I sat with my oatmeal and cup of coffee, staring, waiting for him to grow facial hair, fangs, and long, pointy nails. In short, I was waiting for this hotel guest to turn into the Wolfman right before my eyes.

Why? Because we were staying at a hotel that offered complimentary breakfast with an overnight stay, and this guy was jamming food onto his plate and into his mouth like the Russians were in New London and rapidly advancing up the coast. His eyes were fixated on his plate, his arm shoveling at warp speed. It was positively disgusting.

Ten years or so ago when hotels began to offer this perk as a way of attracting business, it was a novel and very welcome idea. Now it seems most mid-price hotels automatically include breakfast of some sort, ranging from the continental cereal, pastry, juice, and coffee, to a lavish hot and cold buffet spread. And in the process, it’s not just the hotels that have changed ... it’s their guests as well, for the minute some people see, hear, or perceive “free,” they turn into lunging, grabbing, pilfering monsters.

Hotels started adding the free breakfast perk more aggressively during the economic downturn of 2008 when shrinking travel budgets among businesses and average Americans forced people to stay put. Now companies are sending employees back out on the road, but business travelers seem to agree that a free breakfast helps with their limited budgets. In 2012 the American Hotel & Lodging Association reported that 79% of all properties offered breakfast. If they didn’t, they could be at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

So now, instead of little old ladies surreptitiously pilfering a few packets of sugar, you have grown men, married couples, and even children taking not just all they can eat, but some for later, next week, and also paper plates, napkins, and plastic utensils in the process.

What many hotel guests forget is that they are “guests” at this property. That means they are not padding down the stairs in their own home, but coming into a common area with other guests to share a meal. So while the attire does not have to be fancy, no one wants to eat their English muffin next to someone in their pajamas and bunny slippers unless that person happens to be age 2. And if a hotel guest has just come from the workout room or pool, it would be only polite to put on some sort of long pants or coverup over the wet trunks and sweaty, smelly shorts. Call me ultra conservative, but I don’t enjoy eating breakfast next to a guy in a tank top with his hairy armpits languishing in his Cheerios.

This all comes down to the fact that somewhere along the line Americans have become slobs. Our dress code has coded, our manners are mannerless, our values are valueless. Travel overseas, and you just don’t see this. Why? Are we that permissive, uncaring, or inconsiderate that we no longer give a damn?

Recently I asked a breakfast room attendant at a hotel what were some of the more “unusual” things she had witnessed. The answers were astounding. A woman diapering her baby on one of the breakfast tables, for starters. Adorable.

A guest inviting her friends in the area to join her for a FREE breakfast. Class.

A woman boldly taking a loaf of bread from the cupboard space and loading it into her tote. And on and on and on it goes, right down to the man who knocked over a child in the buffet line to get the last sausage. What is it about “free” that turns so many “normal” people into the Wolfman?

It all comes down to one of my favorite soapbox rants ... entitlement. People feel they are entitled to take more food than they can eat because the hotel advertised it as a “free breakfast.” They feel entitled to wear their pajamas into the lobby because they paid for the room, and therefore they can prance around in any common area looking, well, common. And they are entitled to grab, cut in line, or take someone else’s food because they got there first.

When will we realize, especially in this season of joy and giving, that others are “entitled” as well? Entitled to good manners, a fair advantage, and perhaps even your place in line.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at six07co@att.net or 401-539-7762.

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