Toting Privileges and Employee Theft

by Ken Vincent, Featured Contributor

MANY of those in hotel/restaurant ownership and management today won’t know what “toting privileges” are, so let me explain.  (I’ll use hotels as a reference point, though many restaurants also had the practice.  Some of the following comments are also borrowed from my book.)

Back somewhere in history it became common practice to allow a kitchen staff to take left over food home to feed their families.  This was considered one of the perks for working in kitchens.  Working in kitchens was largely a thankless job with long hours and low pay.  The working conditions were pretty much deplorable.  Kitchens were Hotel Hospitalityhot as Hades and often with poor ventilation.  That also led to “cooks beer” which I’ll get back to.

While the original intent of toting privileges may have been humanitarian it did evolve into some problems.  First it encouraged over prep so that there would be plenty to tote home at the end of the day.  Second, the concept expanded to include everything from the silver candle stick holders, to almost anything that could be carried or drug by fewer than 4 people.

Not wanting to be left out of the “perks”, the concept expanded to housekeeping, maintenance, and all other departments.  Linens, gallons of paint, flatware, and gold plated charger plates all became toting material.

So, with the best intent, hotel ownership/management grayed the distinction between hotel property and theft.  After all, it wasn’t stealing if the employer said it was okay.

Since kitchens were quite hot it became standard in union contracts to include cooks beer to keep the staff hydrated.  Of course that became rather popular and non-union hotels had to include that in order to keep a kitchen staff.  As you can expect, that perk also got adopted by other departments and while the hotel didn’t provide beer to other employees they figured if the cooks could drink then so could they.  Now we have some well hydrated and sometimes well oiled employees with no clear concept of theft.  Well, you can see where that would lead.

Before you say that was probably a practice in the 1800s let me say that I found that situation as recently as 1968 in a large hotel in the US.  I stopped the practice of course and gave the entire kitchen staff sizable raises.  Over half of them quit.  Hmm, wonder what the message is there?  I also found the practice alive and well in a Caribbean resort in 1984.  Polygraph tests of housekeeping employees in the late 1980s also showed that they didn’t consider it theft if they took hotel linens home.

My point in all this, other than to give you a smile, is to ask a question.  Many people still work in hotels where that had formerly been the practice.  Do you think that former practice is a factor in the continuing problem of employee theft?  Are we still trying to stamp out a problem that the prior generations created?


Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent
KEN is a 46 year veteran hotelier and entrepreneur. Formerly owned two hotels, an advertising agency, a wholesale tour company, a POS company, a leasing company, and a hotel management company. The hotels included chain owned, franchises, and independents. They ranged in type from small luxury inns, to limited service properties, to large convention hotels and resorts. After retiring he authored a book, “So Many Hotels, So Little Time” in which he relates what life is like behind the scenes for a hotel manager. Ken operated more that 100 hotels and resorts in the US and Caribbean and formed eight companies. He is a firm believer that senior management should share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of management.

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