in the comments section!

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